§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.44 p.m.
§ The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Glenvil Hall)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
This Finance Bill has, as my right hon. Friend, the ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer said when making his Budget statement, one object and one object only. This is to strengthen still further and without delay our defences against inflation. The risk of a runaway inflation has, of course, been with us ever since the coming of war in 1939. Thanks, however, to rationing, to subsidies, to price controls, to very high taxation and to the success in the past of the National Savings Movement, inflation has been kept in check.
Indeed, as I tried to show when winding up the Debate on the second day of the Budget Resolutions, we have in this country, in this direction, a great deal to be thankful for. I then ventured to quote certain cost-of-living figures for basic foods in this and other countries, which did show, in my view, and in the view, I think, of my hon. Friends behind me, that runaway inflation has been prevented. In addition, as my right hon. Friend indicated when making his Budget statement, the total of currency notes in circulation, which is some guide, though not a complete guide, in these matters, fell from the August peak of £1,421 million to £1,364 million in the first week of this month. The House, will, I am sure, be gratified to know that last week there was a further fall of £12 million—a most unusual thing at this time of the year. As "The Times" said in commenting on this matter:A continuation of this contraction would be regarded as an encouraging symptom of the relaxation of inflationary pressure.In reminding the House of these facts, I do not wish to imply that we think that the risk of inflation has faded. This risk is still with us, and my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor fully realises it. None of us have any desire to minimise it, particularly as it has recently received fresh emphasis in more than one direction from the decisions of the Government to meet the present 1808 dollar crisis. As the House knows, the Government have decided to curtail imports from hard currency countries and to step up our exports still further, and far more quickly, in order to narrow the gap in our overseas balance of payments. These decisions will inevitably, for a time, diminish the merchandise in the shops and increase the temptation—to use a phrase which has now become hallowed by repetition—of "too much money chasing too few goods." I repeat therefore that the proposals contained in this Bill have one single purpose, and that is to fortify still further the anti-inflationary defences. What we are doing in this Finance Bill is to place further well-filled sandbags along the dam which already exists.
What are the proposals contained in this Bill? Looking at them, the question immediately arises—and it has already been posed by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House—of whether they are reasonable and sufficient in the circumstances facing this country today. They have been criticised on the ground that they are not drastic enough, and our opponents have stressed the fact that their total estimated yield during the present financial year will be not more than £48 million. Indeed, some have gone so far as to say that, this being so, the Bill was scarcely worth introducing. This is, of course, an incorrect way of looking at this matter.
We must remember that this Bill is supplementary to the Finance Act passed by this House earlier this year, and that it must be taken in conjunction with that Measure. The present Bill only expects to raise, during the rest of this financial year, a sum of about £48million; but we must not forget that more than half the year has already passed. What we have to do is to look at the yield in a full year, not only at the yield in a full year from these additional proposals, but at the yield in a full year from the two Measures taken together. If we look at the revenue which it is estimated will be raised by the proposals made in the Finance Act passed earlier this year, together with the proposals made here, the House will see that we are raising, in this financial year, no less a sum than £3,500 million. I venture to suggest that this is a colossal sum to raise in peacetime, even in years so near to a devastating war.
1809 The estimated surplus for this year, if we add the £48 million to the £258 million which my right hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) estimated he would get from his first Budget, will be £306 million. Although it is not for me to prophesy, it is possible that this surplus may well be more, because, as the House will be interested to hear, the estimated surplus of £258 million has already accrued before we have come to the most profitable months of the financial year, as far as income is concerned. If we assume that no changes are made in taxation next April, and if the yield which I have mentioned continues at its present rate, then, after making allowances, as one should to be quite fair, for the non-recurring items which have occurred in the accounts for this year, it will still be true to say that we shall be raising no less than £3,200 million next year.
These tax increases are, of course, not the whole story. They are only one side of the Government's proposals to meet the nation's present difficulties. They must be taken in conjunction with the Government's decision to reduce commitments at home on capital investment account, and commitments overseas in various directions. When these facts are remembered and taken as a whole, I think that the House—and certainly the outside public—will agree with me that what is proposed here is reasonable and sufficient within the limits set by the circumstances in which we find ourselves. I say "within the limits set by circumstances" deliberately, because, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland framed this supplementary Budget, he had to bear two things constantly in mind. The first was the possible effect of any increase in direct taxation on the incentive of workers and employers alike, and the second was the possibility that, if indirect taxation such as Purchase Tax were increased too steeply, there might also be a vast increase in the temptation to evade. The House will realise that we have not the staff available to counteract that kind of activity.
I now turn briefly to the Clauses of the Bill. As the House will recollect, this is the fourth Measure of its kind with which we have had to deal in the course of about two years. Fortunately, it is very much shorter than any of its predecessors—it runs to only ten Clauses— 1810 and I am glad to say that it is far less complicated than those which have gone before. This time, there are no specific Treasury Clauses; Customs and Excise and Inland Revenue cover the field. Only one new impost is proposed. This is not, necessarily, because the resources of civilisation in this direction are exhausted. It is because, again as my right hon. Friend said when opening his Budget, tax increases in this interim Budget should be simple, straightforward, and capable of being administered with the least expenditure of manpower. In a supplementary Budget of this sort, there is no point in entering new and untried fields which would involve a very great expenditure of manpower, both in the Civil Service and elsewhere. It was felt wiser and more proper to stick to the taxation about which we know something and which. could be collected with the staff available than to go too far into new fields.
The first four Clauses of the Bill, together with their relative Schedules, raise the present duties on alcoholic drinks. As the House knows, beer of average strength, whatever that may be, is to go up by about id. a pint. I think that this raises the total duty from 7d. to 8d. a pint. Whisky is to go up by 3s. 10£d. a bottle, and wines by 5s. or 10s. a gallon, according to strength. For the first time in history, British wines are to be divided into two groups, light and heavy. No doubt there will be a discussion of this arrangement when we reach the Committee stage, and criticism will then be levelled at the fact that this has been done for the first time.
Clause 5 deals with Purchase Tax. As the House will already have noticed, no article not subject to Purchase Tax at the present time is brought within its scope, and no article, with certain narrow exceptions, has been taken out of one category and put into another, or exempted altogether. The rates of tax which formerly ran in four stages from i6⅔ per cent. to 100 per cent. on the wholesale value, have, since 13th November, run from 33⅓ per cent. to no less a figure than 125 per cent. Motor cars and motor cycles are excepted from the increase, and the House will be interested to see in the Bill that my right hon. and learned Friend has similarly excepted pedal cycles, thus implementing the promise he gave when he wound up the Debate in the Committee of Ways and 1811 Means on the Budget Resolutions. The increased yield will be something like £80 million a year. It is by far the largest amount to be collected by any single impost in this Bill. It will add one-third to the present yield, which is very considerable.
I think we all realise what a difficult tax the Purchase Tax is. It is quite impossible to give notice to traders in advance, for fear of forestalling, and yet, whenever a change is made, whether it be up or down, it leads to anomalies and difficulties. This is one of the penalties which we have to pay for the general desire—and I think it is a general desire—that a fair amount of the taxation levied should be in the form of indirect rather than direct taxation.
Clause 6 provides for an excise duty of 10 per cent. on stake monies laid on pool betting. This new duty will mainly affect the dog race totalisators and football pools, but it will also cover any other type of pool betting, such as pool betting on jockeys, for example. However, it will not affect betting on totalisators set up under the authority of the Racecourse Betting Control Board. When we were discussing this matter before, hon. Members asked why such betting should be excepted. The reason for the exemption is that the Control Board is a non-profit making body. It already contributes something like 10 per cent., deducted from the bets made, to a statutory fund for the benefit of the industry, and this, after the cost of running the tote has been deducted, is devoted to the development of horse breeding, the improvement of racecourses, the advancement of veterinary science, veterinary education and things of that kind. Moreover—and I am sure this will appeal to hon. Members in all quarters of the House—this industry has earned for this country no less than £3 million in exports in the first nine months of this calendar year. It certainly cannot be said of greyhound racing that it has helped our export trade.
§ Sir Alan Herbert (Oxford University)
Would the right hon. Gentleman tell the House how much money was spent last year, or in any other year, for the purpose of horse breeding out of the money put through the horse tote? [An HON. MEMBER: "Does the hon. Gentleman 1812 know? "] I do, but I wonder whether the Financial Secretary knows.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
I am sorry I have not the exact figure by me, but if it is available, I will most certainly get it and see that the hon. Gentleman has it. The amount which was available last year for the various purposes which I have enumerated was something in the nature of £328,000.
§ Sir A. Herbert
I am sorry to interrupt again, but the question I asked was, what money was spent on horse breeding purposes? Horse breeding purposes were mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman in his speech. The sum spent last year was £34,000 out of £14 million put through the tote. Therefore, the whole of this business about horse breeding is really nonsense.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
I do not know what the hon. Gentleman means "by" £14 million put through the tote," but if I understand him to mean the gross amount of money laid in the case of bets, that figure is quite irrelevant because a great deal of that money goes back in winnings to the people who have been fortunate enough to back the right horse. What I am saying—and I challenge the hon. Gentleman on this—is that an amount approximating to 10 per cent. is deducted by the Racecourse Betting Control Board from all bets made on the horse race totalisator, and that after deducting the expense of running the tote, that money is devoted to good objects, including the breeding of racehorses. The proof that the objects are good is that this industry has assisted the country this year to the tune of £3 million of exports.
There is really no analogy between the horse race and the dog race totalisators. I myself have never been to a dog race. The dog race totalisators are very profitable things and make considerable profits for their shareholders. Unlike horse race totalisators, they apparently "have a knack of holding their own against the bookies, and it has been pointed out to us that if we attempted to penalise or tax still further the horse race totalisator, the net effect would be. that the bookie would receive an even greater advantage over the tote than he now has on the horse racecourses. For these reasons, therefore—and we have 1813 quite an open mind on this matter—I hope the House will see that there is a great difference between a totalisator on a horse racecourse and a totalisator at the dogs.
When we come to levy an imposition of this kind for the first time we should not only levy it so that we get the money, but also so that what we do is right and proper. I know that some hon. Members opposite—and I think the right hon. Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley) had something to say about this—feel that if we are going to tax the dogs and the football pools—
§ Mr. Oliver Stanley (Bristol, West)
I had an open mind, but I was very much influenced by what the right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) said last April.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
At the moment what I have most in mind is what the right hon. Gentleman himself said both in Committee of Ways and Means and when he broadcast the same evening. I have no desire to do him an injustice, but I have read more than once what he said, and I came definitely to the conclusion that he seemed a trifle disappointed that horse race totalisators had not been included in this impost and that bookies had been missed out. Personally, I was rather shocked to hear such a distinguished member of a family which in the public mind is associated with the sport of kings, apparently talking in this way.
As to bookmakers, we would like to get at them if we could, but, as was once said by the Leader of the Opposition, who tried hard to reach them and found it impossible, they are extremely elusive creatures. It is possible to paraphrase a famous saying to the effect that "Never in the whole field of human endeavour was so much owed by so many bookmakers to so few Customs officials." We have to remember that we have a small staff. Bookmakers are difficult to get hold of, and if we are going to levy an impost on betting, it is much better to levy it where we can get some return with the minimum of staff employed. The proposed date for the coming into force of this new, duty is 4th January, 1948. This should allow a margin for the passage of the Finance Bill, and for the setting in operation of the necessary machinery for collection, which is outlined in the Fifth Schedule.
1814 With regard to Profits Tax, Clause 7 doubles the existing rates. This means that distributed profits will pay at the rate of 25 per cent., and undistributed profits at 10 per cent. The profits of companies generally are now running at a very high level and in spite of the differential rate which was inserted in the Finance Act, 1947, there have been cases where increased dividends have been declared. Therefore, it is the view of my right hon. and learned Friend that profits should bear their share of any change in taxation in a Budget dedicated to mopping up surplus purchasing power and to the reduction of the inflationary pressure. It has been said by way of criticism that whilst, perhaps, it is just that distributed profits should bear a higher rate, undistributed profits which are ploughed back into business ought to be left where they are. That argument is plausible, but the Government have taken the view that both kinds of profits should bear some of the increased taxation which now, unfortunately, has to be levied. It is hoped that, by taking more than formerly of the undistributed profits, it will tend to reduce expenditure in the capital goods market.
The additional imposition in the way of Profits Tax has been, on the whole, I think, well received both in the City and in this House. It had been felt by many who study these things that some increase, at any rate, was inevitable. What criticism there has been has centred round the date from which this applies, namely, 1st January last, on the grounds that difficulties may result in cases in which dividends have already been declared. I have no doubt that this aspect of the proposal will be canvassed both during the Debate today and when we reach the Committee stage, and I am sure that the Chancellor will listen to what is said with the utmost sympathy.
I will say just a word on the interest on tax arrears. Interest at 3 per cent. on all arrears outstanding three months and in excess of £1,000 is to be charged on Surtax, E.P.T., Profits Tax, and Income Tax in so far as Schedule D assessments are concerned and on those taxes only. The interest charge will only apply once the tax is actually due. Where a case is under consideration, or has been queried, or is being appealed against, the interest will not begin to run. But where 1815 tax is actually due, then the interest at this rate will begin to run as soon as it has been outstanding three months. Subsection (4) of Clause 8 does allow for subsequent adjustments where too much interest has been paid owing to a downward adjustment of a liability to tax. Any sum overpaid may be refunded.
§ Mr. Joynson - Hicks (Chichester)
Would the right hon. Gentleman clarify a little more the definition of the time at which the tax does begin to become liable to interest? In certain cases the taxpayer is liable to pay the tax whether it is assessed or not, I understand. Does it automatically carry interest from the day when payment becomes due, or does there have to be agreement between the inspector of taxes and the taxpayer as to when the tax is agreed? What exactly is the date on which interest becomes chargeable?
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
Normally, these things are done through accountants, and, therefore, I do not think difficulties will arise in practice. It will easily be known between the parties when the sum due has been agreed. It is from that date that the three months will begin to run, and thereafter interest will begin to be charged.
§ Mr. Jennings (Sheffield, Hallam)
Is the right hon. Gentleman not stating, in fact, that anybody who puts in an appeal against his assessment will stop interest running on unpaid taxation? Surely, that is what he is saying.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
No. What I am trying to show is that we are anxious to be fair in this matter. The new arrangements will apply in the main to fairly substantial company accounts, and we must surely rely on chartered accountants, who normally deal with these matters, to play fair, and not to put in appeals simply for the sake of trying to avoid the starting of interest. If there is any query—and, normally, it may be that there will be no query at all—then the time and the interest begin to run in the way I have said as soon as agreement is reached. I see no difficulty in practice in this matter at all.
1816 Let me come now to advertising expenses. This proposal has, I think, aroused far more interest than any other in this Bill. It disallows, for the purpose of Income Tax and Profits Tax, 50 per cent. of certain advertising expenses. The provision applies only to advertising and the expenses of advertising the trade or business in question, or its products, and it is limited to advertising in the United Kingdom on cinema screens, or in newspapers and periodicals, apart from trade and technical journals, and on hoardings, posters, plaques, or signs other than those which may be erected oh the business premises. Let me make it clear that the change does not apply to pre-Budget expenditure. Provision is made, as hon. Members who have read the Bill will have realised, in Clause 9 for splitting expenditure, so that that which occurred before 13th November can be segregated from that which has been expended after Budget day—and may, therefore, be disallowed.
At this juncture of our history tax free expenditure which can be spent on advertising wants tightening up, particularly just now, when we want, if we can, to concentrate on selling goods in overseas markets and damping down as far as we can the demands here at home. Often the goods advertised are in short supply or are luxury goods. Even advertising uses materials which are needed elsewhere in the shape of wood for hoardings and paper. Therefore, there is a good deal to be said for some form of taxation or control of this type of expenditure. This proposition is, however, new. Its application is not easy, and that is freely admitted by my right hon. and learned Friend. For this reason in Subsection (3) he has provided for some elasticity in its incidence, and variations can be made by Treasury Order if good reason can be shown for such variation. I have his authority to say that he will listen with the greatest sympathy to what is said here tonight in order to see what modifications, if any, should be made when that Order comes forward.
These are our proposals. They are short, and we hope the House will agree with us in saying that they make a substantial contribution towards meeting the additional inflationary pressure which may result from the Government's economic plan. The planned use of a Budgetary surplus is a new thing in our 1817 financial policy. We must use it with a certain amount of caution, feeling our way, and not overdoing it, until we are quite sure of our ground. The chief need today is for increased production, coupled with increased saving. While this may be wishful thinking, I am not alone in believing that within the last week or two there has been a most definite change for the better.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
Production has gone up, both in the coalfields and elsewhere. These, and other signs—such as the attitude of certain workers over the week-end, who worked long, hours of overtime in order to turn round railway wagons—are encouraging. At any rate it is our belief that this country will weather its present difficulties, and that between us we shall win through. It is my earnest hope that the proposals made in this Budget will help us t (c) achieve what I am sure is desired by all—irrespective of part}'—that this country should regain its old and rightful place among the nations of the world.
§ 4.23 p.m.
§ Captain Crookshank (Gainsborough)
The right hon. Gentleman has limited his speech to describing the Bill to us, except in his peroration, where he seemed to be sitting prettier and prettier. I mean no disrespect to him, but I am sorry that the order of the Debate was not reversed, because I had hoped that we might have heard something further from the Chancellor on the general situation.We have never had any kind of reasoned statement from the Chancellor of what, in his view, his contribution is to the general economic policy of the country as it was debated in a three days' Debate on the economic situation, in this House and in another place.Here, of course, I am talking about the Chancellor as Chancellor.The Chancellor took no part in that Debate, the general idea being that he could not anticipate his Budget statement. But the Budget statement was made, and he never told us anything on that occasion about how he was going to use the financial weapon to help us in our very serious economic situation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th May, 1947; Vol. 437, c. 2021.]That is a quotation from a speech made in this House six months ago. Yet exactly the same thing has happened 1818 again. The ex-Chancellor did not give us a review in his Budget Statement, and while it would be perhaps presumptuous to say "ditto to Mr. Burke" in that context, I can at least say ditto to the right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough, because he it was who said that on 19th May, and he it is who repeats today that, it is a pity that we have not yet had any considered statement. I quite agree that the present Chancellor has hardly had time to do it, but my criticism there is directed to the Budget Statement itself, and to the fact that the then Chancellor told us nothing.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman comes to these Debates with our good wishes, which I hope he will accept. We welcome him in his new position, and we hope he will be able to get the country out of some of the difficulties into which his predecessor plunged it. So far, of course, he has been very loyal to his predecessor's Budget. I quite understand that, because a Budget involves the collective responsibility of a Government. However, the Financial Secretary has just told us that on, at any rate, one topic, the Chancellor has an open mind. I hope he has an open mind on more than one topic because while the general idea may be the collective responsibility of a Government, the actual details are, and always have been, so far as I know, the particular predilection of the Chancellor himself. He has one way, or another way, or a third way, in which he can deal with the problem, and the actual choice and the very mechanics of budgeting and of Treasury arrangements have to be made by him, so that the right hon. and learned Gentleman can quite safely jettison the bad bits in these proposals, without any loss of face to himself and without an undue slap in the face to his predecessor.
The present Chancellor said the other night that this Budget and this Finance Bill were not intended as a major financial operation. In my view they should have been, in the face of the crisis with' which we are confronted. This is, if not the first, certainly one of the very rare Budgets which has been introduced, at least on the face of it, not for any purely budgetary financial reasons, but as a weapon in the economic armoury. The Financial Secretary has just pointed out that, according to his present figures, the Budget surplus—which, I may say in 1819 passing, we consider completely bogus because of the method in which it was built up by the former Chancellor; but I am accepting for the moment that there was a surplus—is likely to be even larger than was anticipated on that basis. Therefore, there is no technical financial reason for this. It has been brought in, rightly—I hope the right hon. and learned Gentleman does not think I am objecting to it, but it merely adds point to my argument—and we have had produced a weapon to be put to some use, about which we are not quite sure, officially, from the Exchequer.
So far in these Debates no guess has been given to us to the size of the present inflationary gap, as it is called. The implication has been that this Budget and Finance Bill are meant to deal with the extra accumulation of inflationary pressure which is due to the ending of the American and Canadian Loans, and that whatever inflationary gap there was before that had been looked after by the first Budget and first Finance Act of the year. Of course, we do not accept that premise at all, so we cannot very well accept the conclusions. But if we look—as the Financial Secretary just now had a look—at the general financial situation for the year, to put the matter in its proper perspective, I must remind the House that the Chancellor said there had already been passed just on £10 million worth of Supplementary Estimates; and although the December ones are not yet out, we can be quite certain that there will be a good deal more on that side of the account.
The ex-Chancellor said, "Oh, yes, but on the other side we have already paid in £31 million more than we had anticipated from the sale of war stores." I was about to say that that may well be, but that is the case as he told it to us. It is not necessarily anything to get excited about, because there has been a general rise in prices all the time, and people will have paid more for the things which have been sold; anyhow, what is being sold this year, and what is being kept for next year, is a matter very largely in the hands of the Government. We must remember that there are bound to be some losses of revenue in the earlier part of the year, because of people not taking up motor licences due to the abolition of basic 1820 petrol. Therefore, the figures are not absolutely straightforward. I concede that if we were to accept, which I do not, that there was a genuinely large Budget balance as a result of the previous Finance Bill, there ought not to be over the whole field a diminution of that figure, but possibly an increase. But I do not consider it a real surplus.
To deal with the situation, it seems to my hon. Friends and myself that one of the most important things which could have been done, which should have been done, and which should now be in the course of being done, is a. drastic cut down of public expenditure. It is not as if this was anything new. It is not new, because both the right hon. and learned Gentleman and the previous Chancellor of the Exchequer have recognised for months past that it was the right thing to do. The last Chancellor of the Exchequer, on 17th April this year, said:There is much scope … for a reduction in some selected parts of our domestic expenditure."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th April, 1947; Vol. 436, c. 461.]In his Budget speech the other day, he said:We must reduce the total expenditure."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th November, 1947; Vol. 444, c. 396.]In his broadcast that night, he said:There are a lot of other items in our expenditure which, I think, we can cut down without doing any damage to essential national interests.Finally, the right hon. and learned Gentleman, in his first speech as Chancellor of the Exchequer, said:Of course, next year the Estimates will be scrutinised with a view to eliminating any unnecessary expenditure."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th November, 1947; Vol. 444, c. 940.]Therefore, both the right hon. and learned Gentleman and his predecessor are not only agreed that it must be done, but are agreed that there is a field in which it can be done. It is a glimpse of the obvious to say that next year's Estimates will be. scrutinised with a view to eliminating any unnecessary expenditure, because that is the permanent function of a Chancellor of the Exchequer; by bringing that hoary chestnut out of the' bag, he must have meant that there will be an extra special effort on his part.
The point I wish to press on the right hon. and learned Gentleman is that in view of all these statements and the 1821 obvious rightness of this kind of policy, it is waiting a very long time to see what next year's Estimates are, when one remembers that there is still one-third of the financial year to run. Quite a lot can be done in that time. It is not as if legislation is necessarily required, or anything more than a blue or red pencil with which to slash expenditure that is now running. Admittedly, the right hon. and learned Gentleman has promised us a White Paper indicating the reductions in capital commitments, but I have no idea why this is being so long delayed, unless it is that the Gravesend by-election is affecting the time of its issue. It is very questionable whether the sum of £200 million is anything like enough in this field. There are some economists who say that the slash in capital commitments today should be very much larger.
Would not the right policy have been to do what we did in wartime, namely, to make and mend on a vast national scale? It is surely better to put up with the inconvenience of the slowing down of capital development, always excepting anything to do with the export trade, or any field of activity which will make it possible for us to develop and feed ourselves, than to risk the possibility, or the probability, of reduced rations all round and further reductions in the ordinary standards which are pretty low already. I urge the right hon. and learned Gentleman that not only in the field of Civil Estimates, as has been admitted, but in the field of capital commitments, about which I spoke six months ago in this House, a great deal should be done and done urgently.
There is this further point. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said something the other night, which I did not quite appreciate, when he was discussing this point. He said.It is essential that private capital investment, especially in buildings and new machinery, should be limited as far as possible."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th November, 1947; Vol. 444, c. 934.]It is not only in the private sectors that that needs to be done, if we are to get out of our difficulties. I hope he was not implying that Government capital expenditure was not also capable of a possible reduction.
§ Captain Crookshank
No, because this speech was made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, not by the hon. Member. I understand that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is quite a lucid man, and he is perfectly capable of explaining what he meant in answer to my question. If we take the net annual income at somewhere about £9,000 million, we now find that the sum total of taxation income, plus the rates, plus social insurance contributions, which are in a way a form of tax, come to £3,600 million—that is to say, something like 40 per cent. of the national income. Except in the very short run, that cannot continue. If it is therefore necessary to have a large Budget surplus, we have to cut down both expenditure and taxation. I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will consistently bear that in mind, and will see that both are done.
This is the first Finance Bill we have had since the introduction of our new Standing Orders. It is already apparent that it has been inconvenient, to put it mildly. We were not able to have a full discussion, after seeing the text and hearing the preliminary proposals, on the Report stage of the Resolutions, which will inevitably mean that this Debate will largely become a Committee stage on points which might have been cleared up then. I regret that, and I expect that the Junior Burgess for Oxford University (Sir A. Herbert) regrets it still more, because he was forced into the difficult position of voting against the proposed Betting Duty, although from what I have heard, his views are that there should be more betting duties all round. He had, therefore, to cast his vote without having any opportunity of explanation. His attitude is, of course, well known, but there are a lot of other hon. Members who would not be prepared to put themselves in that position on that account. It is a pity.
I do not want to traverse the whole ground, but there are two topics which I should like to discuss, which does not mean that the others are not important. First of all, we shall strenuously oppose the advertisement tax in its present form. We are fortified in doing so, because this Budget and Finance Bill is meant to deal with the increasingly grave situation now developing, and this tax does not profress to bring in one single 1823 penny during this Financial Year. It certainly goes against one of the principles of taxation, as the right hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson) said the other day. Not only does it do that, but it also goes a very long distance towards something else, which is equally obnoxious, and that is leaving great powers to the Treasury to decide whether any particular bit of expenditure is or is not advertising within the meaning of the order or regulation to be made. That is a very serious proposition, and, on these two grounds alone, the tax should not be accepted. Beyond that, it is based on a most extraordinary supposition, as I understand it, that is, apparently, that all firms in every trade and in every industry, and, I think, charities and such other organisations as have to advertise or do advertise—the supposition that all these are spending twice as much on advertising today as they should spend.
That is a most extraordinary assumption. It certainly will fall very unequally between one industry and another, one trade and another. For example, there are great masses of businesses which have to advertise; they cannot help themselves. It is not a question of selling things. How does the right hon. and learned Gentleman suppose that auctioneers can get on unless they advertise where, when and what is going to be auctioned? What about theatres, cinemas and books; what about the mail order business? What about the separation which, I understand, he has in mind, if it is workable, which, of course, it is not, between advertising for the export trade and advertising for the home trade? Does he not realise that over a great field of advertising, advertising in the home field is, in fact, advertising for the export trade? I instance cinemas, for example. If there is a tremendous splash in London about a particular film, the repercussions of that obviously spread far wider than the Metropolis. Then there is the kind of advertising which is, I suppose, almost semi-statutory, like issuing prospectuses, company notices and all that kind of thing.
One could elaborate it, and I dare say my hon. Friends will elaborate it, but all I would say to the right hon. and learned Gentleman is that I hope he will not feel himself to be committed in this matter 1824 by his predecessor's plan. I put it to him that his wisest course is to withdraw the whole proposal. His predecessor drew the curtain aside, and said, "Here is a possible field." Well, let the curtain go back. If, in his wisdom, he really thinks that the Financial Secretary's reason is a good one, and that by taxing advertisements in this way, a certain amount of wood from the hoardings will be saved, let him apply to the Timber Control to see if they cannot put a check on that, without having this complicated machinery to deal with the problem. Let him withdraw it, and, if he finds it necessary—I do not necessarily prejudge the position that there may not be something in the proposal and that somehow or other some revenue could be got from this source—I just do not know—but supposing it was found to be necessary, and supposing it was found possible to do it in some other way—the right hon. and learned Gentleman could do it next year. He will not get anything from this before then. He has no advantage in any way, so far as I can see, by doing it now. This particular plan, whatever one may say about the merits, ethics and common sense or otherwise of taxing advertisements, simply will not bear examination; so let us all save ourselves a lot of time and trouble and when the right hon. and learned Gentleman gets up tonight let him say, "That is the end of that."
Another point on which I would like to say something is the Profits Tax. Although, naturally, the right hon. and learned Gentleman was not following our Debate so closely in the summer as in future he will have to follow these Debates, he will, no doubt, remember that we offered considerable opposition to it then, largely on the ground that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had propounded it at an earlier period of his existence, and as one writer said:A Profits Tax is wrong in principle, and after the rate has been doubled, the Tax is twice as obnoxious as before.I think that has, perhaps, got something in it. What is a much more disturbing argument, and one which is much more strange, is the proposal that the Tax should be doubled on all undistributed profits. I find it very hard to accept the arguments of this Chancellor of the Exchequer—it is very confusing to know which one one is talking about—when he last spoke, when he said that by doubling 1825 both taxes there is a greater inducement not to distribute now than there was before. Furthermore, he talked of undistributed profits as a good anti-inflationary measure, which would stop people spending so much money at this moment in the capital goods market. I find that extremely difficult to understand. It seems to me that the argument put up by the right hon. Member next to me is much more correct, and that is, if you double this tax on the undistributed profits, there is much more likely to be a temptation for the money to be spent in the ordinary way of business, and never to go into profits at all, whether distributed or undistributed. If the answer is "To stop people spending so much money in the capital goods market," and if the argument of the right hon. and learned Gentleman is" Oh, no, that cannot be true; they cannot spend it as they want because of all the controls that exist against expenditure," then why do not these controls work equally well at the other stage?
It seems to me that this particular proposal is silly—the argument that it will tend to stop people spending so much money in the capital goods market— be-cause there is nothing, so far as I can see, to prevent them spending it at an earlier stage, except the controls which should be working over all. The right hon. and learned Gentleman modestly disclaimed taking up all the threads of financial policy in a few days, but I am afraid that in his modesty he must have picked up some of his predecessor's brief, particularly that part of it which is egregious nonsense. The difference is, of course, that he uses it not with the jokes we expected but with all the solemnity and dignity we have learnt to respect in him; but it does not make it any the less nonsense. For example, he said that one of the reasons he was doing this was that the general volume of profits had been excessive over the last year or two. I must admit that I was rather surprised at that statement, and I put the question to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, "Is it a fact, because the ordinary evidence does not show anything of the kind?" The right hon. Gentleman said just now that one or two companies had paid higher dividends than before, but these things are analysed and the statisticians work over a period of years to see what has happened.
1826 If the right hon. and learned Gentleman, or anyone else, likes to look at the analysis of over 2,000 companies quoted by the statisticians of the "Economist," this is what he will find in this field. If they are wrong, I think that the Government should admit it; if, on the other hand, they are right, the statement put into the mouth of the right hon. and learned Gentleman by his predecessor is completely wrong. If you take 1939–40 as 100 for the index—the index of the profits was largely stabilised during the war by 100 per cent. E.P. T.—it rose in 1946–47—that is the index—to 137. That is not excessive even at that stage but that, of course, is not distributed. Very wisely, a good deal was ploughed back into businesses following advice from and appeals by, the Government. The analysis shows that the gross ordinary dividend was 130. If we deduct tax the net ordinary dividend in that year, 1946–47, over the whole field, is 111 compared with 100 in 1939–40. I therefore ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman to tell us whether he thinks that is grossly excessive or not? After all, the people, who receive these net ordinary dividends are still subject to the general rise in prices which everybody else has had to experience and, of course, to the drop in the value of money.
In passing—because the thing is so apt to be linked together—the right hon. Gentleman will also note that, according to the Ministry of Labour Index of Wages for 1939–40, the index of 100 found itself, in September, at 169. As it would be legitimate to take off 10 per cent. for the general run of taxation, P.A.Y.E., and the like, he will see that there has been a different proportionate rise in the two indices. If the argument is that the general volume of profits has been excessive, I say—and I do not think I shall be contradicted—that that is a gross exaggeration. The very premise on which this doubling of the tax on industrial profits is based is wrong. The right hon. Gentleman said earlier that not only would this tax be anti-inflationary, in stopping people from spending so much money at this time in the capital goods market, but he followed that up by saying that he hoped people would invest the money in Government securities. What does he think happens to it now? I leave that thought with him.
1827 I conclude by saying that the Budget and this Bill, in view of the deepening economic crisis, are merely a step in the dark. The Chancellors, present and past, think that this enormous increase in taxation over the next financial year, with a very small effect this year, will be sufficient. We do not; we say that what should be done now is drastically to cut public expenditure in the last one-third of this year. Under no system of tax proposals can very much be got in at the tail end of a financial year, because the machinery and all the rest of it have to be established, and staffs collected, and so on. But the cutting down of public expenditure can be done, and in view of what the Chancellor said the other night, and his predecessor said before him, I feel sure that he will take this advice most seriously to heart.
We do not propose to vote against the Second Reading of this Bill, because we know quite well that much ought to have been done and should be done now—"now" is the important word—to deal with our present situation. We also know that, as usual, the Government have gone mostly the wrong way about it. They have the knowledge, information and best estimates of what the situation is that we have to meet and if, with that knowledge, they wish to sin against the light there is nothing we can do to stop them. We also know this, and I expect every one else in the country is beginning to know it too, that if it had not been for this Government we would not have been in our present situation. The errors, more particularly the financial errors, of the most disastrous Chancellor of modern times are the Government's errors, but the cost that has to be paid for those errors, misjudgments, and miscalculations, has to be borne by the whole nation. The real answer to this Budget and this Bill is the one which has been given so many times in this House before, and which will be repeated to the end—we must get rid of the Government.
§ 4.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Chamberlain (Norwood)
The right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) has deplored the fact that we are not discussing a wide-range Budget such as we normally have earlier in the year. Those 1828 on these benches agree, I think, with the ex-Chancellor and the present Chancellor that a general survey was not necessary at this time, nor was it the purpose of the present Budget. Indeed, it has been made quite clear that the Budget has one purpose, and one only—to take measures against inflationary tendencies. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman also referred to the necessity for cutting down public expenditure, but he did not make it clear to this side of the House what public expenditure he would cut down.
We have pressed Members opposite to make that point clear, but we are just as much in the fog as ever. We do know this much: that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson) would have delayed the introduction of certain social Measures which we consider of paramount importance. He has made that quite clear, and in his speech on the Budget, in April, he made it clear that he would have cut down the food subsidies this year. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to fog the general issue in his recent speech by quoting only a part of his earlier statement. If Members will look at Column 202 of HANSARD, which gives the right hon. Gentleman's speech on 16th April this year, they will see that the right hon. Gentleman suggested that food subsidies should be reduced now. I do not think that any of the process of "fogging" which went on a few days ago can get the right hon. Gentleman out of that position.
There are some on all sides of the House who feel that this Measure does not go far enough in various directions, that in some ways it is inadequate, tentative, and out of focus. We differ, of course, very much on the question of how we would wish to deal with the present situation, and on what I consider to be the inadequacy of the Budget proposals. My approach to this matter—and I hope it is clear—is that we have made in this Bill strenuous efforts to catch a lot of little fish while allowing the big fish to get away with it. No wonder indeed that the Stock Exchange rallied immediately the Budget proposals had been made known. No wonder, if I may say so, that my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary said that the Budget proposals, in particular those with regard to the Profits Tax, had 1829 been, to use his own words, "well received in the City." In the opinion of myself, and many on these benches, it has been far too well received in the City. While these endeavours have been made to catch what I call the little fish, the ordinary people of this country, who have had fresh imposts put on them in the way of Purchase Tax—it is largely they who pay the Purchase Tax—the additional penny on beer and the Betting Duty, yet the Profits Tax, which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Gainsborough deplored, though my deploring is of a very different nature, has only gone up from one eighth to one quarter. In my view it should have gone up, and I hope it will go up, considerably higher.
§ Mr. Beverley Baxter (Wood Green)
Would the hon. Gentleman tell us in what way the Betting Duty is hard on the people who bet? In what way does it take money out of their pockets?
§ Mr. Chamberlain
I will refer to the Betting Duty later on. I was at the moment indicating that there are imposts in a general way, including those I mentioned, on the ordinary people which are hard for them to bear; whereas these tremendous profits which are still slipping through the net, and will continue to do so, are hardly being touched. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, last April, said:I cannot pretend to be satisfied with the large increases in distributed profits and the higher dividends which have been paid out in so very many cases in the last 12 months…. These increased dividends are the clearest case, anywhere in our national economy, of an inflationary element."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th April, 1947; Vol. 436, c. 84.]My right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury said that profits were running at a very high level. That, in my view, despite what the right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough said, is an understatement of the fact. In the Debate on the Address I referred to, and I want again to refer to, what I called then, and will call again, the "golden harvest" which is being reaped. One has only to look at the "Financial News," or, any other financial records, any day of the week, and, despite what all the statisticians may like to evolve—and they can evolve anything out of figures, par- 1830 ticularly with a selected number of firms—it will be seen that the profits are running at a tremendously high level. I have in my pocket a number of examples quoted from the "Financial News" over a period, and I would give them to the House if it were desired. I noticed only a day or two ago that a firm owning 46 licensed houses—Levy and Franks—have just declared a final dividend of some 150 per cent., making a total of 225 per cent. No wonder their shilling shares are being quoted at 23s. 9d.
§ Mr. E. P. Smith (Ashford)
Would the hon. Member inform the House of the amount of capital on which that dividend is declared?
§ Mr. Chamberlain
Whatever the capital may be, it does not alter the statement that it is a golden harvest being reaped. At this time when the Chancellor is anxious to avoid inflation, that amount should be heavily reduced. I do not think all the talk in the world will get over the fact that a golden harvest is being reaped. Messrs. Kleemans, a firm of plastic manufacturers—and one can see this in today's "Financial Times "—have declared a final dividend of 150 per cent., making a total of 270 per cent. There are dozens of examples of that kind of thing to be seen. Their net profit was £214,000 this year, compared with £64,000 a year ago. In case after case—I could give many more if it were necessary—there are dividends of 25 per cent., 50 per cent., and 75 per cent. being paid. I think it is totally inadequate that the Profits Tax should be raised merely from I2½ per cent. to 25 per cent.
The whole distribution of the national income has got to be reviewed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and by the Government if we are ever to reach a proper perspective and a proper balance in this matter. It may interest the House to realise from Treasury figures, which can be verified, of the Income from Work and Property last year, that the amount represented by interest, profits and rent was 41 per cent.; even after the imposition of Income Tax, the item of interest, profits and rent represents 33 per cent. of the total income of the country. In this year of grace it is my opinion that 1831 far too heavy a proportion of unearned income is represented by that figure—that there should be practically one-third represented by interest, profits and rent, even after the deduction of tax. Only when the Government have tackled thoroughly that unbalance and lack of perspective in the whole national income, shall we ever get a proper state of balance and a real avoidance of inflation. In this Bill taking Purchase Tax, which, in the main, is paid by the people of this country generally, and beer—I do not add any other item—they together in a full year will be paying £113½ million, in addition to the imposts already upon them, whereas the Profits Tax net additional impost in the whole year will merely be £47 million. I repeat £113½ million on those two items that I have mentioned as against £47 million, and yet we have the squeal from the other side of the House that they, and the industries and businesses they are defending are being hardly dealt with.
My own desire and wish, and the wish of many on this side of the House, is that if no further impost is levied on profits this year in this present Budget—and I would like an assurance on the point—something much more drastic will be done in the April Budget about what I continue to call the "golden harvest." Let me say, to show I am not hide-bound in my views, that I entirely agree with what the right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough said when he regretted there was an increase in the tax on undistributed profits. I think that there, again, we are out of perspective. There should have been a considerable tax—I suggest 50 per cent.—on distributed profits, but I would prefer to have seen the figure of 5 per cent. retained on undistributed profits. It would be a wise policy and would have tended to retain finance and to have ploughed back into businesses a considerably increased amount.
I disagree with the proposal made from this side of the House at this time for a capital levy. Twenty-five years' ago I, and I expect many others on this side of the House, were preaching the rightness and justice of the capital levy, and I still think the time may come when that should be imposed, since the crushing burden of the National Debt can only be alleviated in 1832 that way. But. I do not think that the present is the moment to do it. I think its present effect would be more inflationary than deflationary.
I want to commend to the Chancellor of the Exchequer the need to look at capital appreciation. During the Debates on the Budget statement, we have had many examples of capital appreciation. The hon. Member for Dover (Mr. J. R. Thomas) told us about certain greyhound-racing tracks which had been purchased a few years ago at a quarter of a million pounds and was sold the other day by an individual for £1 million. An additional three-quarters of a million pounds went into that man's pocket absolutely scot-free, while ordinary people all over the country are being expected to pay their additional penny on beer and are being prevented from exercising any inflationary tendencies. While this capital appreciation is an extremely difficult thing with which to deal, and perhaps in some ways as elusive as the bookies, it would be very unsatisfactory if no measure could be designed to catch that tremendous harvest that is being reaped, not only on race-tracks but also on the sale of houses, which has already been mentioned, although I know that that is in a somewhat different category in that the seller of a house has generally to purchase another. However, there is house property in the shape of blocks of property, shop property and a thousand and one other things of that kind which do enjoy tremendous capital appreciation and which go absolutely free of any kind of tax. It is wrong that it should be free of tax for it is an inflationary element of the worst sort. Again, I commend that point to the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
I want to say one word with regard to the Betting Duty. I want to reinforce what has been said on all sides of the House, namely, that it seems wrong that one particular form of betting, that is dog totes, should suffer this tax, and that horse racing, despite all the specious arguments which we have heard from the Financial Secretary to the Treasury and which are wearing a little thin, should escape untaxed. It is certainly wrong that the bookies should go free. I am bound to quote what the former Chancellor of the Exchequer said so very definitely and deliberately in April. He said: 1833… to tax 'totes' and pools alone, and let the bookmakers go free, would be wrong, it would be unjust, it would be repudiated by all right-thinking men and women."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th April, 1947; Vol. 436, c. 78.]I cannot think that inside a few short months either he or the Government should change their mind so far as the rights or wrongs of this matter are concerned. [An HON. MEMBER: "There are obstacles."] It may be there are obstacles, and if the Members of the Opposition disagree with this differentiation in that respect, I am with them, as are many on this side of the House. The Government must have the courage of their convictions, if those were the convictions which were indicated by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton), and they have, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) said, to deal with this matter as one of principle. If a thing is right in principle, a mechanism has got to be found, and we ought to be able to find the mechanism. Therefore, I hope there will be registration of bookmakers, and that the whole matter will be dealt with in the April Budget not in this half-hearted and sloppy manner, but properly, comprehensively and scientifically.
Finally, I want to reinforce the three points that I have made and, in so far as it is practicable to alter these things, to appeal for action in a drastic manner. I want an assurance from the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he replies tonight, firstly, that the Betting Duty will be put on what I consider to be a proper basis instead of on the halfhearted basis on which it stands at present; secondly, that in the next Budget there will be a radical increase of the Profits Tax, certainly on distributed profits, although personally I should like to see a decrease in regard to the undistributed profits; and thirdly, that full consideration will be given to the question of a tax on capital appreciation. Only when these measures are put into a further Bill and brought to fruition shall we see what is, I think, the basic principle of this whole matter, which has been enunciated from the Front Bench again and again—a real equality of sacrifice between all classes of the community, instead of a lopsided measure of sacrifice, as I consider it to be at present. And only by such measures will we get the financial 1834 picture put into its proper and permanent perspective.
§ 5.17 p.m.
§ Sir Arnold Gridley (Stockport)
I was going to confine what I have to say to the advertising Clauses, but before I do so I am provoked by the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Chamberlain) to say two things about the points he has endeavoured to make. He has tried to create prejudice by quoting the cases of a very small number of companies which are paying what is admittedly a high rate of dividend. He knows perfectly well that there are thousands of companies, by far the greater proportion engaged in industry, that pay but a modest dividend to their shareholders. It is quite misleading to quote the circumstances as he did, without disclosing, what perhaps he does not know, all the details and not being able to deal with the capital structures to prove whether the dividends are really extravagantly high or not.
§ Mr. Chamberlain
May I answer that point? I can assure the hon. Member for Stockport (Sir A. Gridley) that I have in my pocket sheaves of notices in regard to high dividends and record profits, statements that no profits of that nature have been declared since 1929, and so on. With regard to the other point he has mentioned, I would be very glad to welcome a graduated tax, if that would satisfy the Chancellor and my hon. Friend, so that it would be graduated to bear relation to the capital concerned.
§ Sir A. Gridley
It would be very interesting to know whether these companies of which the hon. Member said he had a long list in his pocket, are doing what the Chancellor wants them to do, namely, their utmost to deal with the expansion of the export trade of this country.
§ Sir A. Gridley
I have no doubt they are. The hon. Member said he would like to see a 50 per cent. Profits Tax on distributed profits. Let him consider for a moment what the position of a company will be which has debentures, and say £500,000 in preference and £250,000 in ordinary shares. If a tax like that were put on the profits, what would be left, 1835 after paying the debenture interest and preference dividend, for the ordinary shareholders?
§ Mr. Chamberlain rose—
§ Sir A. Gridley
No, I am not going to give way again. The hon. Member might make another speech on the subject. I do not want to offend hon. Members by being too long on my feet. I want to come at once to these advertising Clauses. In the short time that has been available to me since the Finance Bill appeared in the Vote Office, it has not been possible to have adequate discussions with those of my colleagues engaged in industry throughout the country, but so far as we have been able to confer with one another, and between one industry and another there is unanimity of opinion that these Clauses are utterly impracticable and quite unworkable. If the Treasury attempt to impose them, they will meet with utter failure. I hope to show why in a very few sentences.
What is the objective of these Clauses? We understood from the ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer and also from the present Chancellor that the objective is to make better use of manpower, to reduce the amount of material used and, in particular, to reduce the present inflationary pressure. It is estimated that the tax will raise £10 million, but that is, I believe, considered of secondary importance. Will manpower and material be saved? Will the inflationary pressure be reduced, by allowing people to go on advertising to a very great extent, as this Clause proposes, if indeed one knows where one may advertise or what one may advertise, because of the very indefinite way in which the Clauses have been drafted?
The Financial Secretary to the Treasury, if I understood him correctly, said that all that would be defined presently by a Treasury order. Industry is completely in the dark at the moment as to how their advertising programmes are to be affected or to what extent then-accounts will be affected, until the order in question can be seen—when it comes. The first objection to the order has already been referred to by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank). It is that this type of tax violates a long established principle of taxation. In all business 1836 transactions and conduct, working expenses are treated as revenue expenses, which are allowable from profits before profits are taxed. If it is attempted to provide a capital asset out of income, however, that is not allowed. For the first time, I believe, here is a tax proposed which vitiates that long established and wholesome principle. For that reason such a tax should be avoided by any Government, unless there is no alternative method of raising the finance required.
I would like to find anyone who can define what advertising is. I have tried to do so in the past few days. There are a hundred and one forms of advertising. It would surpass the wit of man to give a definition. I challenge anyone in this House to endeavour to define advertising, going through all the various types of advertising that are possible. What is advertising? What is intended to be caught by the provisions of the Bill, and what is not? Would the Bill include, for example, advertising not only goods which are to be sold but goods which one wants to buy? I have had letters from people in my constituency who are very much concerned about this matter. They do a mail order' business, which is done entirely by advertising and by the distribution of booklets which advertise what the firm may from time to time have to sell. If they are prevented from advertising, there will be the gravest risk of their business being completely smashed.
The only alternative left to them would be to employ salesmen to go round the country to advise their customers what they might have to sell during the next quarter or the quarter after that. That, surely, would absorb more labour and not less? That is one reason why I very much doubt whether the objective which the Treasury have in mind is likely to be reached. Again, as my right hon. and gallant Friend pointed out, how is it possible, in connection with advertising, to divorce what part of the advertisement affects the home trade and what part affects the export trade? It is utterly impossible to divorce the two. That is another dilemma which will face the Government if they go on with this proposal.
Difficult as it is to decide what is advertising and what is an advertisement, who can decide what are trade journals? 1837 That is another headache. I am particularly interested to know the answer, and I would like the Chancellor to tell me whether the Chambers of Commerce journals which are circulated in big towns and cities, and the cost of which is covered by advertisements, will be allowed to continue. If advertising is disallowed, those journals will cease. One consequence will be that we shall not be able to do what we are doing today, endeavouring to give our members through those journals information on how firms which never did export business before can get into touch with exporting houses or with firms with whom they might be able to arrange sub-contracting and so increase the exports which are so vital to us at the present time. Great damage can be done to the export industries of the country if arguments of this kind are not given the most careful consideration.
I pity officials of the Inland Revenue who will have to decide with accountants of companies or their auditors what has been properly allocated to advertisement expenditure and what has not. We know that Inland Revenue staffs are hopelessly overburdened at present and are months behind-hand with their work and that the Local Government Bill will, after it is passed into an Act of Parliament, throw upon them still more burdens. Now it is proposed to add yet another burden upon those harassed, overworked people by calling upon them to act as policemen when the accounts of companies are investigated, in order to see what is or what is not liable for taxation.
Again, there will be severe discrimination between one set of industries and another. There are industries which are price controlled and there are others which are free from price control. This Budget will act very hardly upon those whose prices are controlled. Companies which are free to charge what prices they can get within reason will be able to pass on to their customers any increases of taxation they may have to pay under these Clauses, but industries which are price controlled will not be able to do so. Why is there to be this discrimination?
With regard to the allocation of advertising and development expenditure, I should find myself in a very great difficulty, in dealing with the concerns with which I am associated, in trying to make 1838 a fair allocation. Let me explain what I mean. Some of my concerns advertise extensively. Others take a stand at an engineering exhibition at Olympia or, as we intend, in spite of the Bill, at the British Industries Fair in Birmingham in a few months' time. We have been accustomed to charge the expenses in regard to these items to advertising. It is one method of advertising, just like putting goods into a shop window in order to let people know your goods and your prices. Do the Government wish to discourage us from exhibiting in this way? We expect foreign buyers to come in their thousands to Birmingham, and we are anxious to show them what we can make and what we are prepared to export. It would be a shocking thing if we were not allowed to treat that as a proper working expense. What we ask is that expenditure of that kind should, without any doubt, be treated as proper working expenditure.
I have said that the Government wish to do something to reduce the present inflationary pressure. We are all anxious, even though we may be adversely affected by these Clauses, to help the Government in some better and workable way—not this impracticable way—to attain their objective. I reinforce the appeal made by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gainsborough, who pointed out that these Clauses would bring in no revenue in this financial year. Therefore, what is the need to rush through Clauses like these which will pro"-duce nothing this financial year? Why not withdraw them, as has been suggested; think again, and be ready when April comes to put forward a better alternative which will produce the result which we are all anxious to see secured?
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
Might I remind the hon. Member and the House that this is not a tax, but a disallowance of certain expenses for tax?
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
No, Sir. We are not expecting revenue from it in the sense that a tax levied in the ordinary way brings in revenue.
§ Sir A. Gridley
However we may like to interpret it, the effect is precisely the same. It will be an additional burden upon industry in a way never before proposed. I was saying that the Financial Secretary was shaking his head. Let me remind him that the Treasury had some very objectionable Clauses, Nos. 12 to 17, in the preceding Finance Bill, and they were quite prepared to stand and fight for them until they heard the arguments. After hearing the arguments against those five Clauses, they went away and had second thought, and they withdrew the lot and substituted one or two much less obnoxious Clause, to which we were able to give our approval. I suggest that similar action be taken now. The Financial Secretary is aware that talks are going on at present behind the scenes in an endeavour to find an alternative method of helping the Government to achieve what they wish to secure. I hope the Chancellor will be able to tell us that he is willing to withdraw these Clauses on the understanding that the matter may have to be dealt with again next April, not in this form, one hopes, but in some better alternative form which has been agreed between the industries affected and himself.
§ 5.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Palmer (Wimbledon)
It seems to be my fate to follow the hon. Gentleman the senior Member for Stockport (Sir A. Gridley), but he will forgive me if I do not carry on his argument, because he dealt with a specialist topic and I want to make some rather more general points. As stated by my right hon. Friend, the purpose of this Bill is to counteract in the home market the special danger of inflationary pressure and of inflation itself brought about by the new intensive export policy and the import cuts. This kind of argument does not suit hon. Gentlemen opposite. They do not like the justification for the Bill put in that way.
The right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) said, in effect, that the Spring Budget had left an inflationary gap yawning in the national economy, and he argued that, besides performing this special task, the present Finance Bill should repair what he said was the neglect of its predecessor.
1840 I do not think any of us on this side dispute the existence of an inflationary potential, but we do dispute the argument that there has been some neglect by the Government in dealing with it. If the Government is charged by the Opposition with not dealing with this inflationary pressure by using the Opposition's methods, I hope the Government will plead guilty; but the Government, because it does not use the methods advocated by the Opposition, is not guilty in the eyes of most of us on this side, and I am convinced that the Government is not guilty in the eyes of many millions outside this House.
While hon. Gentlemen opposite may be very genuinely interested in reducing the inflationary pressure, it is their method of doing it which captures their imagination, and, for that matter, captures the imagination of hon. Members on this side. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the new Chancellor of the Exchequer—we all wish him every success in his great task—will be very much on his guard against the subtle suggestions of the Opposition. The Opposition are most anxious to make those suggestions to him. The right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough is quite prepared to select the tools for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to use if the Chancellor of the Exchequer can be persuaded to do the job. If in this process they can persuade the new Chancellor of the Exchequer to demolish the work of his predecessor, they think that would be all to the good and something on the side of virtue, as far as they are concerned. Naturally, hon. Gentlemen opposite are extremely careful in their approach. They rather sneered in our previous Debate about the concern of this side of the House for electoral considerations, but they are by no means blind to electoral considerations. The economic realism of the City must be balanced at every stage against possible electoral consequences. That, of course, is the eternal Tory problem.
After listening to the Debate that we had on the Budget Resolutions, I came to the conclusion that if the views of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley) and of the right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough were added to those of the right hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson), and we subtracted the. 1841 views, for instance, of the right hon. Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken)—
§ Mr. Palmer
I do not think any of us will accept that as a plausible remark from the right hon. Gentleman. Then if we add to that—
§ Mr. Palmer
This is certainly a kind of mathematical statement, but it is the result which is so interesting. If we add to that, say, the view of the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft), squared—and I think in this matter he has possibly been squared—it comes to this: that the views of hon. Members on the other side can be put under two headings. The first is that they believe that public purchasing power is too great and should be reduced; secondly that State expenditure is too high and should be curtailed. There is one action alone which if taken, would correct both these defects if they be defects. Obviously, increased taxation will not correct them because that reduces purchasing power but still permits an extremely high level of State expenditure. Nor will cuts in the Armed Forces, for the opposite reason. Of course, many hon. Members on this side are very much in favour of cuts in the Armed Forces. No, the only thing likely to satisfy hon. Members opposite is a cut in the social services and that, of course, is their real policy—[An HON. MEMBER: "Perfectly ridiculous."] It is not perfectly ridiculous. They simply have not the honesty to admit the truth, and they are not likely to do so until the result of the Gravesend by-election is known.
The hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir T. Moore) said it was nonsense to suggest that the Tory Party has in view any cut in the social services. Yet many hon. Members opposite have been arguing in favour of a cut in food subsidies and, in the present circumstances, food subsidies are an extremely important and valuable social service to the people of this country. In fact, I think hon. Members opposite are so obsessed with this idea of a cut in food subsidies that they have given up worrying about whether or not it will counter 1842 inflation effectively. For instance, the hon. Member for Monmouth, who I am sorry is not here this afternoon—[An HON. MEMBER: "He is at Gravesend "]—but who is quite typical of his hon. Friends, though he expresses himself a little more plainly than most of them, said:If we tackle these food subsidies, if we are bold about our policy in relation to indirect taxation, then we should and must reduce direct taxation. Again, I shall not be pendantic about precisely how we should reduce that taxation. We should reduce that by an amount which is equal to 6s. 8d. in the pound in Income Tax."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th November, 1947; Vol. 444, c. 880.]I suggest that in these matters we should call things by their right names, and to cut food subsidies under present conditions is not anti-inflationary; it is a transference of income from the not-so-well-off to the better off. I think, therefore, that the wisest policy in these matters is that which is being pursued by the Government, to dam back the inflationary pressure by relying on physical controls, rationing and so on as the main auxiliary to taxation and savings.
I believe that this Bill, generally, is a good Bill and adequate for its admittedly limited purpose. I think it is justifiable to increase the Purchase Tax under present circumstances on not absolute necessities. I do not think anyone claims seriously that the advertising tax proposals will cripple industry, but I hope that in Committee my right hon. and learned Friend will look favourably on any Amendment which seeks to modify the form of tax allowance to suit conditions of particular businesses—a good example of that is the mail order business. I am in favour of the limited duty proposed on pool and greyhound gambling as an experiment. I have no particular objection to it as far as it goes, but it does not go far enough.
I thought my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary was particularly weak when he answered the interjection made by the senior Burgess for Oxford University (Sir A. Herbert); he did not seem to believe in his own arguments as far as the new duty on gambling and betting was concerned. In the long run I feel that we must either tax gambling as a whole or not tax it at all, though this may be a preliminary canter. Under the present proposals the bookmaker will have an advantage, and in that connection I would refer the House to an article 1843 which has appeared in that very moderate and sensible publication, "The Tribune," for this week. In that article my hon. Friend the Member for Reading (Mr. Mikardo) puts up a persuasive argument for a special licence for book-makers. I suggest that my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary pays some attention to that article, which will not take him long. It certainly impressed me with its good sense, but then perhaps I am easily impressed.
In the few minutes that are left to me, I come to a point of criticism. The main objective of this country under the present admittedly difficult conditions—though not as difficult as they would be if hon. Gentlemen opposite were in power—is to do more with far smaller resources than we possessed in pre-war years, and everything that makes for increased and better production is good, while everything that operates the other way and reduces production is bad. That applies to hours, controls, economic and financial policy. Therefore, I applaud the Finance Bill for sticking firmly to the principle of as much equal sharing of burdens as can be managed, and I recognise the Bill to be a substantial contribution towards mopping up any threatened inflationary pressure. However, an omission, which I think can be repaired in the Bill we shall have in the Spring, is that very little has been done in this Bill to strengthen production incentives. It is not beyond the wit and ingenuity of the present leaders of the Treasury—it was not beyond their wit and ingenuity under the leadership which has been enjoyed since the General Election of 1945—to devise new systems of taxation.
I throw out this suggestion to them: why cannot we have a system of taxation by which every company or manufacturing unit which exceeds its production figures shall be entitled to claim certain taxation rebates, provided, of course, that these rebates can be shared on an agreed basis between managements, employers and workpeople? The method to be devised for making the share-out could be on the agenda of the production committee. I know that hon. Members opposite do not like to be told this, but we must go on telling them. They must understand that the system in which, curiously,
1844 they still believe, in which all win any prizes they can, may give results after a fashion, but in the view of those of us on this side of the House, only at a tremendous price in suffering and poverty. The great majority of people are no longer prepared to pay that price. So far as this party is concerned, the new organisation of the productive processes under conditions of full employment has come to stay. I therefore press this on my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench. Without output of real national wealth, stimulated by financial policy as much as by every other kind of policy, there can be no real permanent hope of a steadily increasing standard of life for the people of this country.
§ 5.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Edgar Granville (Eye)
The hon. Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Palmer) will forgive me if I do not follow him in his detailed argument, with much of which I would not find myself altogether in complete agreement. In any event he has beaten up a certain liveliness in the Debate in which so far a great deal of interest had not been shown. Ever since this Budget and Finance Bill were introduced, there has not been a great deal of interest, and it may be this afternoon that the Debate on the state of the nation, in another place not so many miles away, is arousing more interest than is evinced in the Debate in this House.
I wish to refer to three points, the Profits Tax as it affects production, the advertising tax, or disallowance, as we have been told by the Financial Secretary to call it, and to overheads in expenditure as they affect the Budget, which were referred to by the right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank). I do not complain of the doubling of the Profits Tax. There is some question about the date of its imposition, but we accept the fact that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has to get his revenue. I criticise it because it is unimaginative. Let me suggest to the Chancellor that if production is the vital curb on inflation and exports depend upon it—and all the pundits on inflationary pressure, gaps, targets, and so on tell us that this is so—I would like to see the Treasury produce some sort of tax rebate on increased production over and above a certain amount. In association with that kind of 1845 rebate, a rebate on what is known as the overtime tax—that part of a worker's earnings which, when he is working overtime, becomes subject to taxation—could surely be devised by the experts in the Treasury. The rebate could be given the worker in the form of national bonds, which would be an additional form of savings for the country, and an incentive to increased production. I criticise the Profits Tax not so much because of its incidence, but because at this crucial period in our economic crisis, although the Budget and the Finance Bill bear all the hallmarks of having been hastily prepared and produced, something in the nature of an economic and imaginative tax should have been prepared by the Government. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Chamberlain) is not in his place. In his speech he read from reports in the "Financial News."
§ Mr. Granville
The "Financial Times." I am of course grateful for the correction. The reports showed a number of company annual dividends and profits. I hope that his hon. Friends who support the Government will not believe that that is the whole story of the present financial and company-profit earning position of the country, and that when they read these accounts they will not allow themselves to live in "cloud cuckoo land" and believe for one moment that that is the real economic state of the nation at present. Anyone who has anything to do with industry today knows that a considerable shake-up is going on. As I listened to the Financial Secretary, who was speaking optimistically, I felt perfectly certain that if he consulted the Board of Trade they would tell him something of what is happening in trade and industry today. Maybe it is a change-over; the old cost plus system, which did not matter during the war and when a sellers' market was good, but the sellers' market is fading fast, and the Board of Trade know that. Banks are tightening credit to business men every day on a considerable scale all over the country. I hope therefore that hon. Members opposite will not take current annual reports which cover the past year as indicative of what is happening in industry today.
1846 Affecting this interim Budget, and much more the Budget of next April, is something of a more serious character. That is the drastic export shake-up going on at present.' This may be a temporary trend, in which event it is all right, but, if the trend continues, it may undermine the whole of the financial calculations for the next Budget. Orders abroad are being cancelled on a very large scale. Ministers deal with questions of production in round figures when referring to coal, iron and steel and so on. These are not the main export industries and commodities making up our exports. I prophesy that we have to introduce an emergency export scheme within the next six months to direct production to new markets. Orders are being cancelled by overseas customers to an alarming extent as the importer in foreign markets cannot get the currency because his country happens to be short of it except for bare essentials. The result is that importers cannot get import licences.
I have heard of many instances of goods being exported from this country and having to be sent back, and also of goods being dumped on the quayside with licences cancelled. As the Financial Secretary knows, the growing anxiety of the Department of Overseas Trade is that while our workers in this country may be bending every effort for maximum production our markets abroad are drying up. Foreign countries' import lists are getting shorter and shorter. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in a previous speech, referred to the fact that we may have to store these unwanted goods in this country. Let us not live in an optimistic haze and quote 150 per cent. dividends as an indication of present economic trends. If we have to store exports on a large scale, which will affect our overseas balance and our overseas purchases of goods and foods, the revenue and the next Budget might be seriously imperilled, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman must know.
I turn to the advertising tax, or disallowance, as the right hon. Gentleman called it. However one looks at the tax—and this afternoon the right hon. Gentleman has given another explanation to soften the blow—it hits the little man. It hits new enterprise, fresh ideas, and the development of possible products for export. The Treasury gets its revenue from the little man in this country. Let 1847 hon. Members opposite attempt to introduce a new product today against the big monopolies. The man, for instance, who comes from out of the Forces and starts his business, or thinks out a new idea, a new design or a new product, has to advertise it to make it known, and he is in competition with people who have been advertising an established product for 20 years. This tax is slamming the door in his face. It hits the small business. I am becoming increasingly concerned about this tendency. Ministers seem to like the "big boys," and big industry, the large monopolies. I wonder why. This Government have never tried to tackle monopolies. There is no Sherman Anti-Trust bill in this country. In our Estimates here we unblushingly pour thousads of pounds per year into the hands of the big concerns, but the Government think nothing about slamming the door in the face of the little man. In the future we may have to depend on the little man for our home trade and for much of our export trade, and I join in supporting the right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough in appealing to the Government to reconsider this unfortunate tax.
I know it is the fashion of hon. Members opposite to challenge anything that is said on this side of the House about cutting down overheads by asking, "How would you cut down national expenditure?" Do hon. Members think that the present national administrative machine is efficient? Whether it be a business or a nation, if the overheads are too big, its administration is inefficient because of that. Something will happen before long. The national overheads of this country are top-heavy. They are an excessive oncost on production. The workers know it. There are 23,000 agricultural workers still in the Services. I would get them out of the Forces and put them to work en food production, where they would be earning something for the National effort. I would take a great number of people from certain Departments of State.
As I have said, businesses have had to make a transition from war to peace. Under the old cost-plus system, it does not matter what is charged, the Government pay. Now it has become essential in businesses to cut down the costs of one's overheads. Is it 1848 being done in all Government Departments? I heard a Minister state the other day that Government Departments are hopelessly overcrowded and short of offices, which is another way of putting the point I am making. It may be that the Government or the Treasury have never had the time to prune and get efficiency and economy in national administration, but the national overheads including the Forces, are such an enormous burden on the productive effort of the industries of this country that the Government will be forced to take that action. That is what I meant when the hon. Member asks me about reducing national overheads.
Successive Chancellors and Financial Secretaries tell us from that Box, Budget after Budget, interim Budget after interim Budget, that all we have to do is to make an extra effort and we are round the corner. It is rather like getting round Tattenham Corner—calling on a horse for a spurt round the corner to get into the straight, only to find, on getting there, that someone has moved the winning post, and that anyway someone has lodged an objection for bumping and boring. I do not think that we shall get through by making those appeals from that Box. This interim Budget, this Finance Bill, is something of an anti-climax. Let us make no mistake, the financial and economic question which we shall have to face five months from now is whether we can maintain the present standard of life of the masses of the people of this country. All else is mere academic discussion.
I believe that the Budget which the Chancellor of the Exchequer may have to present next April may redesign the whole of our national economy, and nothing less than that. Of course the answer lies with the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It is very much in his hands, but he cannot succeed without the full confidence of the nation behind him, because in all these matters, just as in 1931 the magic word is "confidence." [An HON. MEMBER: "Confidence trick."] That may be, but it was not thought to be a confidence trick by people abroad who had lost their confidence in this country. We are an international country round which we cannot build a wall and say that it does not matter to the rest of the world. The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows and appreciates that.
1849 An hon. Member mentioned Gravesend. I do not believe that Gravesend can unscramble this omelette. This is a policy which has been initiated by this Government and it cannot be unscrambled in bits and pieces. If I were an elector at Gravesend, I would, in our present economic difficulties, vote for the man, even irrespective of party, who would make the most sincere and effective contribution to the vital debates which lie ahead in this House in the future. Parliament will have to become a Council of State if we are to get through the crisis. The Chancellor of the Exchequer and, as I believe he still is, the Minister for Economic Affairs, has a giant's job. We should all back him up to the best of our ability to try to get a united effort. For that reason, I shall support the Second Reading of this Finance Bill.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ Sir Alan Herbert (Oxford University)
We have all, I am sure, enjoyed an interesting though disturbing speech by the hon. Member for Eye (Mr. Granville). There has been much talk about rebates, share-outs and so on, and what he called, I think, "imaginative taxes." May I, on that, report a suggestion made to me? It has been said that nobody is against the principle of betting taxes nowadays, and others have even mentioned lotteries. The suggestion made to me was that the principle of the lottery should be linked with the payment of Income Tax. The idea is that certain Income Tax receipts should win prizes, always provided that payment had been made within, say, three weeks of the first demand, so that there would be an incentive to rapid payment which would be much better than the interest charge on arrears provided in this Bill. The prizes would be in proportion to the amount of tax paid, so that there would be an incentive to vigorous and sustained earnings. We should have people now outside the scope of Income Tax struggling to get in. Business men would be imploring the tax inspector to cut their expenses scale down so that they might win larger prizes. I put that forward as one of the most ingenious though simple ideas that I have heard.
I am glad to see the Chancellor of the Exchequer return to his place; for I should like to give him a very special word of good wishes. I do not think that he is the first Chancellor of the Exchequer 1850 to come from our great school at Winchester;. but certainly, he is the first Chancellor of the Exchequer of whom I can claim that he gave me my football colours. On that fatal Thursday when his predecessor made his unhappy exit, not knowing what had happened, or was to happen, I sent a nice little note to the late Chancellor. I said, "I congratulate you on your brave betting effort, all the more brave because it is so illogical and so vulnerable in argument." But I added, "I assume that it is only an instalment." There were words in the Budget speech of the late Chancellor which suggested that he might have that in his mind. He said that "on this occasion "he was not going to go after the bookies. He added, "If I do so and so 'now,' there will be such and such results." I thought that in easier times he might go right ahead and do what most of us want—tackle this thing thoroughly.
It is true that the present Chancellor has not had time to study these things very closely, but he did not give out any such hopes; nor did the Financial Secretary today. I want the Chancellor to say tonight, if he can, that he will tackle this thing thoroughly as soon as possible or, if not, that he will chuck it altogether. I say that although I have been fighting for a betting duty for 12 years in this House and elsewhere. The present proposals are so illogical and unjust that they will make us as legislators such a laughing stock that I say the Chancellor ought not to do this if it is all that he intends to do.
What will be the situation if this Bill becomes law? If a man bets through a totalisator on a horse, he will be a part of the export drive—a capital fellow. If a man bets through a totalisator on a dog. he will be a low fellow but he will contribute to the revenue, and that is something. But if a man bets on either quadruped through a bookmaker, he will be merely a low fellow—but he may get better odds. People are always talking about 1926, when the right hon. Member for Wood-ford (Mr. Churchill) made an experiment which failed. It failed for various reasons which it is not necessary to go into now. But nobody ever mentions what happened thereafter in 1932, when a very powerful Royal Commission went into the whole business of the betting industry, their staffs and betting legislation. The Commission 1851 made recommendations which, had they been in force when the right hon. Gentleman made his experiment, would have made the whole thing much simpler.
I must wearisomely repeat—I apologise for doing it again—that I at least acted upon that Royal Commission, for I drafted a Bill, based on their Report, which I introduced in 1938, and it is on the records now. I tried to introduce it two years ago; but we know what happens to Bills which we try to introduce in these days. The proposals were that all book-makers and their staffs should be registered and licensed and that cash betting should be legalised; and there were many other things. The Royal Commission suggested control, registration and licence. I have always added "tax." I realise that in the old days it might have been a very long and controversial affair to get legislation through the House. But this powerful Government, who can tackle anything, the nationalisation of land, mines, railways and steel without thinking of it, are surely now not going to be baffled by the bookmakers? The right hon. and learned Gentleman, of all people, who fears nothing anywhere. He talks about this "insoluble problem." It is not at all insoluble. I will tackle it tomorrow if he will let me introduce my Bill and I will get it through. It would take, now, I believe, no more time to get it through the House than it will take for the Parliament Bill to go through and it would have a much stronger impact on practical affairs.
How shocking, to treat the bookmaker in this manner, to put a premium upon lawlessness and evasion—to say' to anybody, "We do not think you will pay; we do not know where you are; therefore, there will be no tax upon you." Really, I wish that was done with theatrical managers in relation to Entertainments Duty. The theatre with which I am connected at the moment has handed over the sum of £50,000 to the State by way of Entertainments Duty in the last few months. In view of Clause 9, I will not mention it by name. No army of civil servants has been necessary to collect that money. The management themselves collect the money and calculate it with their own staff, and I think a Customs inspector as a routine matter visits the theatre about once every six weeks. I do not suppose that there have been more 1852 than four official visits in order to get that £50,000 out of the till into the Treasury. If bookmakers are to be let off because they are not quite so law abiding and are not registered and so forth, I may be compelled to offer a little advice to theatrical managers that in future they should become more elusive and less law-abiding; for it would be easy for them to do the same kind of thing as we are told the bookies will do.
The other anomaly is this magnificent distinction between horses and dogs. I do not want to tease the present Chancellor too much because he came into the picture very suddenly, and I do not suppose that he has that vast knowledge of the betting world which some of us have. I offered to take his predecessor to the dogs one Saturday night, and I make the same invitation to him. On the point about the bookmakers, by the way, he would see that the totalisators and the bookmakers are operating within a few yards of each other. One is to be taxed and the other is not. Of course, in Australia, and I think in all other civilised lands, both are taxed. This is one of those things which can only not be done in England. In Australia, when I was there, long ago, whether one went to the totalisator or to the bookmaker, one paid a tax of 10 per cent. of one's bet. Both the bookmaker and the totalisator were controlled.
But, to return to the dogs, the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his speech on the Budget, used these words:So far as the horses are concerned, it has been explained that they already make a contribution to the national interest in the form of a fund which is put aside for breeding horses."—[OFFICIAL REPORT,4 17th Nov., 1947; Vol 444, c. 941.]My first point is to ask what in the world that has to do with this Budget, this anti-inflationary-gap Budget, designed, I understand, to stop us spending money on almost anything and especially on undesirable objects? However, this has now become a desirable object because 10 per cent. is deducted from the money put into the horse totalisator and that is used for breeding horses.
I took the trouble this morning to get hold of the 18th and last report of the Racecourse Betting Control Board, and I found some very interesting figures. The total turnover last year was more than £14 million. I do not know, by the way, 1853 whether hon. Members realise it or not, but it is the fact that, while horse betting is far more extensive than dog betting, far more money goes through the dog tote than the horse tote—£200,000,000 in one case and £14,000,000 in the other. That figure which I have quoted is double what it was the year before. Fourteen million pounds went through the tote, and, after expenses were paid, taxation allowances and so on, £478,000 was left. Of that sum, £32,800 was paid over to the Race-course Totalisator Charity Trust, which distributes the money for various worthy purposes.
There are sums devoted to veterinary research and to other worthy objects, such as making racecourses more comfortable, which means making betting more comfortable; and all these things are, no doubt, very worthy, but not very obviously necessary in an anti-inflationary Budget. In the full year up to 31st August, 1946, the vast sum of £14,760 was spent to improve the breeding of horses, and, since then—that is, up to June this year—£34,400 has been spent for the same purpose. In other words, £14 million goes through the tote, and, of that sum, £34,000, less than ½d. in the pound, or about a quarter of 1 per cent., goes for horse breeding. On that flimsy foundation is erected this great idea of the value to this country of horse betting by the tote. If we maintain such an argument we shall become a laughing-stock.
Of course, there is a more serious point. I remember, I think it was on the first Budget in this Parliament, saying rather pompously that this betting business, in which I take a small part from time to time—indeed, I now confess, although I am not prejudiced in any way by the fact, that my wife is now the nominal owner of a greyhound which has the fitting name of "Gambler's Despair" so I cannot take too high-minded a line about it but—I said that this had become a national cancer—this vast and ever-increasing expenditure for these purposes, and I believe that is true, I said then that before this Parliament was over the Government would have to deal with it from the economic and the moral point of view. Well, they have begun to deal with it from the economic point of view, but they will have to deal with it more firmly than this before they can say that they have tackled it from the moral point of view.
1854 I sympathise with the right hon. and learned Gentleman who has been brought in so suddenly to tackle this ticklish question. But I hope that tonight he will give us an assurance that this is only an instalment, and that, when the time avails, and he can get a promise from his legislation committee that the time will be provided for it, he will go ahead and make the necessary alterations in the law. If he can give us any such assurance, I shall support him heartily in the Committee stage, but, if not, we had better all get together and sling the whole thing out.
§ 6.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Wyatt (Birmingham, Aston)
Unfortunately, the junior Burgess for Oxford University (Sir A. Herbert) has just made almost the entire speech which I was going to make, although he has made it much more wittily than I could ever hope to do. I will only try to underline some of the points which he has made and give him a certificate of trustworthiness. I have also read the Bill which the junior Burgess presented before the war. It was a very sound and practical Bill, and I am sure that it would, in fact, have done the things which he suggested it would do. I think, however, that the hon. Member was a little too gloomy when he said that it is wrong to make any start with this Betting Duty at all. I do not think it is quite true to say that because the duty works unequally, we must not apply it. I am sure he will agree that betting is a complete luxury and that no one can claim any moral backing for the right to bet. If one person is taxed, and another is not, it is really just a piece of luck, perhaps of gamblers' luck, which should not worry us seriously.
The point upon which the 1926 duty broke down was the difficulty of tracking down these nebulous cash transactions. The intangible way in which money passes from one hand to another makes it extremely difficult to keep track of it, but, now that the Chancellor has begun with a duty on betting, we simply cannot be defeated on this thing. I doubt whether the House realises how much money is being spent in every year on this occupation. In 1946, on a most conservative estimate, the figure was some £780 million for the year. All that this present duty is going to touch is some £250 million out of the total, because the amount of 1855 betting on horses is far greater than that on greyhounds, and most of it goes to bookmakers. One thing which the Chancellor has not done, and which was working quite successfully in the period 1926–29, when the first betting duty was in operation, is to charge a certificate fee for bookmakers. In the period of the old betting duty, the fee was only £10 per head on bookmakers, and, when the Betting Duty was removed, the certificate fee was left. Under the first Labour Government, of 1929–31, it was removed—on moral grounds, not because it was fiscally difficult to collect—because the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that he would remove the last taint of that despicable tax by which the Government had given a moral sanction to betting. I should think that the certificate fee could now be imposed again, and that it might be £50 or £100.
We have also to register the bookmakers with the police. Then they must be made to get licences, just in the same way as the man who runs a public house has to get a licence. That licence should be issued to him in exactly the same way. Of course, his employees must also be registered, and any infringement of the law by either the employees or the bookmaker himself must be accompanied with the removal of the licence from the bookmaker, who would then be prevented from practising his business. That would tend to stamp out some of the illegal street betting that goes on at the moment.
Then, we could put the duty on bookmakers, and have no difficulty in collecting it. At the same time, the Chancellor might work for a wider and larger objective concerning the bookmakers generally, and perhaps find ways of eliminating the bookmaker altogether by substituting offices of the totes and setting them up at the same places where the bookmakers have been accustomed to operate. Then we can legalise cash betting. It is no good trying to put legal restrictions on something which is done by four out of five people in the country, who will continue to do it no matter how many laws are passed. Until we make cash betting legal, we shall continue to force people to engage in illegality, and the law can never do more than keep pace with what the public is prepared to do. We can make 1856 betting legal and have it conducted on an open and decent basis, and, at the same time, eliminate tax evasion. Until that is done there is no point in the Government introducing this duty.
The trouble with the tax on dog totes is, of course, that it is going to drive a tremendous amount of business to the bookies. That must be corrected, because, if the Chancellor leaves matters as they are, he will find that in a very short time he will be collecting not £15 million, but something rather less, and the bookies will be getting rather more. As far as football pools are concerned, I think that the tax could be much higher than 10 per cent. If the Chancellor wishes to deter people from making use of football pools in order to save labour, then 10 per cent. is not enough; it ought to be 20 or 30 per cent. I should have thought that there was a very good case for setting up a State "Unity" pool which would save labour, and which would, incidentally, be of benefit to the investor because the more money going in, the higher the dividend. There would also be no question of some firms keeping back more than others.
The last item to which the Chancellor should turn his attention on the betting front is the question of the illegal traffic in sweepstakes to which the hon. Member the junior Burgess for Oxford University has not referred. At the moment, all sweepstake lotteries, except for one or two specialised ones, are illegal in this country. Nevertheless, some, £6 million or £8 million a year pass in connection with lotteries. Only last year £4 million worth of Irish Sweepstake tickets were illegally sold in this country. We cannot prevent something which the majority are determined to do. If we have lotteries. why not do what the Royal Commission on lotteries and betting suggested we should do? They said that if we are going to have lotteries at all, the best agency to run them is the State. All the machinery exists already, and the Royal Commission suggested that the tickets should be sold through the post offices. That, after all, is something we used to do in this country many years ago. It only broke down because it was not done very systematically or in a very orderly manner, and because there were various ramps on the Stock Exchange which finally brought it to an end.
1857 But it is worth considering it again. It might help to brighten for some of us the days of austerity which we have to face at the moment. I think that if the Chancellor will eschew the sentiment which he expressed the other night of not wanting to have his fingers burnt by the bookmakers, and will tackle this job wholeheartedly and take an overall compass and view of it, he will find that he can regularise betting, make it official and open, and, at the same time, he can collect something like £1oo million a year instead of a paltry £15million.
§ 6.34 p.m.
§ Major Haughton (Antrim)
The last two or three speeches have dealt more particularly with the Betting Duty. That is a matter to which, for a rather particular reason, I will refer a little later on. I wish, first of all, to speak about the general effect of the increase in the Profits Tax upon production. Of course, that is a subject which will be debated and discussed for a long time. But there is one thing which is certain, and that is that a tax on undistributed profits tends towards extravagance in management, and, in some cases, to worse, at a time when thrift and salvage are of vital importance to the nation. Another effect of the disparity between undivided and divided profits is, of course, to emphasise the unfairness as between ordinary shareholders and debenture and preference shareholders.
However, it is not my intention to pursue the general consideration; I want to deal particularly with the suggestion that taxation should be retrospective. Once that creeps into our taxation system, confidence is badly shaken, and uncertainty begins to reign at a time when we need confidence and want to remove as many uncertainties as possible. To make the rates of taxation in Clause 7 retrospective to 1st January, 1947, is grossly. unfair to a multitude of companies who, in the light of the Finance Act, 1947, decided their dividend policy and published their balance sheets. In doing that, are they to be blamed? Were they breaking any law or order, and why should they be penalised? While I was glad to hear the Financial Secretary hold out some little hope that this matter might be reconsidered, I would make the strongest appeal to the Chancellor that the date from which this tax should operate should be that on which the Resolution is passed.
1858 I now turn to the suggested Betting Duty. I am particularly interested in this because I was chairman of the committee in Northern Ireland which is called upon to report on the betting laws. It has been sitting for two years, and has reviewed the whole history of the matter. It brings right up to date the various commissions from the date mentioned by my hon. Friend the junior Burgess for Oxford University (Sir A. Herbert). He mentioned that of 1902, but the Northern Ireland Committee deals with all the laws since then. I humbly suggest that a study of the majority and minority reports might dissipate the Chancellor's idea that the problem cannot be tackled, and that it is insoluble. I know that the Churches' Committee on gambling regard this proposal with dismay because they are of the opinion that a moral and social calamity may follow and that it is anti-social. It is a little difficult to reconcile that view with the fact that totalisators, dog racing, and football pools are already legal. It is very hard to see how a tax on the funds that pass through the totalisators or football pools can either strengthen or weaken something which is already legal.
The suggestion is made that horse racing should be exempt because it provides a very valuable export in thoroughbred racehorses. But, surely, that argument is not sound. Is every industry which produces exports to be privileged and exempt from taxation? As my hon. Friend the junior Burgess for Oxford University said, those who are interested in greyhounds can also argue that they are producing very considerable exports by promoting dog races in America and by the shipment of greyhounds. Mention was made by an hon. Member opposite of the total volume being gambled. It is very hard to estimate the exact amount, but I would put the figure at £960 million. If the proposal that only greyhound racing and football pools should be taxed were carried through, it would mean that only £260 million out of that vast sum would be touched.
In conclusion, I want to say something about the advertising tax, and here I think it is right that I should declare my interest. I was the administrator of the Advertising Exhibition in 1920, and a director of advertising agencies, and, although I do not now serve on the boards, I have still a considerable interest 1859 in them. It has never been my practice to say bitter or provocative things across the Floor of this House. I am sorely tempted at the present time to say some pretty hard things about the suggested tax on advertising. It is absolutely ridiculous at a time when we are trying to increase production and exports, because advertising is really the very breath of life to some forms of industry. The Minister of Health, faced as he might be with a dread epidemic in the country, might just as well go to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and say, "This is the time to clamp a heavy tax on our iron lungs."
The proposals set forth in Clause 9 are very hard to understand, and if any meaning can be found in them one is driven to say that the Treasury would have to decide what part of an appropriation would go to the home trade and what part would go to export. In the arranging of an advertising appropriation it will be found that the two go together. Take, for instance, Horrockses cotton sheets which are known all over the world. They could not be advertised with the same effect abroad unless they were well known at home. I hope those Clauses will be completely reconsidered.
During the Debate on the Address the Chancellor himself made certain remarks which I noted with great care and which I have repeated over and over again since. He deplored the fact that the prestige of British goods had suffered very much by the export of inferior goods. If there is one way to maintain the quality and prestige of British goods it is by branding and advertising, and by the maintenance of quality which must follow. We hear too much of the expression "Too much money chasing too few goods." What we want are more goods. I hope the motto which will guide us will be on the lines of "Enough money for plenty of goods."
§ 6.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Austin (Stretford)
I find myself in agreement with one aspect of the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Antrim (Major Haughton). That was on the question of the betting duty. In fact it is safe to say that there have been very few dissentients from the general line of criticism of the Chancellor on this question of a partial betting tax. But, on the 1860 issue of advertising, apart from reservations which I hope will be made by the Government in relation to trade, technical and export advertising, which, of course, are very important, in the main, advertising today is purely prestige advertising. It is true that, in some degree, the export market is no longer a sellers' market, but the home domestic consumer market is nothing less than a sellers' market at the moment. Almost everything that can be made by an industrialist can easily be absorbed in the home market. Therefore, there is no reason for the wholesale advertising that has been going on in the past.
§ Sir Arthur Salter (Oxford University)
I hope the hon. Gentleman will exclude from that statement businesses such as theatres, cinemas, the book trade and so on. They obviously must have advertising, not for the general prestige purpose but for the conduct of their normal business.
§ Mr. Austin
Curiously enough, I was just coming to the question of theatrical advertising, because this afternoon I received a telegram from a constituent of mine who apparently organises a theatrical agency and he complains that this tax will affect him greatly. I am very sorry for my constituent, but I have to weigh up his place in the economic society of today and consider its importance in the sphere of economics as we know it. We must give first place in advertising to those who make some contribution to the productive economy of our country. This sanction may in some way affect my constituent adversely and others in similar business. I regret it very much, but I am afraid that it is essential at the moment; and the Government are right in eliminating a great deal of the present day advertising and in diverting some of the labour from advertising. This is not a tax gathering idea at all. The main idea is to divert a great deal of the labour and resources which at the moment are being expended on advertising to more productive objects.
I want to turn to another matter, and that is the failure of the Opposition so far to put up constructive alternative proposals to the Government's in this Finance Bill. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) who, I regret, is not in his seat, made references in his speech to the question of public expenditure and 1861 the need for reductions there. I twice tried to interject but he did not give way. What aspects of public expenditure do we find commented on by the Opposition? The hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) was honest enough to demand a withdrawal of the food subsidies. The hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft) made a qualified appeal for the withdrawal of food subsidies. From the Opposition Front Bench, however, we get nothing but vague, abstract generalisations regarding reductions in capital expenditure and other reductions, hinting at the social services and at the food subsidies. Surely, it is the function of the Opposition, if they are to oppose us, to come forward with some constructive proposals honestly and decently, in day-light, instead of hiding in this furtive fashion.
One thing always strikes me when they are making any proposals about reductions, and that is their omission of a very vital way in which reductions could be made, and that is in the field of the Armed Forces. I notice—and I hope my right hon. and learned Friend will take this into consideration—that we are going to save something like £31 million in the sale of certain war products. Does he realise the unbalance of our present expenditure? As I see it, the expenditure for the current financial year is something like £3,100 million. Of that, we find the expenditure on the Armed Forces is £900 million. Is that not altogether out of proportion? Is that not putting on the people an undesirable burden that they should not be asked to bear? Something like 27 per cent. of our present-day expenditure is on the Armed Forces, which means petrol is being diverted, transport is being diverted, marmalade on the mess tables in the barracks, for instance, is being diverted—all being diverted from the consumer in the home market to the non-productive consumer in the Armed Forces. I submit to the Government that it is about time they did something about a drastic reduction in the Armed Forces. When one considers the figures, that for food subsidies is comparatively low—£392 million. Surely there is ample room therefore for further reductions in the Armed Forces; and at all costs must we retain the food subsidies in the interests of the general consumer.
I want to say this to the Chancellor. I, perhaps in common with many other 1862 back benchers, was very perturbed and worried as to his attitude to the Budget and to our economy in general, following his succession to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton). I noticed with some concern the blandishments and the overtures of the Opposition to my right hon. and learned Friend. I want to say, therefore, that the Labour Party came into being originally with the purpose of protecting and safeguarding the working class. I hope that in no circumstances will he forget that. I do not want to see any animus against any other class, whether the middle class or the wealthy upper class. But the primary function of the Labour Party is to protect the the great mass of the people of this country who compose the working class, and I hope that as time goes on, and as he unfolds to the House his financial policy, he will resist the further blandishments of the Tories.
I turn to the question of the removal of subsidies from cotton, wool and leather; I do feel that the Chancellor has been very lucky in getting away with this so lightly. It may be that Members on this side of the House were so relieved to find that the food subsidies were not going to be touched that there was no real criticism of these three other subsidies. I remember a little while ago that the price of a pair of blankets went up by 15s., and that is quite a burden on a working class housewife. I understand that the price now of a pair of shoes is going up in relation to quality by something like 3s. to 8s. or 9s., and we can see utility suits going up by 5s. or 6s., and the costumes and dresses for our womenfolk going up proportionately.
I must ask the Chancellor to bear this in mind, that with our present wage structure being held fast on a firm basis, it is unfair to impose on the working class this additional burden of higher prices for their clothing, and I hope that between now and the next April Budget he will do what he can to restore in part, perhaps, these subsidies on textiles and leather. Related to this point is the question of passing on to the consumer any further increase in the price of food. Is it fair, because of circumstances beyond -our control, that the rises in prices of commodities bought abroad should be passed on to the consumer? Surely, the 1863 Chancellor has to equalise the burden, and lessen the burden on the shoulders of the working class whom taxation almost always affects with the greatest severity.
In regard to the removal of subsidies, surely here is a heaven-sent opportunity in a possible Budget surplus. We are told it is in the region of £250 million. Apparently the target outlined by the previous Chancellor is already reached. We have a Budget surplus of £250 million today. It is anticipated by the Financial Secretary that it will be in the region of £320 million or £330 million by the time of the next Budget. Is there any particular virtue in having a Budget surplus? I am no expert in economics. I make no apology for that. I am a layman. My economics have been the difference between a full and a hungry belly in the past—and, perhaps, that would be better for the economics of hon. Gentlemen opposite. Surely, however, here is a heaven-sent opportunity for upholding the food subsidies, which will affect the great majority of the people of this country, and for saving them other impositions in the way of Purchase Tax, which I resent very much. Surely, we could use that surplus for such purposes. Perhaps, my right hon. and learned Friend would be good enough to give his observations on that possibility when he replies to the Debate.
I want to make a comment in passing on the Betting Duty. I agree with observations made by hon. Members on both sides of the House that this partial tax is not only unfair but unrealistic. The sooner we realise and accept the reality of betting as a social phenomenon, the sooner shall we be able to deal with this difficulty. Until last Saturday I had not been to greyhound racing since I was 19 years of age. The last time I went, apart from last Saturday, was in 1930. On Saturday last I went to a London greyhound track because of a Question I had put down relating to the exclusion of juveniles from greyhound tracks. I believe that today betting at greyhound racing tracks is a social phenomenon which is worthy of observation by the Mass Observation group. It would make a very worthwhile study. I made inquiries from various people and I found that a great deal of the betting had been diverted from the tote to the bookmaker, and I 1864 heard bookmakers calling out, "Come and bet with a bookie and avoid the 16 per cent. tax." That related to the 10 per cent. tax on betting and the six per cent. which I understand is deducted for the purpose of profit sharing. It is obvious that the partial Betting Duty has in no way mopped up or absorbed the spending power of the people. If they are not spending it on the totalisator, they are spending it on the bookies.
Apart from that, it is about time we regulated this element in our lives. Betting goes on, as my hon. Friend for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) has pointed out, among something like four out of five people. It is time we recognised it and legalised it, and thus allowed the Government to profit not only financially but in the sense of the country being cleansed to a great extent, of certain evil influences which are attendant on the clandestine betting which goes on today. In addition, I would like to see further regulations regarding football pools. It is well known, as was pointed out. by my hon. Friend the Member for Bilston (Mr. Nally) in an Adjournment Debate, that investors in football pools are very often not treated fairly, and the sooner the Government come to grips with this problem the better it will be in the interests of the nation.
If one were to sum up the Budget and this Bill in betting parlance, it would be in the phrase, "The bookies first and incentives nowhere." There has been some discussion regarding the question of incentives in industry, and I confess that I was greatly disappointed at the fact that the Chancellor did not see his way to make certain suggestions regarding incentives. We must realise that we have have not yet implanted in the breasts of people that element of service for the community which we desire, and which we fervently hope will come to fruition. The incentives today are material, and we have to realise that people work mainly for reward. I think there should be an incentive in the form of concession to married women. At the moment I understand married women's earnings for the purpose of taxation are lumped together with those of their husbands. We are asking women to enter the textile and engineering industries, but I can well understand and sympathise with the view of a married woman who says, "No, I do not see why I should go to 1865 work and have my income lumped together with my husband's income and have a great deal of it taken away in Income Tax." It indicates a failure on the part of the Government to seize a heaven-sent opportunity of recruiting women.
Again, there are certain industries which involve dangerous and sometimes dirty work, such as mining, agriculture and foundry work, and I should have thought that there is scope in those industries for further concessions in taxation, so that for the immediate purpose of our reconstruction in the next three or four years those employed in those industries are classed as members of privileged industries. Why could not we have lowered the standard rate of Income Tax of men in the mining industry, in agriculture, in the foundries, and so on? That would have created a great incentive for recruiting to those industries—and, heaven knows, we need a far greater number of recruits in those industrial fields.
In addition, would it not be possible to work out an overall coal export target bonus, by means of which men in various pits, scattered throughout the country and grouped regionally, would benefit if their target were reached and we were able to export to other countries the coal which they need so badly, and from whom we could receive in return their commodities, so badly needed by ourselves? Surely, that is the sort of tax concession incentive which ought to have been made in the Budget? Again, would it not have been possible to have given some tax concession incentive to manufacturers engaged in export trades? After all, we do ask the present day manufacturers to help the Government in the export drive, they are taxed—and I hope we will tax them severely—but I think a good deal could be done by way of a tax concession incentive to manufacturers helping in the export drive.
One other proposal which has been referred to in this Debate from time to time—and for repeating which I do not apologise—is the recalling of the currency. Must we see the Government behind public opinion in this matter, as in many others? In my view, ultimately the Government will have to recall the currency. The other day I read in a newspaper how an individual went into a Great Portland Street showroom, put down £4,500 in £1 1866 notes and drove away in a Rolls Royce car. Multiply that a thousandfold among the other commodities and goods now being purchased in £I notes and one has ample evidence for the necessity of recalling the currency. The Government would there find ample opportunity to mop up spending power, not from the consuming power of the working class, with the increased Purchase Tax and the removal of certain food subsidies, but from the surplus spending power which rests in the pockets of those who have come by their money illegally, and are now spending those illicit earnings on luxury articles—whether it be cars for themselves or fur coats for their wives. Something ought to be done about that. Secondly, a recall of the currency, with a limited surrender limit of currency to each individual, would also help the Savings Movement, for one can easily envisage the amount of money which would pour into the Savings Movement if people had to give up their present currency in exchange for another. I hope, therefore, the Chancellor will consider some of the suggestions I have been fortunate enough to have had the opportunity of making.
§ 7.4 p.m.
§ Mr. David Eccles (Chippenham)
I hope the hon. Member for Streford (Mr. Austin) will forgive me if I do not follow his speech, except that I will try not to be furtive about what it is right that we should do. Owing to an unhappy experience with a bad duck-egg, I have not had the opportunity of catching your eye Mr. Deputy-Speaker, since the early days of July. In the interval much has happened. The American Loan has disappeared; sterling is under the disgrace of inconvertibility; and we are throwing our last reserves of gold and free exchange into the unbridgeable gap between our dollar earnings and out goings. These are the unmistakable signs of a national crisis which far transcends party politics. Yet I find that the Government have decided upon another round of Socialism as the best remedy, and that they have adopted compulsion as the ultimate sanction of their economic policy. Part of that economic policy is monetary and fiscal, and we are told that this Bill has been brought forward to decrease the inflationary tendencies which now exist, or which are likely to develop before April when the annual Budget is brought in.
1867 The new Chancellor has said that the Bill is adequate for that limited object. I doubt that; but I think it is much more important to discuss whether the limited object itself measures up to the crisis in our national fortunes. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that no one can measure and assess accurately the inflationary pressures, but surely we know enough about them to determine what it is right to do now. A dog cannot define a rat, but the mere sight of a rat is sufficient to stimulate a good dog to the appropriate action. As I see it, my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft) was correct when he said that this inflation is everywhere, at all levels in our economy, and the Chancellor was following too closely in his predecessor's footsteps when he claimed that the pressure is mostly in the area of Capital goods.
Suppose that all the controls were taken off at one stroke. Which prices do hon. Members think would rise fastest and furthest? The prices of foodstuffs or the prices of capital goods? The prices of potatoes, eggs and bacon, or the prices of machinery and power stations? It is very important, when considering how to check inflation, to realise that the heaviest pressures are against the necessities of life, although, of course, it is true that the pressures against capital goods have so far had more chance to show themselves. I agree that no one can measure accurately this inflation, but we cannot mistake its consequences. Today, we have two price levels, one which embraces all those goods which are rationed or controlled, or otherwise prevented from commanding their natural prices, and the other which embraces the goods and services which are not controlled or rationed; and the consequence of Daltonian inflation has been steadily to widen the gap between these two sets of prices. Labour, management and materials are pulled towards the production of the uncontrolled articles and away from the production of the necessities of life. If that were not so the Government would not have introduced direction of labour in peacetime.
We find, therefore, that this inflation expresses itself through the public spending too much of its money on the wrong things. There is only one effective cure for this unhealthy pattern of spending, 1868 and that is to expand the production of the right things. But that is not the cure which this Bill proposes. This Bill attempts to reduce the inflationary pressure by making the public spend more of its money on things which do not matter. Like the tobacco tax last April, the consumption taxes in this Bill are designed to make us spend more on non-essentials, and, if the public does not choose, in the months ahead, to lay out more money on beer, betting, and luxuries, then this Bill will fail in its anti-inflationary object.
The surplus purchasing power will not have been mopped up, but will still be running loose, and it will be all the easier for it to break-out elsewhere, because the range of the Purchase Tax has not been widened in the Bill. It is very curious to note that if this Bill is to succeed in its object, it must do so because of the constancy of human nature, which is expected to preserve the pattern of spending, in spite of the new taxes. The constancy of human nature is at the root of the Bill, and yet the case for Socialism has time and again been that it rests upon the ability of its exponents to change the economic motives which have hitherto moved mankind. I commend to the intellectual bigwigs sitting opposite this interesting contrast between the theory and practice of Socialism.
If the Bill is not adequate to its limited purposes, the purpose itself is much less adequate to the crisis in our economy. The Bill makes only a negative and half-hearted attack upon inflation. At the very best, it will Help to stabilise poverty where it is today. Surely, it is time to stop thinking that we can again raise the prosperity of England by making more expensive the cost of things which do not matter? Is there no way in which we can make a positive attack upon inflation, and make more attractive the production of the things which matter? Apparently, the last Chancellor of the Exchequer did not think so. His vindictive policy was to restrict what he did not like.
The right policy is to expand what the people want. How is that to be done? As far as the Finance Bill is concerned, one obvious way is to reduce the cost of living subsidies in the manner proposed by my hon. Friends. In the course of the recent Debates, which I have read, many right hon. and hon. Members spoke for 1869 and against these subsidies. If my hon. Friends will allow me to say so, not one of them made the case for the reduction of subsidies half as well as it was made last Wednesday at Question time by the Minister of Food. One of his hon. Friends tackled him about the rising price of mackerel, and he defended himself with much less of that unctuous confidence which I associated with him when I was last in the House. Having admitted that the price had doubled, he said that "the supplies are about double too." That is the point. Raising the price doubles the supplies. These are the words of the Minister of Food. Who can doubt that if a year ago the prices of potatoes had been sharply increased, the same results would have been achieved?
§ Mr. House (St. Pancras, North)
Surely, the doubling of the price of tobacco does not in itself explain the doubled increase in smoking?
§ Mr. Scollan (Renfrew, Western)
Surely, the hon. Member is not contending that the catches of the fishermen are controlled by the prices the Minister of Food puts on fish? If that is the case, why did they dump herrings into the sea to keep up the price?
§ Mr. Eccles
The Minister of Food thinks that it is so, and so do I. The Minister of Food states that the prices and supplies have doubled. Furthermore, I am convinced that the same would have happened with potatoes. When bread rationing was introduced, I warned Ministers that it would lead to a shortage of potatoes. Why did they not there and then sharply increase the price, which would have called forth far larger supplies this season?
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Woodburn)
Is the hon. Member aware that the farmers of this country are cultivating every acre of land, and that if we increased the crops of potatoes, we could only do it by decreasing the crop of something else?
§ Mr. Eccles
The right hon. Gentleman is entirely wrong. He cannot know much about agriculture, and he knows still less about gardens and allotments. How many gardens and allotments have this year grown few or no potatoes? The right hon. Gentleman does not know how potatoes can be grown. Let him double 1870 the price, and then he will see. The Minister did not do it, because the Government were afraid to touch the cost of living. They held that these food subsidies were sacred no matter what the effects of their bigotry has been upon the supply of food, or upon the volume of cash free to chase after non-essential goods. We should look at these subsidies objectively. I have no objection in principle to the food subsidies. My father was a doctor, and he very frequently remarked how foolish it was to fill children's heads with education, when there was not enough good food in their stomachs to enable them to benefit by their lessons. It must be clear that for some children free milk and dinners are just as important as arithmetic or modern languages, but there is always a limit to the amount of money which it is wise to spend upon any one particular social service. There is always an overriding duty to see that that expenditure does not do more economic and social harm than it does good.
What is the test we can apply to the food subsidies to see whether their effects are good or bad upon our economy? The simplest test I can think of is to compare the amount of money which the public as a whole is now spending upon food and non-alcoholic drinks, with the amount of money which it is now spending on tobacco and alcohol. The White Paper, which was issued with the last Budget, showed that for every 5s. we are spending on food and non-alcoholic drinks, we are spending 4s. on tobacco and alcohol. I imagine that when the effects of last April's tobacco tax and the present penny a pint on beer have worked themselves out, we shall be spending shilling for shilling on these two major categories of consumption. From whatever angle that pattern of spending is looked, at, economics, social welfare or morals, it is. quite indefensible. Other industrial nations, like the Swedes or the Americans, spend a far higher proportion of their incomes on food.
§ Mr. Eccles
The British pattern is unique. It was built up in the days of 1871 free trade, when we were able to buy, often at shockingly low prices, the spillovers and gluts of all the food-producing countries in the world. These days have gone for ever. It is a delusion for the new Chancellor of the Exchequer to hope, as he did in his winding-up speech the other night, that the food subsidies are a convenient remedy for a temporary difficulty. The Chancellor of the Exchequer knows as well as anyone that the increased sterling costs of feeding our people is not a temporary difficulty at all; first of all, because the whole world has been aroused to the importance of raising nutritional standards, secondly, because the sterling cost of producing and importing food, and especially the wages of farm workers, have risen permanently compared with prewar. Thirdly, because the problem of the British balance of payments will be with us for many a year. We cannot begin too early to make the long-term adjustments in our economy, which will enable us to work towards a new equilibrium. On economic grounds, it is sheer nonsense to believe that we can go on spending shilling for shilling on food, on the one hand, and on tobacco and alcohol, on the other.
§ Major Bruce (Portsmouth, North)
The hon. Gentleman has been developing an interesting theory that increasing the price of a particular commodity makes call for a further supply. Would he say that also applies to beer—that increasing the price of beer will call for more supplies of beer?
§ Mr. Eccles
The increased price of beer, I trust, will not call for a greater allocation of barley and sugar with which beer is brewed, and, therefore, the operation of supply and demand will not work. But I think that His Majesty's Government may say that they are able to stimulate the maximum production of food at home without raising retail prices. That is not true. As I said in the case of mackerel, that is disproved by the Minister of Food.
I would add two further observations. First, if the United States had held down their food prices there would not now be supplies of food in that country with which to help Europe. Anyone who has studied the agricultural position in the United States knows that it was the rise in prices that called for the great increase in the 1872 acreage last year. Secondly, administrative madness is involved in our own policy of food subsidies. One army of officials is employed in policing the food trade; another army of officials is required to manage the agricultural programme, and to finance the operation of these two armies, a third army of tax collectors take the money out of one of our pockets to put it into the other. This triplication of administration is lunacy. We have to put up with it because the Government have not the courage to tell the people that they must concentrate their spending on those things which are necessary to their bare survival. I understand, of course, why the Government are afraid to make a move in this direction. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is quite right in saying that if a reduction in the food subsidies were followed by an all-round increase in wages, we should have more and not less inflation, and so long as he and his colleagues fear that result, they will not touch the subsidies.
§ Mr. Eccles
I agree that it is a substantial fear, but worse will happen if we do not tackle it. The reason why the Government are afraid is because they have not had the courage to tell the people what will happen to their rations if wages and prices are left where they are, and if the Americans do not make available to us a vast new supply of dollars. This Bill—and this is my main criticism against it—is a mere gesture to pass the time while His Majesty's Government wait and see whether the Americans will make fresh loans and gifts to us. I am certain that the Americans will be generous, irrespective of the colour of our Government, but that help, as I will explain, is not likely to come soon enough to prevent a further drastic cut in our food supplies. If that is the case, it is a scandal that a beginning is not made in this autumn Budget to shift the spending of the people from nonessential to essential goods.
1873 What are the facts about our prospective import of foods and other necessities? Last August, we ran out of borrowed dollars. We were left with £500 million or £600 million of gold and free reserves. About the same time, the Paris Committee, studying the Marshall plan, estimated the dollar requirements of Great Britain in 1948 at 2.6 billion or £650 million. That figure of £650 million had already been cut down at the request of the Americans who descended upon the conference. That figure made no allowance for the exhaustion, then unforeseen, of our stocks and reserves between August and the end of this year. That figure was based on a price level which has substantially increased since. As hon. Members know, in the Marshall plan wheat is taken at 2.60 dollars and it was sold in Chicago yesterday at 3.14 dollars. By all sober reckoning, the figure of £650 million is far too low.
What did the former Chancellor of the Exchequer do to impress upon the Americans the need to hasten aid to the British people, if their rations are not to be cut by an intolerable amount? What he did or did not do, I do not know, but we can all see the effects of his action. The effect of his presentation of the British case in America is that this country is not in the queue for interim or winter aid. France, Italy and Germany are in the queue. Britain is not in the queue, although we saved the one and helped to defeat the others. The day will come when this House will disapprove the action of the Foreign Secretary in lumping the credit of Great Britain in with the countries she either saved or defeated.
The result of this policy is that we can expect no help before the late spring, when the main Marshall plan will, we trust, be voted. What will happen? Are the Government prepared to say that our economy can hold out until that date? Are they prepared to say that before that time the stocks and goods in this country will not be run down beyond the danger point? Are they prepared to say that there will still be sufficient reserves in the banking system to finance the trade of the sterling area, without which we cannot live? For my part, I fear a disastrous interval during which, whether further help comes to us in the late summer of 1948 or not, we cannot maintain the supplies in the pipe-line. What then is the good of fiddling about with this little Bill
1874 which has no object whatever except to persuade people to spend more of their money on the wrong things? Why are we not this afternoon beginning to make a positive, constructive national effort to expand the production of the things which the people need? Although the first steps, such as cutting the food subsidies, would be unpleasant and painful, we must take them one day in an orderly manner which we decide ourselves, or they will happen in a cruel and disorderly fashion. It is cowardice and party politics that bedevil us.
As the House knows, I have never underrated the vast difficulties, temporary and deep seated, that came crowding on to this country at the end of the war. All the strength and all the spirit of a united and unwearied nation would have been taxed to the full to overcome them; no party politics, no partisan Government, could have surmounted them. But look at us now—poorer and hungrier every month, ignorant of the basic facts, wanting in common purpose, sniping at each other in the class war, miserably divided. I wish the new Chancellor were here, because he towers over his quaking colleagues. I would ask him to go back to the electors now, and make a fresh start. Let us go back and ask for a new mandate, not for party programmes but for survival. Hon. Members opposite know quite well that the longer they put off the Election the more seats they will lose—
§ Mr. Eccles
Such losses, although a consolation to me, weigh nothing in the balance against the earliest opportunity of making a fresh start, facing reality, and again inspiring the vigour and spirit of our people.
§ 7.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Warbey (Luton)
We can congratulate the hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles) on one thing at least—being more frank with us in respect of the cuts in public expenditure than was his colleague the right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank), who talked so vaguely about them earlier today. The hon. Member for Chippenham was not perhaps quite as frank as his colleague the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) who, in the Debate on the Budget Resolutions, said that he would cut out food subsidies com- 1875 pletely; nor was the hon. Member as frank as his colleague the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft), who said he would reduce the food subsidies to £300 million; nor was he quite as frank as his colleague the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson), who said, or indicated clearly, that if he had been in power he would have reduced the amount being spent on family allowances and old age pensioners—
§ Mr. Warbey
If the hon. Member will listen I will tell him what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities did say. He said that the Government had been over hasty in introducing old age pensions increases and family allowances; in other words, that if he had been in power he would not have introduced family allowances or made those increases.
§ Mr. Warbey
There is no doubt whatever of the implication of the right hon. Gentleman's argument. Following my brief word of congratulation to the hon. Member for Chippenham, may I now say that I found his argument more full of muddled thinking and fallacies than any argument I have heard in this House for a long time. He asked why this country is not in the queue for interim aid from the United States, why Austria and Germany are getting aid and we are not? I wonder if he is aware that those countries are enduring living standards far below the level which, fortunately, exists in this country.
§ Mr. Warbey
Apparently the hon. Member will be only too pleased when the standard of living in this country is reduced.
§ Mr. Hogg
On a point of Order. If I cannot make the hon. Gentleman grant the usual courtesy, Sir, I will do so on a point of Order. Is it in Order for a Member to accuse another of being pleased, or suggesting that he would be pleased, if the people of this country had to suffer more starvation than the incompetence of this Government has made them suffer already?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
No, the hon. Gentleman cannot insist on having my guidance. I have ruled that the hon. Gentleman's point was not a point of Order.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The hon. Member has no business to make that remark. I, personally, did not hear what the hon.-Member for Luton (Mr. Warbey) was saying, and no one knows better than the hon. Gentleman himself some of the things which are frequently said from both sides of the Chamber. I do not think I am called upon to intervene on this occasion.
§ Mr. Hogg
As you did not hear what the hon. Member opposite said, Sir, may I repeat it, and ask for your Ruling? The hon. Gentleman said that I should be pleased if the standard of living of our people was further reduced. In my submission, I am entitled to a Ruling on that, because whether or not a great many improper things have been said in this House before, I claim that that is a direct and personal attack on a Member of the House. A Member so attacked is entitled to the protection of the Chair, no matter on what side he sits.
§ Mr. David Jones (The Hartlepools)
On a point of Order. May I point out that when my hon. Friend the Member for Luton was making a comparison between the standards of living in Austria and Germany with this country, the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) retorted, "You wait?"
§ Major Bruce
Further to that point of Order. May I draw the attention of the hon. Member for Oxford to the advice once given by the Leader of the Opposition—not to be thin-skinned on these occasions?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Personal allegations are always undesirable; there is no question about that. I do not think I am called upon to say any more on this occasion.
§ Mr. Warbey
If I may be allowed to resume my speech, now that the hon. Member for Oxford has somewhat cooled off, perhaps we may get back to the point I was making, which was that one of the minor fallacies in the speech of the hon. Member for Chippenham was his reference to the fact that this country would not be receiving interim aid from the United States during the coming winter. We are certainly not in the position of Germany and Austria nor, whatever the hon. Member for Oxford may think, are we likely to be in the near future. As for a comparison with France and Italy, we are perhaps in the unfortunate position of not having a very large Communist Party in this country. If we had, we might have qualified for American aid somewhat sooner, because it seems that the recipe for American aid is to have a large Communist Party.
The hon. Member for Chippenham suggested, with general agreement, that if all controls were removed, the highest and sharpest rise in prices would be in the field of the necessities of life. That, of course, follows from the fact that elasticity of demand for the necessities of life is not very great. If there is even a comparatively small deficiency of supply compared with demand, there will be a disproportionately large increase in price. It is precisely for that reason that this Government have followed, and will, I hope, continue to follow, the policy of subsidising the necessities of life to help to keep prices within reasonable bounds. The hon. Member went on to say that to attract a larger production of commodities, we should increase prices. I can understand that he should want to restore the operation of the free price mechanism in this country.
That is his argument and the argument of several hon. Members opposite. They would like to see a state of affairs in which, following deflation, we had the 1878 restoration of what is euphemistically called a reserve pool of unemployed. They would like to see wages falling according to the law of the market to their natural level. They would like to see, in addition, a rise in the price of commodities, and a reduction in the social services, and the general standard of living of the common people of this country. That is the programme of hon. Members opposite, and it is right to hear it frankly stated sometimes. I hope it will be as frankly stated at the Gravesend by-election.
§ Mr. Joynson-Hicks
Will not the hon. Member say that that is his impression, and not what we stand for on this side of the House?
§ Mr. Warbey
I am afraid it is much more than that. We have heard from hon. Members opposite, from the hon. Member for Chippenham, and others, definite arguments in favour of those things. In the case of food subsidies and social services we have on previous occasions heard arguments in favour of general deflation. The whole of this argument about the vast inflationary gap—which is very much inflated in the minds of hon. Members opposite—is really a disguised argument for a policy of deflation which has been advocated in the "Economist," that spiritual guide of hon. Members opposite, for many months past. The "Economist," moreover, has not concealed the nature of that policy, which is to restore a free market in wages, as well as in the prices of commodities, in order that they may be brought down to a lower level. The whole argument for a cut in food subsidies is, in fact, an argument for lowering the standard of living of the masses of the people in this country and for reversing the process of retracting income in favour. of the lower income groups which has been the policy of this Government since it came into power.
§ Mr. Spearman (Scarborough and Whitby)
May I ask the hon. Member if he is therefore advocating that food prices should be stabilised at the present level? I would point out-that that is not what the Government are doing. They are spending £392 million, which will, perhaps, have such an inflationary effect, that it will raise prices far above the present level.
§ Mr. Warbey
That is a perfectly fair point. I entirely agree that the Government have said, through the former and the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, that the present policy is to fix a ceiling limit of £392 million for food subsidies. Personally, I rather regret that. In my view the policy of keeping the cost of necessities stable is one that we should continue to pursue. If there is a further rise in the prices of these necessities, that rise should be met by increased subsidies out of increased taxation.
§ Mr. Warbey
I have already said it is not. The Government policy is to continue to maintain the subsidies at the present level, whereas the policy of the hon. Members opposite is to make a smashing reduction in those subsidies. That is the difference. It is a very big difference indeed, a difference, advocated by the hon. Member for Monmouth, of £300 million a year; of 2s. 3d., as he admitted, per head for every man, woman and child in this country. Now I come to one more most astonishing fallacy of the hon. Member for Chippenham, which he will see himself as soon as it is pointed out. He said, quite rightly in certain very limited cases today, that you may secure an increased amount of production by offering higher prices. You do that by offering the higher price to the producer. That is what the Government have been doing in their agricultural policy. You do not achieve that by compelling the consumer to pay a higher price to the retailer. If the consumer pays more for his loaf of bread as a result of the removal of food subsidies, that will not produce one single loaf more in this country.
§ Mr. Eccles
I expect I am very foolish, but it hurts me to think I am as foolish as the hon. Member makes out. Naturally, I assume that the increased price would be passed back to the producer. I know quite well, and so does he if he knows anything about village life, that the production in this country today is far below what it would be if the prices were higher to those who grow food in their gardens and allotments, and on their farms.
§ Mr. Warbey
I think the hon. Member has forgotten that that was part of his 1880 argument for the reduction of food subsidies. He said that reducing food subsidies would increase the price which was paid to the producer. Of course, it would do nothing of the sort. These are two separate cases. The point is so elementary that I heardly need to explain it further. Food subsidies have nothing whatever to do with the raising or lowering of the prices paid to the producer.
§ Mr. Eccles
If the hon. Member thinks that the price of eggs today is anything like what it would be if there were no subsidy, he is wrong. Supposing the subsidy were taken off eggs and the price of eggs allowed to go up with the demand, there would be an extraordinary increase in production.
§ Mr. Warbey
I think that what the hon. Member is advocating now is not merely that we should remove the food subsidies but, in addition, that we should remove also the price control. Is that what he is meaning?
§ Mr. Eccles
I cannot go through all the items, but I certainly would bring the prices paid to the British farmer up to world prices, and even a little more, for everything he produced. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that that is the only way to get an expansion of production. There are already certain prices offered by the Minister of Agriculture which are fairly satisfactory. In those cases he would not need to do anything. But it is necesary to do something desperate to increase food production in this country.
§ Mr. Warbey
I am grateful to the hon. Member for his frankness. We have now been told that, not only are we to increase the cost of living by removing the food subsidies, but we are further to increase it by raising the prices to the producers. I wish the hon. Member would go down to Gravesend and tell that to the electors there, and find out what their response would be tomorrow. I think he would have a shock. I hope it will go out to Gravesend in time for them to know before they record their votes tomorrow.
1881 We have had in this Debate a great deal of discussion about measures to deal with the inflationary gap, and I entirely agree that this is a question of the very greatest importance; but I think it is worth noting, and worth placing on record more than once, that this Government have been more successful in their measures to resist the inflationary process than any other Government in the world, not excepting the United States—as we know to our cost. That is something for which other countries ought properly to envy us, and of which we in this country ought justly to be proud. I hope that when the hon. and gallant Member for Central Glasgow (Colonel J. R. H. Hutchison) goes to the United States, as I understand he soon will, as an unofficial ambassador and spokesman of this country, he will tell America all about what we are doing in this country to resist the inflationary pressure, and perhaps he may be able to give some good advice to the Americans on the subject.
I was very glad when the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his winding-up speech on the Budget Resolutions, laid emphasis on the various ways by which inflationary pressure can be resisted and overcome. He pointed out that the inflationary pressure can be overcome not merely by definite fiscal measures, but also by other means, many of which may be regarded as more important perhaps than even the proposals contained in this Finance Bill. The first and most important of all is an increase of production in order to raise the volume of goods in circulation and so in that way meet the inflationary gap.
I fully realise that at least one of the measures of this Finance Bill, the proposal to increase the Profits Tax, will be a considerable stimulus to increased production. The workers of this country will, I am sure, be induced to put further effort into what they are already doing by the knowledge that some part of their increased effort will go, not merely into the pockets of private employers and shareholders, but for the general benefit of the country and for the benefit of the national Exchequer. Frankly, I should like to see rather more done in this direction. I believe that there are other fields in which we can stimulate greater effort from the producers of this country by ensuring a greater degree of equality of sacrifice.
1882 There are far too many people still living on tax-free money—people living and enjoying a good life upon money which results from capital appreciation; or living on free capital; or living on inflated expenses accounts; or living by buying and selling on the side and in various other ways in which it is possible to make or use money for immediate consumption.
I should like to see further efforts made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, if not in this Finance Bill then in next year's, to mop up some of these inflated sources of expensive living which still exist. Of one thing I am absolutely convinced—that during this very difficult period through which we are passing the mass of the people of this country will be prepared to go all out in order to put this country again on its feet upon one condition, and that is that they are satisfied that all the people of this country are taking a fair share of the burden, with the heaviest burdens falling on the broadest shoulders, and with no one being allowed to dodge the column. If we can get to that position we need not fear about the contribution that will be forthcoming from the working people of this country.
There is another very important field in which it is possible to close the inflationary gap without increasing taxation, and that is by a reduction in public expenditure, an argument favoured by hon. Members opposite. It must never be forgotten, however, that the greatest single direct inflationary element in our national economy, which is most directly under the control of the Government, is the expenditure on our Armed Forces and overseas commitments. In the Finance Bill last spring the sum estimated for this in the current year was £899 million, an enormous expenditure out of which considerable saving must be effected. We have been told rather vaguely by the former and the present Chancellor that a cut is to be made in this field, but we have not been given anything very precise. We should like to know—and we ought to be told—what will be effected in savings on expenditure in the reduction of the Armed Forces between now and 31st March next.
The Minister of Defence said, in reply to a Question the other day, that it is likely not to be very great. I must say that is rather startling when one considers the seriousness of our position in regard to shortage of dollars and our general 1883 balance of payments situation. This was known as far back as the beginning of August of this year; that is to say, after only half of the financial year had passed we were in the position of taking necessary measures to make really drastic cuts in the fields of inflated expenditure. I should be very sorry indeed—and I believe the people of this country would be very surprised—if the expenditure on the Armed Forces were not lowered by something like £200 million. Nothing less than that figure would be totally adequate in face of the position with which we are confronted at the present time.
Finally, I should like to have some information on the one field of expenditure about which we have been given a precise figure, namely, a reduction in the expenditure on capital construction of £200 million. We are still lacking that information, which has been promised us in a White Paper. I have not the time to develop this point as fully as otherwise I should like to do, but I want to express the hope that the Government are not taking the line of reducing capital expenditure in the public sector because it is easier to control than capital expenditure in the private sector. A question has already been asked about the distribution of the proportions between these two fields, and I hope that not too great a sacrifice will be made in the public sector. I hope we are not going to take the laissez faire attitude which was expressed in the White Paper on Employment - Policy presented during the period of the Coalition Government—a laissez faire attitude that the private sector of capital expenditure is too difficult to control, and, therefore, all we can do through Government policy is to counteract excessive expenditure in the private sector by a reduction of expenditure in the public sector. I should like to have an assurance that that is not the policy that we are following; that, in fact, we have a definite plan of reduction in capital expenditure related to the actual economic position of this country and its future economic needs, and that, if necesary, we shall find a means of restricting expenditure in the private sector to the fullest extent that may be required.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore (Ayr Burghs)
Having listened to the whole of 1884 this Debate, I think that everything that can be said about the Betting Duty has been said, both by the experts, and the victims, and we have also heard the theorists from the other side, giving their views and experiences. Therefore, I propose to confine myself to a few general remarks on matters arising out of the Bill itself and the Budget from which it has sprung. I think the whole House will have admired the sympathetic and fraternal way in which the present Chancellor of the Exchequer supported the half-hearted Measure introduced by his colleague. I think also that the Financial Secretary to the Treasury has shown to the terms of that half-baked Budget a loyal adherence which deserves the full appreciation of his party and the sympathy of the House.
There is no doubt in my mind that this is a very odd Bill, just as the Budget was a very odd Budget. Indeed, I think it will be generally agreed that there is some wonderment in the mind of every hon. Member why the Budget was brought in at all. Second thoughts, which are invariably more sensible, come, and then one realises that this is the Budget and the Finance Bill of frightened men. Indeed, this Finance Bill is due entirely to the result of the municipal elections. [Laughter.] Hon. Members may laugh, but it must be so, since the Bill has little or no connection with our present economic difficulties. So far as I can see, the student abroad will have nothing but doubt and consternation about the Bill, while at home the Bill has already created ridicule or—according to how it is received—relief. How, for instance, can the United States of America be expected to give us any help when they read its terms? How can we expect our own people either to worry or to work when they read the Bill?
The only words which can describe the Bill are "fiddling, tinkering and fumbling." Are we in a crisis, or not? That was the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles). That was the anxiety that ran through his whole speech. If the late Chancellor had studied the Press, he would have known and realised that our people, before he introduced the Budget, were prepared for anything. I wonder where the right hon. Gentleman's public relations officers were. They were certainly not in the queues. The queue 1885 today is where opinion is formed and expressed, and it is from the queues that the Government will be destroyed much earlier than they fear. From all this expectation, from this grim mountain of expectation, has come this timid mouse of proposal.
What is proposed? Merely that the "dogs" shall yield us some of their unearned wealth, that the pool gamblers shall lose an infinitesimal portion of their unexpected fortunes, that the thirsty shall pay more for their thirst and that the downtrodden middle-class shall become a shade more crushed. Of course, there is this fantastic attack on the Press, through the advertisement tax. That I cannot understand. The right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Finance Bill today was himself, as one could see, uncertain about the origin of the tax and about its effects. He knows, as the House knows, that no newspaper can give its up-to-date, magnificent news service today without its advertisements. Let me take as an example a journal that many people in this country read, "Everybody's." I have no interest in that journal at all. Everybody knows that "Everybody's" gives for twopence first-class, informed and educative articles. That can be done only because of the advertisements, and of the circulation on which the advertisements depend. Therefore, by this silly, ill-considered tax, we shall ruin more of the cultural side of our community than we shall do by any other part of the Bill.
In examining the Bill, one falls back upon one query: Where is the brake upon inflation? In what part of the Bill can that brake upon inflation be found? Where is the dynamic determination to halt our plunge downwards into financial destruction? Where is that dogged decision, which is inherent in our country and which should be represented in this House, to rescue our affairs from the dangers and disasters that threaten us, whatever the hardship, discomfort and misery that might be inflicted? I believe that the nation was waiting for inspired leadership, for an inspiring call and for inspired action. It has got none of them, either in the Budget or in the Finance Bill.
Another very serious problem must be agitating the minds of those who represent industrial districts. Just because the 1886 Government have not the courage to touch their fat pay packets of good-looking money, the wage-earners of this country are living in a fools' paradise. It is caused by the folly of the Government. No one has yet told the wage-earners that that comfortable pay packet may not be worth more than a tenth of its purchasing power in the course of a few weeks. Even with that tenth there may be very little in the shops for the wage-earners to buy. That is where I think the Government are following a most dismal path, which a lot of us in this House are following too.
The present Chancellor and his predecessor seem to be like charlatan doctors who would rather put a piece of newskin on a cancer than apply the harsh but effective knife of healing. Why do not the Government face the operation, tell the patient the truth and trust in the inherent guts and character of the British people? Fear and panic. Panic and fear are the dominating key words of this Administration. I ask this one simple question: why, instead of still further crippling the capacity of the middle-class to buy anything, do not the Government deny to the black marketeers their capacity to buy everything? As has been asked several times from the opposite side and also mentioned on our side, what about the possibility of calling in the existing Treasury issue? Then the Government would find those hidden millions that are now pursuing the scarce luxuries that we have heard about. The Government could fasten upon those millions and dig their possessors out of their holes. The Government would be able to readjust our financial affairs, knowing where they stood.
If the Government have not the courage to do that, will they do something else? Will they make it illegal for anyone to pay any account more than £10 in cash? If not £1o, say £25. The cheque would, of course, always be paid to the order of the seller. I think those measures would have a tremendous effect upon the millions of pounds of paper money which are now denying to the people who have less the right to buy what they want. As I said before—and I say it again because I am so convinced of its truth—incentive is the answer to the Government's riddle. It has been said on the 1887 opposite benches and on these benches and I myself have said it, but apparently the Government do not trust us. They trust in the stick. That is most unfortunate. In providing incentives you not only give the people something to buy, and so halt inflation, but also increase the production you so badly need. That has already been proved in the mines, if the increased coal output means anything. Incentives have been given to the miners and they have produced more coal. Surely, that is an indication that we are on the right lines?
§ Sir T. Moore
I am not talking about nationalisation but about the increased basic wages, amenities and food which have been given to the miners.
§ Sir T. Moore
It would probably mean draining our dollar reserves to their very last dreg, and it might even mean draining our £600 million gold reserves too, but if it is true, as we have been warned by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, economists and experts, that we are desperate, surely we should try anything that has already proved itself even so slightly as in the mines? That is my first suggestion.
My second suggestion is to increase taxation, not only as the Chancellor has done on beer and whisky, but to restore the basic petrol ration and tax that, too—very heavily—and then let the public decide what they are prepared to go without. That would carry out the purpose of the Treasury and would certainly benefit the people of this country. Next—I know this is possibly revolutionary—I would abolish all Income Tax under P.A.Y.E. on incomes of less than £8 a week—£400 a year—as a temporary measure. This would appeal to those sections of the community on whom the Government depend for their survival. We could always make good any losses through indirect taxation. The Chancellor appears not yet to have seen the possibilities of indirect taxation. In that way one can make people pay for luxuries if they want them, but it must not touch the basic controlled ration.
1888 Now let us examine this question of the food subsidies. Hon. Gentlemen on this side have been taunted on that matter by hon. Members opposite. I know there will be a bleat from the other side at any suggestion of reducing the subsidies. I would like to say that no one has ever yet suggested removing them altogether, but when I asked the former Chancellor of the Exchequer a question on this point a couple of weeks ago, he said that if the food subsidies were abolished altogether—as I said, no one has suggested that—it would mean that Income Tax could be reduced by 3s. 3d. in the £, but it would add I2S. 6d. extra to the weekly budget of a household of four; that is, 3s. 1½d. per head per week. If 50 per cent. of the subsidies were taken off, it would mean a cost to the individual per head of is. 6d. per week—the price of a cheap cinema seat. For that we could have a reduction of is. 6d. in the Income Tax and so give that tremendous impetus to industry which would give that incentive from which the hon. Member for Luton (Mr. Warbey) suggested that even employers might benefit.
§ Mr. John Hynd (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
It has been said clearly from the other side on many occasions that the cuts should be to the extent of £300 million. Is this a reduction?
§ Sir T. Moore
I am making my own speech and not anyone else's. I know the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not give way, because there are other hon. Members who wish to speak, and I am just coming to the end of my remarks. What I said on one occasion before—unfortunately it has not been taken up by the Chancellor—was that it is surely not beyond the wit and ingenuity of the Treasury to devise some method by which these subsidies could be eased so that we could present an honest balance sheet to the nation without at the same time harming the lower wage-earning groups.
There are two final suggestions. One is the question of national lotteries. I know that it might offend a great number of honourable, honest, decent citizens of this country even to think for one minute of a national lottery recognised by the State, but we have recognised the bookmakers. We have not only recognised them, but have put them in a privileged position. Therefore, why should we squirm at being logical? My last proposal is that the 1889 right hon. Gentleman shall withdraw this Bill altogether, and substitute a Bill more adequate to the gravity and urgency of our present situation.
§ 8.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Orbach (Willesden, East)
I will not follow the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir T. Moore) because I have listened carefully to the speeches delivered from the other side during the last three hours, and I can find only one thing they have in common with each other. That is that they would withdraw some part of the food subsidies. However, none of the hon. Gentlemen opposite has been prepared to say definitely and emphatically that he is opposed to food subsidies and would abolish them if it were in his power.
I want to deal with one or two aspects of the Bill and, in particular, with the Purchase Tax changes. The Chancellor estimated that he would raise an extra £10 million this year by increasing the taxes on various luxury articles. He said that this tax brings in revenue, absorbs inflationary purchasing power, and also helps the export drive. I believe that is only true to a limited extent, and that when a Purchase Tax becomes unreasonable there are other dangers. On some of the luxury articles being sold in our stores today there is already a Purchase Tax of 100 per cent. I think that is unreasonable, and when such a Purchase Tax is raised to 125 per cent. plus 10 per cent. uplift for the made up article, we have reached a Purchase Tax which is fantastic. I doubt whether 25 per cent. of the revenue due on such articles is collected by the Customs and Excise; which means, of course, that 75 per cent. of the goods in these classes must find their way into the black market.
I want to ask the Chancellor to consider the Purchase Tax again. In fact, I am hardly inclined to agree with the principle of a Purchase Tax. I believe that it imposes rationing by purchasing power on the basis of money available, and. it is wrong in principle that we on this side should be responsible for continuing that practice. It would help to restore the waning moral fibre of our people, if it is waning, if the new Chancellor would use the enormous power in his hands to prohibit completely the manufacture of luxury articles for home consumption, and to import only raw materials where the goods are being manufactured for 1890 export purposes. From my knowledge of industry and trade, I am convinced that the revenue is suffering and that a great deal of corruption has taken place amongst the trading classes as a result of the imposition of Purchase Tax at the rates suggested.
I was interested to hear so many references to the United States this afternoon. It is interesting to discover, and I think our crypto-Americanos on the other side of the House in particular, will be pleased to hear that in the United States £250 million is collected each year by taxes on gambling. The United States is as religious a country as our own. Book-makers are licensed over there, in spite of the desire of the people to get away from gambling. I believe the Chancellor should make an overall gambling tax. He should licence bookmakers, and I support hon. Members who have made that suggestion during the Debate. At the same time, I cannot see any reason why in this Bill there is not a Clause for a capital appreciation tax. Such a tax would present no difficulty in collection, and it would be a real incentive to those who have only the skill of their hands or the intelligence of their brains to sell. In the United States such a tax goes up to 91 per cent. I am sure that if it were introduced in this country it would reduce inflationary pressure immeasurably.
§ Mr. E. P. Smith (Ashford)
Is it not a fact that in America, in connection with the capital appreciation tax, they also make allowance for losses which, on balance, wipes out the difference?
§ Mr. Orbach
I would not agree with the latter part of the hon. Gentleman's statement. I do not believe it wipes out the difference. They have a rebate for losses, but that does not exactly wipe out the difference. It certainly does not do so in an inflationary period.
The taxation of 50 per cent. of advertising expenditure is justified in the main, but Inland Revenue officers will have to be very much on the alert. I cannot see why under the existing system a company should not double their advertising expenditure, beginning next year—
§ Mr. Orbach
All advertising is not done on paper. There are sales promotion 1891 campaigns, which are considered as advertising, and which I think would become liable to taxation under this Clause. I wish to make a plea for certain persons and industries or trades in regard to this tax. While it is justified, there are certain trades where advertising is as much a tool of the trade as is the spanner of the plumber. I have estate agents and auctioneers in mind. Those two professions depend on advertising more than any other occupation, and it would be most unjust if they were curbed in this way. If it is our purpose to handicap them, we ought to be honest about it, and achieve that result in a much better fashion.
I wish to say a word about a subject which has been mentioned on this side of the House many times, and by an hon. Member opposite. I do not believe that there is a surfeit of idle money in the hands of the working classes or the middle classes. I know that professional and quasi-professional people are not too well off today, and civil servants are certainly suffering considerable hardship. I deprecate very much the use by both Front Benches, and even from the back benches, and in the Press, of the terms "spivs" and "drones" in their search for scapegoats. Why create a caricature of an individual when the actual persons are readily to hand and readily ascertainable? I refer to the type of people who always seem to get the unobtainable meals at restaurants, who always seem to be able to go into an overcrowded hotel and get rooms, or go on the night express which has been booked up at least a fortnight previously, people who always get in a huddle with the salesman in many departmental stores in London, who go behind a screen and come out perfectly satisfied with what has been transacted behind the screen; the people, in fact, who are able to pay cash for all they wish to purchase.
I believe that they exert a terrific inflationary pressure. They also evade the Inland Revenue and Customs, they drag down our trading standards, demoralise our people and retard production by the comparison of the rewards of those who contribute something to our wellbeing and those who do their utmost to destroy us. These black market barons, who can be seen in all the places I have described, must be dealt with.
1892 I noticed the other day in the Press that a greengrocer was robbed of £2,500 in £I notes. I am not suggesting that he was a member of these classes, but might not much of this type of money be acquired by sales under the counter or sales to favoured customers? Questions ought to be asked in. all these cases. There is an inordinate amount of black money running around, and after talks with Inland Revenue officials and Customs and Excise officers, I have come to the conclusion that there is well over £50 million which could be gathered in if, in fact, the present Treasury issue was called in and questions were asked when issuing new notes in exchange for large amounts. There is an overwhelming case for the withdrawal of the present Treasury issue, and I hope it will be done without too long notice being given. I beg the Chancellor, who is so concerned with the moral tone of the nation, and who desires a commercial life free from corruption and bribery, seriously to consider this step, which I am sure will go a long way to restore our national fortunes.
§ 8.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Butcher (Holland with Boston)
The hon. Member for East Willesden (Mr. Orbach) began his observations by regretting that Purchase Tax was as high as 100 per cent. on certain items. I have no complaint that luxury goods should carry tax at that high rate, because if there is large-scale evasion as a result of the heavy rate of the tax, there would be equal evasion if the hon. Member's remedy were applied, namely, the absolute prohibition of their manufacture. In so far as the Budget increases Purchase Tax on luxury goods, it is a good Budget. Indeed, I much prefer to see the tax on furs and silks put up from 100 per cent. to 125 per cent. than to see an increase in the semi-essentials of life, because it will pinch there.
The late Chancellor the right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) left to his successor a rather difficult and awkward Budget. The fact is that there is this inflationary pressure to which almost all speakers have referred. The Government are endeavouring to drain that inflationary pressure into certain channels, to reduce the purchasing power of the people in certain ways, to cause them to pay more money for 1893 certain items, and to provide other goods for them at less than the cost of production. The policy is changing. That is why the subsidies on cotton, wool and leather have been removed. There has been ample discussion in earlier speeches about the subsidies on food. My view is that in these matters one can never be entirely black or entirely white. Certainly, the food subsidies should remain on many of the main commodities. On the other hand, when there is one egg a week I fail to see any point in subsidising that one egg, particularly when it is at the expense of the tax we pay on scrubbing brushes. When there is one ounce of bacon a week, I see no virtue in subsidising that when it is paid in the increased cost of our tobacco.
I join with the right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) in making an appeal to the Chancellor to re-examine the proposals in regard to advertising which he inherited from his predecessor. I believe that the more this matter is examined, from the point of view of both the Treasury and business, the more unworkable it will be found to be. I was very glad to hear from the Financial Secretary to the Treasury that it is not intended to make this disallowance retrospective. That is perfectly right. I hope that the Chancellor will adopt similar proposals in regard to Profits Tax. Either we believe that retrospective taxation is right or we consider that it is wrong. The Chancellor has not only the lucid mind to which the right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough referred, but he has the logical mind. Doubtless, he will come out as being absolutely against retrospective taxation on all questions.
I would like to ask what is the proposal m regard to contracts entered into some time ago which still have long periods to run. There will be a revision of advertising expenditure, but what is the proposal with regard to people who have contracted with railway companies or cinemas for advertising for a long time ahead, or with regard to those who have entered into contracts for a series of booklets to appear over a number of years? Are those valid and binding contracts to be held to be free from tax, or are they to have the 50 per cent. deduction? I hope that if the right hon. and learned Gentleman considers this point of value, he 1894 will tell us whether contracts entered into before the coming into force of this legislation will be given special treatment.
I consider that the approach to advertising is wrong. I do not think that advertising can be separated—apart from its wider context—from sales promotion. There are two methods of selling goods. One is to advertise a commodity so widely that everybody wanders into the shop and automatically asks for it. The discount then allowed to the retailer need not be very great. The other method of selling is that in which the commodity is not so widely advertised. On the other hand, the discount allowed to the shopkeeper is so large that the shopkeeper is always eager to push that particular kind of goods. Advertising is only one factor in sales promotion. Similarly, the man who has a large and expensive shop in a main thoroughfare is obviously going to lose very little if he is not able to advertise in his local paper, but what about his blitzed competitor who had to move around the corner? If he has an announcement about his goods, not in his shop window, but in the local newspaper, he will be penalised as a result, in contradistinction to the man who has the better and more extravagant premises.
Hon. Members have made reference to the effect that this will have on the Press. I do not think that, so far as the national papers are concerned, it will have any very great effect at all. I think that the price at which we get our national papers is ridiculously cheap, considering the good material there is in them, and we could very well afford to pay 2d. or 3d. for our papers instead of 1d. I am very much concerned about the position of the provincial Press—the small local paper which is discharging a very useful function. I do not see how many of these papers are to be carried on unless there is a reasonable opportunity of their securing the local support of their tradespeople. I suggest to the Chancellor that, if he persists in going on with this tax, which I hope he will not, he might seriously consider the provincial newspaper, the county newspaper, having a limited field of circulation, being added to those journals which are to be exempted so as not to attract this tax.
Advertising must be regarded as only one aspect of sales promotion, and as a single facet of the problem, and I would 1895 ask the Chancellor if he thinks this proposal is really the best way of handling the matter. To do it by order of the Treasury, which might mean that, from time to time, no advertising or business man and no accountant is quite clear as to what the position will be tomorrow after he has signed his contract, will bring confusion and inconvenience into the whole field. We admire the loyalty and courage with which the new Chancellor has taken over the burden of this Budget, a burden of which, I am quite sure, the right hon. and learned Gentleman is himself fully conscious. On the other hand, he has said that he has an open mind, and I believe that, in approaching his new task, in which we all wish him well—not politically, of course, because if he sinks we all sink with him, and there is no consolation in knowing whose fault it was when we are all swimming together—there is no reason why he should take over the whole of this burden or insist on preserving one of its worst features. I hope he will show independence of mind, and will not persist with this proposal.
§ 8.38 p.m.
§ Mr. McAllister (Rutherglen)
I would like to follow the hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Butcher) on the subject of the advertising tax. Like hon. Members opposite, I have to declare my interest, in that I am a director of an advertising agency. In declaring my interest, I should also say that this tax is a special dispensation in my case, because it is a very great help to my particular company, which is concerned with the teclinical and trade publications, which are to be exempt. We have a special interest in that, because we deal with people in the technical industries and the technical trade Press. Nevertheless, I think that the Chancellor, if he goes forward with this proposal, is going to commit a grave error, not political but moral, and I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman would rather do anything than commit a moral error. I think it is recognised in the country that the present Chancellor stands for a code of moral values which I believe will be of great assistance to the country in the present difficult times.
It is very difficult to apprehend from the Bill itself what this tax on advertising 1896 really means. It is against all the principles of taxation that have ever been enunciated by any Chancellor of the Exchequer representing any Government of any complexion. I am sure that the present Chancellor would want to wait a long time before he deliberately turned his face against a well-established principle in the levying of taxation, that the working costs of promoting any industry should be a charge which is not subject to taxation. I think it is obvious that the tax which is now proposed will produce a completely negligible revenue. Therefore, as part of the general scheme to deal with the inflationary gap, it makes no substantial contribution. Indeed, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, in putting the case for the tax, did not put forward any arguments relating to taxation. All he said was that the tax would save a certain amount of timber used in the erection of poster sites, and a certain amount of paper. These seem to be very trivial reasons for making such a grave departure from the taxation principles which have hitherto animated the Treasury.
§ Mr. McAllister
My hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Austin) says that this tax will also lead to a saving of manpower. If that is one of the arguments in its favour, it was certainly not put forward by the Financial Secretary.
I want to ask the Chancellor whether any consultation took place with any industry that is going to be affected by this tax in order to see what saving in timber and paper could be effected without resorting to the tax. I think it was the Junior Burgess for Oxford University (Sir A. Herbert) who suggested that this tax would hit the entertainment industry, the theatres and the cinema. That is only too palpably true. But has any consultation taken place with the entertainment industry to see whether by cutting down the size of posters, and in other ways, it could really achieve the saving which the Government profess to be anxious to make? It is very difficult indeed for one person in the entertainment field to make the decision by himself that he will voluntarily reduce the size of posters. Other competitors in the same field might not adopt that course, and he would, therefore, be at a great disadvantage. I 1897 would like to think that my right hon. and learned Friend, in consultation with the President of the Board of Trade, will have a look at that matter and see what can be done.
The other objection to the tax, as now promulgated, is that it subjects industry to a kind of Treasury inspection to which it has never been subjected before. I do not believe that we want the Treasury to be snoopers into every little detailed aspect of the conduct of a business; I do not believe that my right hon. and learned Friend or the Government want anything of the kind; but if that is to be the position, then it will lead to all sorts of attempts to evade the tax and to find other categories under which legitimate expenses can be put down. That will mean that the least worthy industries will benefit, and that the most self-respecting and best citizens in industry will suffer. My hon. Friend the Member for Stretford, who spoke earlier in the Debate, said that the only advertising going on today is prestige advertising. I think that my hon. Friend has not observed the real trend of British advertising. British advertising during the war was intensely concerned with prestige advertising.
§ Mr. Austin
My hon. Friend will remember that what I said was that in the sellers' market in domestic goods at home—I was not referring to the export market—there is no need for very much advertising today, because almost all that can be produced is immediately consumed by the public. Therefore, most advertising at home in the domestic field must be prestige advertising.
§ Mr. McAllister
I think there is much more in what my hon. Friend is now saying than what he said in his speech. Of course, there is a great deal of truth in what he has just said, but it is not remotely the fact that the greatest amount of advertising addressed to the home consumer today is in respect of articles which are in such short supply that the demand will be there whether there is advertising or not. One cannot by any means separate the home market from the export market in a very large range of industries. To attempt to do so is to attempt the impossible and to court disaster.
I now wish to deal with one or two other aspects of the Finance Bill. Frankly, 1898 I do not like this Finance Bill, partly because, as is agreed in every quarter of the House, the attempt to control inflation by this Bill fails. Another objection is that in every Clause of the Bill there is a strange failure to maintain a solid, decent financial principle.
Let me illustrate that point by giving one or two examples. I think that some of the increases in the Purchase Tax are possibly necessary in the present circumstances, but I cannot understand how the Government can justify a Purchase Tax which has the following curious effect. If, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, you had ordered a new morning suit a few months before the Budget and your tailor had been unable to deliver it until a few months after the Budget, you would then be called upon to bear the increased Purchase Tax In spite of the fact that the retailer had bought the cloth long before the Budget and the process of making up had gone on long before the Budget, the mere fact that it was not delivered until after the Budget would mean that you would have to pay the increased Purchase Tax. If, on the other hand, you had gone to the same tailor after the Budget and bought a ready made suit from the peg, if that suit was bought by the retailer before the Budget you would not require to pay any increased Purchase Tax. That situation is causing a great deal of unnecessary ill feeling which could have been avoided by an attempt, in framing these financial proposals, to see that not only was the inflationary gap being closed to some extent, but that decent financial principles were being observed.
With regard to the Profits Tax, I am entirely in favour of the limitation of dividends, but I am not in favour of the limitation of profits. I can see some case for the taxation—and even high taxation—of distributed profits, but I am almost entirely at a loss to find out what case there is for the taxation of undistributed profits. A tax on undistributed profits discourages management, puts a premium on inefficiency, and in no way helps our present drive to increase the productivity of the nation. I think that one of the things that has most seriously hampered British industry over a long period of years has been the failure to write down the cost of its capital equipment quickly enough.
It may be that this tax on undistributed profits will persuade industrialists to take 1899 a longer time to write off their capital equipment. It may be that at the moment, and for a fleeting few months, there will be a slight gain, but I do not believe that the slow writing down of capital equipment will, even in a fairly short run, be good for the industry of this country. I know that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, perhaps more than any other Member of the Government, has tried to persuade industry, managements and workers, to co-operate. This tax is not likely to promote co-operation. It will act in a deleterious way in the long run on the ability of British industry to compete in the world.
I agree with everything said in all parts of the House with regard to the Betting Duty. I think that, as the proposal stands at the moment, all that one can say is that the Government have flown a kite to see what the reaction in the country will be to a tax on the tote. I think it has been encouraging that there has been no enormous outcry by Nonconformists and the Churches, because the possibility of such an outcry has been an argument against a betting tax from time immemorial. There may be a moral issue involved, but so long as it is the fact that millions of our fellow citizens do gamble, and will go on gambling, we may as well recognise the fact and proceed to act on it in a wholesale, comprehensive way rather than to take in this way a mere nip at it.
§ Dr. Morgan (Rochdale)
This is a rather curious argument to me. I am, I suppose, an ordinary citizen. I do not bet. Am I to understand from the hon. Member's words that because a thing is done by a certain section of the community, even though he himself recognises that it may be immoral and a vice, he thinks it is legitimate to recognise it and to use it for revenue purposes?
§ Mr. McAllister
No. The former Chancellor of the Exchequer, in introducing his Budget, said that the reason he would not tax bets placed through bookmakers was because we should have a new form of inflation with too few tax collectors chasing too many bookies. At least, however, he recognised that there are an awful lot of bookies and that an awful lot of betting is going on, and I think it is 1900 ridiculous for this Government or this House to live in a dream world in which they pretend that betting is not going on. There is something to be said for betting—although, rather like the hon. Member for Rochdale (Dr. Morgan), I bet very rarely—in that betting is one way in which the people of this country can take a chance, and it shows that they like to do so, and are not always looking for security and safety, but are willing to take a certain risk.
§ Mr. McAllister
I have spent a good deal of time recently looking into the difficulties of labour in industry at the present time. There are high wages in some industries, but a good deal of the money earned is going on betting—not on the tote or even through the book-makers, but amongst the men themselves. Whether the hon. Member for Rochdale likes it or not there are a great many people in this country who like to bet and who like to gamble.
§ Dr. Morgan
But there is a lot of prostitution going on in many countries in Europe, and in all civilisation.
§ Dr. Morgan
When the hon. Member for Rutherglen (Mr. McAllister) is asking for a tax on the vice of betting, why does he not ask for a tax on the vice of prostitution, too?
§ Mr. McAllister
I will answer it. Prostitution is a vice, and I believe that in this country we try to deal with that vice. I believe, also, that we do not succeed. But to regard prostitution and betting on greyhounds, horses, or anything else, as being remotely in the same 1901 class shows that, although the hon. Member for Rochdale went to the same university as myself, the quality of education there was not quite so good in his time as it was in mine.
I will finish by dealing with one other aspect. The great value of this Debate is not how it will affect the present Finance Bill, but how it will affect the shaping of Government policy when the Chancellor comes to present his first full Budget in the spring. I think that the Chancellor should have a look at the P.A.Y.E. system as it affects production. In certain industries very high wages are paid, very high incentive bonuses are paid, and very high overtime rates are paid. A man may make, say, £16 in a particular week, but when he gets his pay packet he finds he is getting, not £16, but only £11 or £12. That man says to himself, "Well, I put in an awful lot of hard work this week, and I do not seem to have got value for my money. Why should I work so hard as this for the Chancellor of the Exchequer?" That may be a very regrettable attitude, but it exists. Another aspect of P.A.Y.E. is that if there is an unofficial strike—and we have had a few—a man who has gone on that unofficial strike receives back from the Inland Revenue, instantly, some of the money he has previously paid in as P.A.Y.E.; and if it is an official strike he may receive quite considerable sums in addition to his strike pay, so that his total incomings may be regarded as a quite substantial sum. That makes unofficial strikes very much easier.
A third point with regard to P.A.Y.E. is that under the old system, by which one received a demand note, men in industry who had been making high money but who had made no provision for the payment of taxation were looking for overtime and for opportunities to make more money. Consequently, there was a great desire to produce more in order to earn more money by means of overtime. I am quite certain that if the Chancellor looks into that problem as it affects, for example, the dock industry, he will find that one of the best things he could do to encourage the quicker turn round of shipping in this country would be to have a close examination of the effect of P.A.Y.E. on production.
I conclude with a reference to the speech of the hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles), because it was the best 1902 speech from the Opposition Benches, and because he stated quite clearly what the right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) and others had not taken the opportunity of saying. He was quite clear in his policy. He would cut down food subsidies; he would abolish price controls; and he dared to compare what we had done in this country with what had been done in the United States, as if he had not read President Truman's recent, most spectacular, and best speech, in which the President of the United States had to appeal to Americans to restore the price controls which they had so hastily abandoned. One can see the force of that when one realises that in the City of New York today, according to a commission of inquiry set up by the American Churches, 2,500,000 people are living on less food per week than is represented by the basic British ration, simply because the Americans have allowed their price mechanism to get out of control. The hon. Member for Chippenham said that we were poorer and hungrier every month, but he did not look as if he knew what it was like to be poor or hungry. Many on this side of the House know from their personal experience what poverty and hunger mean, and we are not going to allow any Government which we support recklessly to destroy the standard of living of the British people by a Tory policy of cutting food subsidies.
§ 9.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Assheton (City of London)
May I add my congratulations to those which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has received from all sides on his elevation to his high office? He will not expect me to suggest that either the taxpayer or Members of the Opposition are to be congratulated on that event, but my congratulations to him personally are none the less sincere. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has certainly inherited a Finance Bill which has called forth plenty of criticism and comment, not only from this side, but also from hon. Members sitting behind him. We have all listened with interest to the speech made by the hon. Member for Rutherglen (Mr. McAllister). In the earlier part of his speech he gave promise of becoming quite a good Tory, but his closing words were intended to dispel any suspicions of that possibility happening.
§ Mr. McAllister
I hope that I showed no such promise. I was merely trying to examine the Finance Bill, as other hon. Members have done, without any party feeling in regard to any of its particulars.
§ Mr. Assheton
I quite appreciate that, and I think that the hon. Member did it extraordinarily well. The hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Austin) told us that we never put forward any alternative proposals. That is easy enough to say, but I do not think it is true, because there have been a good many speeches from this side which have made some positive proposals. The Bill is intended, according to the right hon. Gentleman who introduced it, and according to the right hon. and learned Gentleman who now occupies his position, primarily to deal with the question of the inflationary gap. I wish to suggest some of the things which I consider necessary for that purpose.
The three things I propose to do are, first, to discuss the suggestion that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should modify the policy of ever cheaper money which his predecessor pursued; secondly, to suggest once again that he must greatly reduce both the annual and capital expenditure, particularly the expenditure of the Government and its various agencies, and above all curb waste and extravagance wherever it is found; and, thirdly, to suggest that the Chancellor of the Exchequer finds some way—and this will help the hon. Member for Rutherglen—before the next Budget substantially to reduce Income Tax, including P.A.Y.E., which is not only hindering trade and commerce, and discouraging workers and employers alike, but is also having a bad effect on savers.
I will deal first with the question of cheap money. In his winding-up speech on the Budget Resolutions, the Chancellor of the Exchequer referred to the fact that there had been some criticism from this side of the House and other quarters of the policy of cheap money. I would like to make clear the position which we take up on this matter. We quite understand the advantages of cheap money, but what we have complained about is the method which the late Chancellor adopted and the length to which he pushed his policy. It was the aggressive pursuit of cheap money to which we objected.
1904 There is no doubt that this policy carried the interest rate much lower than was wise. Therefore, the Government were forced into the position of having to prevent a fall in their own securities by buying the securities themselves, and in order to buy the securities, money was created for the purpose. The Chancellor did not deal with that main criticism of the cheap money drive when he wound up the other night. He did not deal with the fact that during last year there was, as the hon. Member for North Battersea (Mr. Jay) pointed out, an increase in bank deposits of over £800 million, which, of course, created potential inflationary purchasing power.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer dealt with another criticism made by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley), and he rather gave the impression that it did not matter very much whether or not the cheap money policy generated capital profits, if they were then spent, on the grounds that the money passed into the hands of someone else, but I think that he did recognise that the real danger point is reached when ultimately the Government is the purchaser of securities and creates money to purchase them. The City editor of "The Times," in one of his penetrating notes, pointed this out a day or two later, and I think that there is no doubt that when the ultimate chain leads to purchases by the Government, the Chancellor's argument, as he almost admitted, does not hold good.
I would like to ask him whether, and to what extent, the various Departments were obliged to invest in long-term securities; the public were unwilling to buy anything except short-term securities because they were fearful of a fall in capital values, and, therefore, they were keeping out of the long-term market. If that was done, as I think it was, what it meant was that the Chancellor was investing the funds for which he was trustee—this is the late Chancellor of the Exchequer to whom I am referring—in long-dated securities at a moment when all prudent people thought it right to invest in short-dated securities. That does not seem to me a very sound or wise management of affairs on the part of a trustee. I hope that the new Chancellor will tell us that he intends to abandon that policy altogether. Reasonably cheap money is a 1905 very useful and important thing provided it is natural and not forced. Everyone I think, understands the importance of having a low rate of interest when there is a very large National Debt, but the late Chancellor of the Exchequer in attempting to force interest down to a 2½ per cent. or even a 2 per cent. basis, reached a point when it was really dangerous. I suggest to the House that if the new Chancellor should succeed in re-establishing some sort of confidence in the management of the nation's finances by the Chancellor and the Treasury, he would do well if he succeeded in establishing a 3 per cent. level for long-term securities.
There is another point about cheap money which is worth making, and which was made by the hon. Member for Accrington (Mr. Scott-Elliot) the other day. He urged better terms for savers which is, in fact, the same thing as making an appeal for a rather higher rate of interest than the ex-Chancellor had thought fit to go for. I and my colleagues on this side of the House are most anxious to support the National Savings Movement, but we want to be assured, in doing so, that the investor is being offered fair terms, that his money will be worth as much when he gets it out as when he puts it in. Those are the conditions on which we think it right to support that movement, and I hope the Chancellor will make it possible for us to give that support. I am doing nothing more than urging upon him a policy of sound and honest money.
The present Chancellor said that he wanted to deal with the capital expenditure which is encouraged by cheap money by means of physical controls, and by relying, to use his own expression, "on the good sense and patriotism of private investors." It is quite right that the right hon. and learned Gentleman should appeal to them, but he must have found out by now that physical controls are not altogether adequate, especially in peacetime. Indeed, the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benson), who always makes such interesting contributions to our Debates on Finance Bills, told us that the allocation of raw materials was extremely clumsy and in-exact. How right he is. It is hard to convince individuals that the particular capital expenditure which they wish to make is not very important and very 1906 necessary. Of course, the whole machinery of a controlled and highly planned economy of this sort breaks down if there is no effective control of labour. Not only is the control of materials by the Government proving ineffective, because it is badly administered, but the control of labour is proving ineffective because people in this country, thank goodness, say they simply will not stand it. Therefore, the Chancellor will be forced, and, I think, rightly, to recognise the facts of the situation, which are that the financial control is the control which he will have to exercise.
At any rate, the right hon. and learned Gentleman has at last reached the Treasury, and the very difficult position which obtained when there were two drivers of one chariot has come to an end. We had the ex-Chancellor and the Minister for Economic Affairs both trying to drive the same chariot, but with different wheels. I remember some time last year, on the Finance Bill, comparing the ex-Chancellor to Humpty-Dumpty, partly because he had the same initials. I also suggested that he would undoubtedly have a great fall, but I did not expect it to be the particular kind of fall from which he has just suffered.
§ Mr. Assheton
One of the things which Humpty-Dumpty said was this, "The question is, which is to be the master? That is all." That question has been solved by an extraordinary set of circumstances, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) is no longer in control of one of the wheels of the chariot. It is extraordinary what a lot of useful things Humpty-Dumpty did say. Another thing he said on one occasion was "One of the most serious things that can possibly happen to anyone in battle is to get one's head cut off." That is just exactly what has happened to the late Chancellor in this particular battle. I am sorry I am having to conduct this argument about cheap money with his successor, who, for all I know, may be entirely blameless, and not with the right hon. Member himself.
§ Mr. Assheton
The hon. Member will have an opportunity to speak for himself 1907 later on, because this is exempted Business. A great deal has been said already about the Profits Tax. I think the most serious criticism that has been made is the fact that the Chancellor is proposing to increase the tax on retained profits as well as distributed profits. I hope before he comes to the Committee stage he will abandon the proposal contained in the Bill to make the Profits Tax retrospective. It is extraordinarily inconvenient when the accounts of a company have been made up, and the taxes and dividends paid, to come along and say that the whole taxation for that year has got to be reviewed. Indeed, in cases where a company has been wound up I do not know what will happen. I do not think it is a good principle to go in for retrospective taxation, and it is quite unnecessary. If the Chancellor chooses to make the tax operate from the date he introduced his Budget, no harm will be done. It will be a great advantage to the community as a whole, and to accountants and officials of the Inland Revenue, who will not want to reopen so many accounts that have been closed.
The Profits Tax suffers, like other forms of direct taxation, from many ills. I would like to remind the House of some of the evils of excessive direct taxation, because we do sometimes seem to overlook them. Everybody recognises that it discourages saving because any return from investment is reduced. Then it encourages speculation, because people are tempted to seek profits in ways which are not taxed. It encourages evasion. That is very unsatisfactory, and something which should not be encouraged. It compels people to dip into their savings and into their capital. What is really very important is that it is a most powerful inducement to all undertakings not to give the greatest possible care and attention to the level of their expenses. That is one point about increased direct taxation which is definitely inflationary—the temptation which it puts in the way of those responsible for undertakings to spend more money than they otherwise would, on the ground that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is himself paying such a large share of it.
The worst effect of all, which was referred to by the hon. Member for 1908 Rutherglen, and others, is the discouraging effect it has on work and enterprise. I am not going to enlarge upon that because the Chancellor of the Exchequer is only too fully aware of it. In view of all these formidable objections, I hope he will do what he can to see that the high level of direct taxation is dearth with, at any rate, when he comes to his Budget next April. If he does he will be taking a step of the greatest possible practical and psychological value. There have been several speeches on the Purchase Tax. I think from the point of view of the general public the continual piling up of this tax is probably resented as much as anything. I do not know if the Chancellor is so austere himself that he does not often want to purchase things, but let him think what the Purchase Tax means to a young couple trying to set up house. Everything they buy has to bear Purchase Tax.
§ Mr. Assheton
Beds, blankets, sheets, furniture and eventually the perambulator all bear Purchase Tax.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir S. Gripps) indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Assheton
I inquired the other day and was told that many of these things have to bear Purchase Tax. At all events although the Chancellor, the economists and others may tell us that Purchase Tax is disinflationary, they cannot be surprised if the unfortunate people who pay Purchase Tax find it rather difficult to understand, because it appears inflationary in that it raises prices on all they have to buy; there has to be a very careful explanation as to why it is not inflationary when the prices of things are raised as they have been.
I am not going to discuss the Betting Duty because my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford University (Sir A. Herbert) made an excellent speech about it earlier in the day and other hon. Members have contributed to the debate on that subject. We are not clear as to the proposal. We are agreed that the proposals made in this particular Budget are most inadequate, and when the time comes in the 1909 Committee stage we will go into all that. As far as advertising is concerned, my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gainsborough has dealt with that very fully and there have also been admirable speeches by the hon. and gallant Member for Antrim (Major Haughton) and the hon. Member for Stockport (Sir A. Gridley). The Chancellor has received a deputation on this subject and I know he is going into the matter. Before the Committee stage I hope we shall have some news from the Chancellor that will please us all.
I want to end up with the last of the three points which I said I wanted to make, and that is the question of the reduction of expenditure and in particular the reduction of waste and extravagance, of which there is always a great deal in large organisations whether they are run by the Government or by private enterprise. [Interruption.] There is always a lot of wasteful expenditure in large organisations, and the good organisation will try to check it and will largely succeed but the less good organisation will not succeed. We are looking forward to the proposals promised us in a White Paper as to the reduction in capital expenditure, and I hope very much that not only will it cover Government expenditure, but a great deal of the expenditure which is under Government agencies such, for example, as the Coal Board and also the local authorities.
§ Mr. Assheton
I do not know which is the local authority of the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher), but I am sure it is one of the ones I should specify. Not only have local authorities and the Government agencies got to make their contribution to this cut, but the Chancellor of the Exchequer has got to do what my right hon. Friend the Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) said in his speech the other day—not only has he to go round mopping things up, but he has to turn off the tap. That is the real secret of the inflationary trouble. All the proposals for mopping up would not have had to be made if the inflationary tap was turned off. I do not know whether hon. Members ever study the Estimates, because when I was at the Treasury that is one of the things we had to do. They can be obtained at the Vote Office and they are interesting and useful documents.
1910 As I came into the House today I picked up two of them, and one has only to go through them to see all sorts of things which raise one's interest and which should make one wonder whether the expenditure is really worth while. I picked up those belonging to the Ministry of Supply because at one time I was in the Ministry of Supply, and I like to hear things about it. Some of the figures there are very startling. For example, I see the figures for the Royal Ordnance factories have gone up by over £6 million in this year and I see transport charges have increased by something like £2 million. I see that the hostels and the housing in the Royal Ordnance Factory service, which this year cost £1,600,000, cost only £329,000 last year. I am surprised because, during the war, when I knew something about Royal Ordnance factories, a lot of money was quite properly spent upon the hostels. Very good hostels were built. Why we have to spend £1,600,000 this year against £329,000 last year is something which needs explaining and looking into.
All through the Estimates the same sort of thing is to be found. Another one I picked out relates to the Office of Works. Then, in connection with the Department of Central Information, I see that the item for poster advertising this year is £800,000 against £458,000 last year. I do not know what that advertising is. I suppose a good deal of it will be that wretched widow we had to look at for so long, or the "Work or Want" posters, both of which expenditures were an utter waste of money. All through these Estimates are matters which want inquiring into. In the old days, the House of Commons had far more time for looking into these things than it has now. The result is that we do not keep as close a grip upon expenditure as we ought to. It is the duty of all of us to keep the Government up to scratch. It is the duty of the Treasury to try to keep the Departments up to scratch in these matters. It is our duty to support the Chancellor of the Exchequer in bringing to bear all the pressure he can upon the Departments to be careful and economical in their expenditure.
I would like to say this finally. Unless expenditure is reduced by our conscious effort as Members of Parliament and by the conscious effort of the Government, 1911 expenditure will reduce itself in the most unpleasant way possible. That is what inflation means. It means that money becomes worth less. That means that old age pensions, widows' pensions, health benefits and all the other benefits will be worth less than they appear. That is what comes of inflation. The only way to meet that inflation is by making a conscious effort ourselves to cut expenditure and decide what expenditure can be reduced. If we do not do it, the expenditure will be reduced automatically all round. The cuts will fall automatically everywhere. That is not what hon. Members opposite, nor hon. Members on this side of the House, want. Therefore, we must take the steps necessary to reduce this tremendous expenditure from which we are now suffering, and save the country from further inflation.
§ 9.28 p.m.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir Stafford Cripps)
We have had an interesting Debate this evening. A number of general points have been raised, and also a number of points of detail which will be more appropriately dealt with on the Committee stage. I would like to go through the Debate rather in the order in which the speeches were made, and therefore to deal with what the right hon. Member for the City of London (Mr. Assheton) has just said last.
The right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) asked me what was the general purpose of the Budget and how it fitted in with the economic proposals of the Government. Its purpose is to reduce the inflationary pressure consequent upon the economic action which is being taken by the Government, and thereby to enable the economic policy and the physical controls to be more effective. The particular danger of inflationary pressure from this point of view is, I believe, in the field of capital goods which shows itself in a diversion of effort into unnecessary capital projects and so diverts energy and resources from the attainment of the export task. Physical control, such as the steel allocations or building licences or whatever they may be can be jeopardised by black market activities arising from inflationary pressure, and that same principle can, of course, apply to the market in consumer goods where 1912 in the same way rationing and other physical controls may be weakened by too great inflationary pressure. It is to assist this proper direction of the national effort particularly in times of stress and difficulty such as those through which we are now living, that financial measures are necessary to uphold economic planning. I hope that that explains to the right hon. Gentleman the interlinking of these financial proposals with the economic proposals of the Government.
He then asked me why had not immediate savings been made in capital expenditure and Government expenditure. The answer is, of course, that they have been and are being currently made. The right hon. Gentleman was perhaps a little confused—not his fault, maybe—over what was said about the Estimates on a former occasion. What was pointed out by my right hon. Friend and also by myself was that it was impossible to quantify—[Interruption.]—those savings until we saw the Estimates for next year.
§ Sir S. Cripps
A scientific Wykehamist but not a classical Wykehamist. It was pointed out that it was not possible to quantify the savings until the Estimates were forthcoming for the coming period from the various Departments, which would translate the action that had been ordered into actual pounds, shillings and pence. That did not mean to say that no action would be taken; it was a mere question of not being able to quantify what that action was. I hope that by now the hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Nicholson) is getting accustomed to the term.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman pointed out that, like other people, he had been waiting a long time for the White Paper. I apologise to him and to the House for its not having come out sooner, and I take the entire blame for that upon myself. I have been very anxious to make what is a very complicated and detailed subject matter as clear and understandable as is possible in the White 1913 Paper. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman and others will understand that when we are dealing with the whole range of capital expenditure, both private and public, it is not easy to get it into a form which may be fairly simply understood by the public. I hope that when it comes out it will be in a form which the House will easily be able to appreciate. I would assure him and the House that the arrangements for the reduction of capital expenditure have already been put in train and are now in course of being carried out.
§ Sir S. Cripps
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman also asked why I had emphasised the "point of asking private enterprise to curtail capital expenditure and whether that signified that Government capital expenditure was not being cut. That is not so. The reason why I made the appeal to private enterprise was that in that field the Government have not got the control they have in the other field, and it must therefore rest to a considerable extent upon the voluntary action of various firms in ordering machinery, buildings or whatever it may be, to prevent any unnecessary capital expenditure at present. In the final stage of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's speech, he made an interesting remark that his party did not propose to vote against this Bill, for which I am grateful. But the reason was a rather curious one. He said it was because the Government had gone the wrong way about it. I am sure there is something quite profound in what the right hon. and gallant Gentleman says, because it seems to me to be the oddest reason for not voting against a Bill.
The various items which have been discussed in the course of this Debate have really been the Profits Tax, the advertisements tax and the Betting Duty. Those are the three elements in the Bill that have been discussed, and I propose to deal shortly with those three matters. First, so far as the Profits Tax is concerned, the right hon. and gallant Gentleman put forward some figures from the "Economist" which, he stated, showed that there had been no undue rise in profits during the period from immediately before the war—I think 1939–40 was the first figure he gave—and 1946. But had 1914 he observed the fact that the article from which he quoted specifically stated that the profits were profits after the payment of Excess Profits Tax—before the payment of Income Tax, but after payment of Excess Profits Tax?
§ Sir S. Cripps
The hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. E. P. Smith) says, "Of course," but I would point out that now Excess Profits Tax has gone it is not quite a good comparison with 1939–40 when there was not one; and to compare like with like one must add back the Excess Profits Tax to the second figure for 1946–47 in order to get a comparison between similar things. If that is done, it will be appreciated that the figures which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman quoted show a very large increase indeed in profits. Therefore, I am afraid, from his point of view, his figures do not assist him very much. Indeed, they tend to confirm what was said by my right hon. Friend, that in this year and last year the profits declared have been very large indeed.
Therefore, it seems to be a right action, whether those profits be distributed or not, that some portion of them should be taken by way of taxation. That is the reason why the Profits Tax has been doubled both for distributed and for undistributed profits. It does, of course, increase the differential between the two taxes. It doubles the difference as well, of course, as doubling the two taxes, and therefore it tends to give a greater inducement not to distribute than there was before, which is all to the good. So far as the non-inflationary effect of charging the double tax upon the undistributed profits is concerned, there seem to have been several different views expressed. But one thing is certain, that at least an extra 7½ per cent. of those profits will not be able to be spent on any capital improvement, because that will be taken by taxation. Therefore, to that extent clearly it is a disinflationary movement.
The other point that was raised upon Profits Tax was whether it should be retrospective or not. It was suggested that that was without precedent, but there are many precedents for it; in fact quite good examples are the Excess Profits Duty of 1914–18, and the Excess Profits Tax at the beginning of the recent war, both of which 1915 were made retrospective, one, I think, for over a year, and the other for nine months. Indeed, it has been quite a common factor that taxes upon profits put on for emergency purposes, as is this one, should be made retrospective. That has been the common practice of this House for that class of tax. I see no reason to depart in this case from that common practice.
The hon. Member for Rutherglen (Mr. McAllister), in a speech which in some places seemed to be slightly critical of the Finance Bill, said he did not like this tax because he believed that it discouraged management and acted against incentive. I do not understand why it should be said that this discourages management, because management is not interested in profits—[AN HON. MEMBER: Oh, yes it is."] Certainly not. Management is the technician, who does not share in the profits. [An HON. MEMBER:" Think again."] I do not wish to think again. I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman for his suggestion, but I have dealt with quite a lot of managers in my time, and I dare say he has also. The general matter in which management is interested is technical achievement and not profit.
§ Sir S. Cripps
In that case we are dealing with owners, which is a completely different matter. There may be one man who is both manager and owner, but he is then dealt with in two capacities, one as owner, and one as manager. In the vast bulk of businesses in this country management and ownership are separate. [AN HON. MEMBER:" What about shops?"] In shops also. As to it being against incentive, I should have thought that if people are striving to get as large profits as possible, to distribute for themselves or otherwise, a tax of this sort would be an incentive to earn more in order to counteract the payments under the tax. [Laughter.] I appreciate that hon. Members realise that that sort of argument cannot be disposed of by reason, but only by laughter.
I gather from the course of the Debate that the advertisement tax has not the unanimous support of the House.
§ Sir S. Cripps
I have not heard the other people yet. I am dealing with the Debate here this evening. There is no particular reason, as some hon. Members seem to have thought, why advertising should be specially protected against taxation. Where it is necessary to levy taxes on all sorts of objects in a time of emergency, there is no argument why advertising per se should be exempted from taxation, and I do not see why anybody, except one or two extreme hon. Members who are interested in the profession—
§ Sir S. Cripps
I am putting it quite frankly. Hon. Members have got up and said themselves that they are interested in that point of view. A criticism has been that this is not a desirable way in which to tax advertising. Surely, it must be accepted that in a time of stringency such as this a great deal of the advertising that takes place is unnecessary. It is not necessary to induce people to want goods which are not there. Indeed, that is a most inflationary action, because it tends to make more money chase the few goods that are there, and that is in itself, obviously undesirable. Nor is it wise to use national resources, whether of manpower or materials for this purpose at this time, when they are badly wanted for productive purposes. When one realises that the expenditure on advertising amounts to something like £80 million a year—[An HON. MEMBER:" Including Government advertising?"]—including all advertising, it is quite a material matter in the economy of the country.
It is, therefore, desirable, in our view, that some steps should be taken in order to try to curtail this expenditure and stop this inflationary pressure on the buying public. I agree as to many of the difficulties which have been put forward. I appreciate that the different classes of advertisements are distinguishable. There is the pure announcement, the prestige advertisement, the auctioneer's advertisement, etc. I am quite prepared to consider any equivalent way by which this aim and object can be achieved. I have no particular desire to upset anybody by putting difficult or onerous tasks either upon the Inland Revenue or upon advertisers. I shall be quite prepared to 1917 consider, when we come to the Committee stage, any suggestions which are put forward as to a better way of achieving the same result.
I pass to the Betting Duty. It is rather remarkable that there has not been a single speech which I at least have heard this evening in which there has been an objection expressed on principle to this tax. That being so, I think that it would be generally agreed, and it has been generally agreed indeed, that this is a desirable object of taxation. The complaint that has been made is that we have not gone far enough, which is not the usual complaint made against taxation. My justification of the steps we are taking is that we are at least making a good beginning, and that it is just as well, when starting a new tax, not to encounter all the difficulties at the same time. If one gets a tax established on a certain basis, one can always extend it to a wider basis later. I agree with one thing which was said by the junior Burgess for Oxford University (Sir A. Herbert), that this Government are certainly much more capable and courageous than the Government of which the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) was a Member, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, in 1926. That goes without saying. I am only too delighted to get that testimonial from the hon. Member. It seemed to me from one remark he made that instead of having given him his football colours I ought really to have given him his betting colours at an earlier stage in his career, as I am sure he was undertaking a good deal of betting even at that time.
Why is if that we made this selection on which to start? We have omitted horses, as has been said, and I repeat it, for a double reason. Firstly, because there is no profit made out of horse, totes; they are not run on a profit making basis, and when they were set up Parliament decided how they should be charged, that is to say, that a certain percentage should be devoted to certain objects. That is an entirely different set of conditions to those relating to the dog tote, the profits on which go to the promoters, and in relation to which Parliament did not lay down any method by which they should be charged at the time they were set up. We think that it is a good opportunity now for Parliament to remedy that defect 1918 and to put this charge upon them. It is a charge which we believe will not unduly handicap them, but if it proves in the event that it does so, then we must try and lighten it by putting another load on somewhere else.
This is not an occasion when anybody would expect us to review the whole law of betting. That would not have been an appropriate subject matter for an interim Budget of this kind. It may be that one day someone will undertake that task. I think they may have rather a stormy passage when they try it out. But we shall certainly watch the bookies, as does the junior Burgess for Oxford University, and if it proves in the event that the tax ought to be extended to them, we shall, no doubt, take our courage in both hands and see what we can do about it. I come now to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Mr. Assheton)—
§ Mr. I. J. Pitman (Bath)
Before the right hon. and learned Gentleman leaves the question of taxation, might I ask him whether he rules out, as one of the alternatives, the abandonment of the tax on advertisements in consideration for a voluntary self-disciplining by advertisers in the two classes of advertisement which he wishes to see reduced.
§ Sir S. Cripps
I do not rule out any useful suggestions made upon that or any other lines. If we can do things by voluntary effort without taxation, I am sure that it may be beneficial. I will be glad to see suggestions put forward.
The right hon. Member for the City of London laid down a three point policy which smacks very much of the traditional Tory policy which one would expect to come from the City of London and which seems to me extraordinarily like that which was so peculiarly fatal after the last war. I do not think that we want to repeat that fatality. One thing I was glad to find him agreed upon was the policy for cheap money. I was glad to know that he agreed entirely with my predecessor in the objective, though I gather he had some little criticism upon the means by which it was reached. I also agree with the objective. There we are all at one. He mentioned that there had been some purchases by the Government of securities in the market. Of course, that is perfectly true, but I assure 1919 him that they were never any major factor in the price position of securities.
There is one thing which I should like to point out to the right hon. Gentleman. If we are dealing with this as a question of inflation or deflation, he will bear in mind that the lower the rate of interest, the less money is distributed annually for expenditure. Therefore, that in itself is a deflationary measure. The lower we keep the interest, the less we distribute amongst the public for the purpose of spending. The right hon. Gentleman then pointed out what is perfectly true, that if one tries to accomplish what we are aiming at by physical controls alone, it is very difficult if we leave the financial side uncovered. As I tried to point out earlier, it was for that reason that we have introduced this Budget to match with the economic controls and the physical controls that we were using in order to decrease the amount of capital expenditure, increase exports, and do the other things we are trying to do.
I am afraid that I completely failed to follow the right hon. Gentleman's analogy of the chariot with one person at each wheel.
§ Sir S. Cripps
Oh. I never knew that chariots had steering wheels. I think that the right hon. Gentleman has got his history a bit mixed. I would agree with him that the very close co-operation which existed between the former Chancellor of the Exchequer and myself was very useful in bringing together the economic and financial sides of the policy of the Government. I hope that those who are at present responsible for those two sides of the policy of the Government will be able to work in as good amity as we were able to do.
The right hon. Gentleman in his criticism of the Profits Tax stated, among other things, that it would eat into the savings and capital of individuals.
§ Mr. Assheton
I did say that the Profits Tax was subject to certain disadvantages from which direct taxation also suffered, but I did not maintain that it suffered from all of them.
§ Sir S. Cripps
I am much obliged. I think he did mention that particular point, and that raised the thought in my mind, 1920 which I think is perhaps typical of the spirit of his whole approach to this problem, that he preferred, rather than eat into the profits and capital of the individual, to tax the eating of the individual. In other words, he would rather protect the pocket and attack the stomach. We take precisely the opposite view. We believe that it is far more important to protect the standard of living of the mass of the people by continuing the food subsidies than to be too careful about the effect upon capital and profits which the doubling of the Profits Tax might have.
In the same way, when we are considering economies in expenditure, which of course do not come into the Finance Bill, we are anxious that we should not economise on those things which benefit the large mass of the people of this country in their standard of living, and that we should concentrate upon economies on other lines which have no such direct effect.
§ Sir S. Cripps
I dealt with that at Question time, and will not repeat it again. The right hon. Gentleman did not give us any details of how he would reduce wasteful expenditure, nor did he tell us what wasteful expenditure was, in his view. He picked up some Estimates which he had got in a hurried entry into the House and criticised somebody for not having pointed out the various matters which he raised. May I point out to him that that is the duty of the Opposition on Supply Days, and I am very surprised that they have not taken up these points. Really, they must be grossly neglecting their duties. No doubt, the right hon. Gentleman will see that proper attention is given to these things at the proper time, but I am afraid that I cannot give him an answer on the details which come under the Estimates of the various Departments.
§ Mr. Assheton
It is the responsibility of the right hon. and learned Gentleman. Does not the Chancellor look at them?
§ Sir S. Cripps
Certainly, but this Chancellor did not, because they were last year's Estimates, and the party opposite had the whole of the Supply Days of last Session to question them had they wanted to do so. No doubt, they did not look, so they probably do not know what was in 1921 them. I do not think there is any really serious criticism of the fundamentals of this Bill, or of the money to be raised or of the purpose for which it is to be raised. Criticism of details can be dealt with on the Committee stage, and I therefore confidently ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ 9.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Jennings (Sheffield, Hallam)
I was not fortunate enough to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, before the Chancellor rose, and I was surprised that he thought fit to speak so early, before certain other points had been raised on this Bill. There is one point that I want to raise very strongly with the Chancellor with regard to the advertising deduction. First of all, we had the Financial Secretary saying that there is no tax on advertising expenses. The Chancellor now says that if he can get the same result in another way, he is quite prepared to listen to suggestions. In my humble opinion, there is only one thing that the Chancellor ought to do with the suggestion to tax advertisement expenses. I am speaking now as a professional chartered accountant, and I say, without any hesitation, that the tax is a deviation from all the principles of taxation. Up to now we have had a system of taxation which allowed every item of expense in a company's accounts directly incurred in the earning of income to be free from taxation. Now it is proposed to single out one item of expense, that for advertising, and to disallow it to the tune of 50 per cent. That is quite wrong, and a deviation from the taxation system which we have had up to the present time.
In my own constituency in Sheffield, there are two scientists who have invented an article which is very useful at the present time. They have only one possible way of putting it before the public, and that is by advertising it. If they cannot do that, the invention is lost. It will be very hard indeed for those two young people who have something which the world needs—never mind this country—if they cannot put it over to the public because their advertisement is subject to a 50 per cent. tax. Such a tax will be impossible to administer because there will be unfairness, from top to bottom, inside the whole system. All the Inspectors of Taxes who will have to deal with this matter will have to decide whether this 1922 or that item is an item of advertisement. Neither the Chancellor nor the Financial Secretary has attempted in this Debate to define what they mean by advertisement. I will go further and say that if they tried to define what they mean, it would be impossible for them to do so. We have got to bring some logic and some reason to bear on this panic Finance Bill.
§ Mr. Jennings
I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman; I have sat here for five hours, and I am going to use the time available as best I can in order to stand up for the rights of the citizens. This afternoon, the Financial Secretary made what was, in my opinion, a most astounding reply to a Question. I am certain that he does not understand the position at all. I asked him quite plainly whether he was telling the House that, by sending in a notice of appeal against his assessment, any taxpayer could delay the interest running on arrears of taxation. He told me that if a taxpayer sent in an appeal, the interest would stop running. I suggest to the Chancellor and to the Financial Secretary that if that is the way to stop interest running on assessments, then the Inland Revenue will be flooded with appeals, and the whole system will break down. Surely, hon. Members opposite who are supporting this proposal for interest on overdue taxation ought to have found out a great deal more about how it is going to be brought into existence and how it will operate in practice, as otherwise an undue burden will be placed on the officials of the Inland Revenue.
I am very concerned at the Chancellor's lack of appreciation of the trouble which this advertisement tax will cause. I would have thought that, having listened to the speeches from both sides of the House on this subject, he would have withdrawn the Clause completely. Instead of that, he has said that he will consider some other method of achieving the same end. In many businesses, advertisement expenses are just as much business expenses as rent and rates. Untold harm will be caused to businesses and industries in Sheffield, in particular, which depend very largely on advertisements. The Chancellor is going to stem their prosperity and kill the advertisement of their 1923 products up and down the country. If that is not a backward step, I do not know what is. I am sorry that many hon. Members opposite are not so well acquainted with this matter, but I assure them that if they accept this Clause, they are imposing a burden on industry and they ought to realise the full extent of the damage which will be caused.
We have heard reference to the question of the continuance or non-continuance of food subsidies. It is no use bolstering up the cost of living by food subsidies if in six months' time the standard of living is going to be broken down. It is not honest, and it is a cruel thing to do to the masses of the people. The former Chancellor said that he had pegged the figure in respect of subsidies, and he would go no higher. That, in my opinion, showed the red light. He knew perfectly well that he was up against it, and he pegged that figure because he did not know what he would do in a few months' time. This Bill is a temporary makeshift piece of legislation, waiting for time and, like Micawber, hoping that something will turn up.
§ 10.8 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir Walter Smiles (Down)
It is a great advantage to have waited through a whole Debate to speak because one has then heard what other people have said and also what other people have omitted. I propose to refer, first, to the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He said that a manager was a technician. That is news to me. I have worked as an engineer, an assistant manager, a general manager and a managing director, and when I was a manager I had chemists, engineers and chartered accountants to advise and assist me. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said that a manager was not responsible in any way for the profits of his company. [HON. MEMBERS:" No."] Well, he said that a manager was not interested in them. All I can say is that the right hon. and learned Gentleman must have been connected with different companies from those with which I was connected, because I am certain that if in the companies with which I have been concerned a manager showed a loss instead of a profit, he would have to hang his coat very near to the door.
1924 Another statement that the right hon. and learned Gentleman made was that this side of the House had pointed out no instances of wasteful expenditure. I will say for a start that the reason for this interim Budget is the dreadful mistake that the late Chancellor of the Exchequer made when he allowed sterling to be converted into dollars on 15th July. Had it not been for that dreadful, silly mistake there would have been no need for the interim Budget today. It might be advisable to remind the right hon. and learned Gentleman of the £59 million lost in Germany in currency transactions, which fortune would have kept us going in basic petrol for more than 10 years. There has been a certain amount of discussion in this Debate about the extra tax on whiskey and the tax that was not put on cigarettes. I believe that there are many people who, if they had the opportunity today, would pay more, if they were allowed to use it, for a gallon of petrol than for a gallon of whiskey or for 20 cigarettes. I offer that suggestion to the Financial Secretary.
I have sat here through a good deal of this Debate, and I have heard many subjects mentioned; but there are two things I have not heard mentioned, and they are the necessity for thrift and the necessity for hard work. I was brought up in a lower middle-class family, and the idea of waste was extremely distasteful to my parents. We could do anything, but we were not allowed to waste. This Government are giving an example—a lesson—in self-denial and self-discipline. Indeed, the Chancellor of the Exchequer reminds me of a man whose wife died, leaving him to bring up a young family. The father said to his young family, "I am going to take you all to the pantomime on Boxing Day, if you work hard at school and if you behave yourselves. I am going to give you a treat." He is like the Lord President of the Council, too, who in a speech at Bournemouth said that the dividends were going to be paid in 1947 for what we were doing in 1946. And these are the dividends. Now, the parent of that family, when Boxing Day came, and the children were all ready, properly dressed in the hall, came to the children and said, "You are not going to the pantomime after all. This is a warning and a lesson to you now, that you must count on many disappointments 1925 and injustices in life." That is exactly what has happened to the poor people in this country under a Socialist Government.
The Budget and the Finance Bill give no incentives for hard work. It used to be the case that the younger sons of families had to shift for themselves when they were 20 or 21 years of age; and they went abroad to earn their own livings and make their own way in the world; and many of them went to the Straits Settlements or to Africa, and when they had had some success, and thought to put their money into companies, they invested it in this country, because they felt they would get justice here. They were sent out, as was the late Mr. Neville Chamberlain, who, went out to the Bahamas to try to grow sisal and failed. Many others failed similarly and lost their relations' money; but it was their money they were losing, and not the taxpayers' money. In the old days—the good old days as we refer to them now—when profits were made the Government got a quarter of them, but when losses were made the people themselves had to stand the racket and the taxpayer had to pay nothing. I admit that we are living in a different world now. If there are any losses we taxpayers have to pay, which accounts, of course, for the very high taxation which we have to endure at the present time.
The worst of the Budget is that the Government are discouraging foreigners from investing their money in this country. It was quite right during wartime, when everybody was willing to pay up, and did pay up to the hilt; but now, two years after the war, there is a rather different mentality. Let me point out some of the differences in taxation between this country and other countries. For instance just now the Chancellor mentioned the Excess Profits Tax which in this country is 100 per cent., but in India is 66⅔ per cent. Consequently, with £10,000 of excess profits for five years, a company in India would be £15,000 better off than a similar company paying tax on the same excess profits in this country.
It is the policy of the Government to discourage commodity markets coming to the City of London or to England. As the Prime Minister has so often pointed out to my right hon. Friend the Member 1926 for Woodford (Mr. Churchill), that is not Socialist policy, and it is a Socialist policy which the Government are carrying out. Now, the Cotton Exchange in Liverpool is finished and done with, but there are other commodity markets in the City of London which, in the past, paid many millions of pounds to this country. I believe that the world money market has passed from the City of London to the City of New York, and I believe also that right hon. Gentlemen opposite are glad of it; it is part of the Socialist policy, and part of their taxation policy. Yet there are other commodities which have been very valuable to this country in the past, and which have paid a good deal of taxation.
Take one commodity about which I know a little—tea. I do not believe that the present policy of the Government will ever get the tea market back to Mincing Lane again, yet there is no doubt that in the past it contributed substantial amounts to our Exchequer. Due to the Government's present policy the tea market will go to Calcutta, or Colombo, or perhaps to Java if they are ever settled there again. I already hear of tea being shipped direct from Calcutta to the United States of America and to the continent of Europe, which in the old days used to go through the City of London. Perhaps right hon. Gentlemen opposite say, "That is a good thing; we do not want that money; it is dirty money," but it did give a good deal of employment in the City of London, even if it were only sampling the teas, selling them to the United States, and moving them from perhaps a P & O liner to a Cunard liner. There is the same danger with a great many other commodities, if this ruinous taxation continues in this country. It will happen with rubber, and perhaps with copra and the world metal market.
Another criticism I have to make of the Government's taxation policy is that it destroys the reason for economy. In the old days when I worked for a company, I remember the managing director, who had ridden out to me, asking me why I bought gilt nibs instead of steel nibs. It was only a matter of some 10s. in the whole year, when the company was making some thousands of pounds profit, but it was a sign of the old mentality in regard to thrift and economy. What happens today with profits? If you are spending £100, there is the temptation 1927 —I do not say people will do it—to say that more than half of this expenditure will be paid for by the Government. That is no incentive to thrift and hard work. Instead of foreigners seeking to start new businesses in England and invest their money in this country, they are looking out for some safer country in which to invest their money. The Budget is driving capital away from this country into other countries.
Taxation can be over-done, I believe that the Government's taxation is having a long-term effect upon the finances of this country, and that whoever succeeds them will find it very difficult to put this country's finances in order again. I can remember, when serving my time as an engineer, a mate of mine being given the job of putting right a very complicated machine. I asked: "Do you think, Jim, that you can fix this machine? "He replied: "I do not know, but if I cannot do it, I will leave the machine in such a condition that no one else will be able to fix it." That, I believe, is the position with the present Government.
§ 10.23 p.m.
§ Dr. Morgan (Rochdale)
I rise now to express my disagreement with one item in this Budget. I have never believed and shall never believe in a tax on betting. I regard betting as a vice, and I do not think that vices in human nature should be treated as a source of revenue, but should be regarded purely from the moral point of view, and should be dealt with by disciplinary action if necessary. I understand the argument of the Chancellor of the Exchequer is that as this money is being spent in this way, we want to try to get some of it back into the nation's financial pool, and that is why he is proposing this tax. But, as I mentioned to my hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen (Mr. McAllister), there are other vices which could be treated in the same way, such as the one mentioned by the author of "Mrs. Warren's Profession." I pointed out that that was also a vice which, if the principle of this argument held good, could be recognised as a suitable source of revenue for the country. [Interruption.] I am being told that I may be putting ideas into the head of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but I have sufficient reliance on his moral fibre to know that he is not going to listen to any 1928 further suggestions of divergence from the true path of taxation.
I remember that when such an issue was raised before, the Nonconformist conscience made the country ring with the idea that his was a discreditable means of bringing revenue into the country. I believe this to be a tax which will cut into the already deteriorating moral fibre of most of the nations of the Christian world, certainly those within our own sphere. I expect that at some time or another, if this sort of thing goes on, there will be a licence for burglars, with the proviso that part of the "swag" goes to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. When I made this point to the hon. Member for Rutherglen he said that he thought it was the silliest argument he had ever heard.
There is one other matter on which I should like to touch, if I am in Order. I think that instead of taxing betting, the Government should cast their mind back to 1930 when the Chancellor of the Exchequer was trying to answer a question on the taxation of land values—the value of the land created by the community. It was suggested that a tax should be put on land values and the finance from that source should go into the common pool. I know that is an extraneous subject to mention now, but while we are searching for sources of taxation here is one at hand which every Government—Tory, Liberal or Labour—has so far failed to tackle, as if they were afraid to tackle one of the best sources of revenue in this country. I end by saying, as I said at the beginning, that on the moral ground, civic ground and every possible ground, I object, even if I am a lone voice in this House, very sincerely and genuinely to a tax on betting coming within the purview of this Budget.
§ 10.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Sidney Shephard (Newark)
I will not keep the House long, but there is a point which I wish to make. I hope hon. Members opposite will listen to me. There has been a good deal of loose talk in this Debate about the distribution of profits. Cases have been quoted of companies which distributed very small dividends previously distributing 150 per cent. I have made it my business to go through 39 of the leading industrial companies in this country with a capital of £456 million, and I think that it would be interesting for the House to hear ex- 1929 actly how their dividend record this year or last year compares with that of 1938.
§ Mr. Scollan
Will the hon. Gentleman tell us whether the capital of £456 million is today's capital or the capital in 1938? Has it been built up out of profits?
§ Mr. Shephard
I have not the figures for 1938. I am trying to prove that these companies have not paid out extravagant dividends. Thirteen of these 39 companies paid the same dividends in the current year as in 1938. In eighteen of these cases the dividend is less than it was in 1938 and only in the remaining eight is the dividend higher, and only in one instance is the dividend more than 5 per cent. higher.
§ Mr. House (St. Pancras, North)
All that the hon. Gentleman has stated is irrelevant unless he faces up to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, Western (Mr. Scollan). How does the present capital compare with the prewar capital and how is any difference made good?
§ Mr. Shephard
I am replying to the charge made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Budget speech in introducing the Profits Tax. He said:I have noticed, with regret, a continuing and persistent inclination on the part of many concerns to declare increased dividends.He went on to say:I, therefore, propose to double the Profits Tax."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th- November, 1947; Vol. 444, c. 402–3.]That is the reason why he has done it—vindictiveness, nothing else.
I have given the House those particulars. There are a few odd cases where dividend paid out this year is very much greater, but why judge the whole of British industry by one or two isolated cases? Look at the companies I have listed here. They include in brewing, Guinness and Bass; in heavy engineering, Stewart and Lloyds and Tube Investments; in textiles, Courtaulds and Tootalls; in motor cars, Rolls and Austin; in tobacco, Imperial Tobacco; in stores, Woolworths; in engineering, Ransome and Marles and Riley; and in miscellaneous, companies like Lever Brothers, Imperial Chemical Industries, Hovis and British Aluminium.
1930 I think that is a complete justification of the falsity of the Chancellor's statement. And when all is said and done, what is the position of shareholders today compared with what it was in 1938? Suppose a shareholder had an investment of £1,000 in a company which paid a dividend of 10 per cent. in 1938. He would pay tax at 5s. in the £ and have a net income of £75. What is the position today? He pays tax at 9s. in the £, which gives him a net dividend of £55, and that £55 on today's basis of value is worth about £25. If the shareholder wants to receive the equivalent money value of dividend to what he had in 1938, he would have to receive a dividend of something like three times that of 1938.
Whatever justification the Chancellor of the Exchequer had for doubling the Profits Tax on distributed profits, I can see no justification for doubling it with regard to undistributed profits. It seems to be a complete reversal of the policy we have had for the last two or three years, in which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has encouraged companies to plough back their profits and has even gone to the length of giving allowances on new buildings and new plant. When one realises how difficult it is for a company today to make adequate reserves on the present basis of taxation and how vital it is that they should be in a position when they can spend money on plant and buildings to have the money there, then I think it is a very bad tax indeed. The day will come when British industry will want re-equipping, and want it badly. We cannot go on like this spending nothing. I hope we can weather the storm but for nine years now nothing has been done and many factories are obsolete, and much plant is out of date, because they are not allowed to put it in order today. We have only to look at the many reports of firms which say what they are going to do when they are allowed to do it. The cost of buildings and plant has more than doubled. This tax on reserves will create a future handicap on British industry.
§ 10.35 p.m.
§ Sir Waldron Smithers (Orpington)
May I respectfully congratulate the hon. Member for Newark (Mr. Shephard) on the attack he has just made upon the Members on the other side of the House? His arguments are unanswerable, and it 1931 it only through want of appreciation of the seriousness of the crisis that hon. Members on the Government side answer with jeers and catcalls. On an occasion when we are debating exempted Business I think it is very discourteous to the House for the Chancellor, of the Exchequer to rise at 10 o'clock and go out of the Chamber and take no further notice of the proceedings.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
May I interrupt the hon. Member? I am sure he would like me to tell the House that my right hon. and. learned Friend is very sorry, but he had to keep another appointment. He meant no discourtesy to the House.
§ Sir W. Smithers
It is very difficult to attack the Financial Secretary to the Treasury because he is always so charming; but I must say that the Chancellor of the Exchequer on his first Finance Bill was in duty bound to stop here and hear the Debate out. I can only presume that he has gone to see M. Molotov to get some hints on how to conduct finance à la Russe. I have sat here for the best part of five and a half hours and listened to most of the speeches. Except for one or two parts of some of the speeches, the Debate, in my opinion, has been carried on in much too light-hearted a manner, and as if things were normal. But they are far from being normal. The Finance Bill, and the Budget Resolutions on which it is based, are what we would expect from a Chancellor of the Exchequer who was not master in his own house. It is obvious that the late Chancellor of the Exchequer was deterred by political considerations from making a frontal attack to overcome the greatest and gravest crisis in the history of this country. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Someone says "Oh." If hon. Members think I am using exaggerated language I would refer them to a recent pamphlet issued by the London Chamber of Commerce, entitled, "A Report on the Economic Crisis." It refers to many considerations, but it uses these words:All these considerations are secondary to our survival as a nation.I wish hon. Members would read regularly—I am not a shareholder—the leading article in the "Statist" each week. It has used similar language on many occasions lately. I would point out to the House that neither of these papers is 1932 political. They speak from experience of trade and industry in the City of London. On 17th November the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he was winding up the Debate on the Budget proposals said:I would like to make one thing clear at the outset, and that is that I was, and am, in full agreement with the proposals which my predecessor put forward in the Budget."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th November, 1947; Vol. 444, c. 932.]Now we can take it that his more realistic speeches of the last few weeks are just camouflage and a smokescreen, because in reality we are out of the frying-pan into the fire. The Cripps furnace is heated seven times. Before he had the responsibility of high office, the Chancellor always advocated dictatorship. [Interruption.] I He did. He said once—and I am quoting from memory though I have nearly got it off by heart, I have said it so often—that the first job of a Socialist Government would be to pass in all its stages on the first day of their assumption of power an Emergency Powers Bill by which everything could be done by decree. Those decrees must be incapable of challenge by the courts, that power must be taken away from the courts. Now that he is economic and financial dictator of Britain, he is well on the way to achieving the ambition of his life.
In order to shorten my remarks on this I am going to quote something, if I may, and it has reference to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. This is what it says:As Minister for Economic Affairs he is in control of industry and commerce. As Chancellor of the Exchequer he is in control of the National Revenue. He towers above our Prime Minister as Beachy Head towers above the little lighthouse. The present situation is dangerous. It is the inevitable result of a planned economy. Every system of collectivism develops into dicatorship. It did in Germany, it did in Russia and today everyone can see the drift towards dictatorship in Britain.For that I am indebted to the brilliant columnist, Mr. Carson, of the "Recorder." [Laughter.]
§ Sir W. Smithers
The only answers of hon. Members opposite to someone who tells the truth are jeers and guffaws. The 1933 truth is that, whoever the man, when he has such powers as the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, he is a menace to the country. My point about dictatorship is reinforced by Dr. Hayek. He was a professor of economics in Vienna. He was naturalised in 1936, when he became a Britisher, and is now professor at the London School of Economics. This is what he says.
§ Mr. House rose—
§ Sir W. Smithers
With very great respect, surely, it is in Order on the Second Reading of the Finance Bill to say that we have a Chancellor of the Exchequer who is a menace to the country? I will only make one short quotation. Dr. Hayek says in his book:It is Germany's fate we are in danger of repeating.The present Government in their technique and policy at home are following much the same technique and policy as the Russian Government abroad. It is making war on Capitalism, and it does not want war, but the fruits of war. Its methods are the steady infiltration of the dangerous theories and ideologies of Communism into the body politic of this country. The Finance Bill does not face up to the magnitude of the crisis. It must be known to all people that it is a victory for the T.U.C. [Laughter.] Hon. Members may laugh, but there is nothing at which they should laugh.
I now want to raise a point which I think is a matter of great constitutional importance. There has been a great deal of talk about Budget leakages. I hold in my hand a leaflet published from City Gate House, 39–45, Finsbury Square, London, E.C.2, which is notice No. 78K, dated November, 1947. It gives all the details about Purchase Tax, and it was printed and circulated to business offices 1934 before the late Chancellor made his speech on the Budget. It contains all the Purchase Tax increases, and yet, in one office at least, it was delivered by the morning post on the day the Budget was presented to this House of Commons. By what constitutional right has the Treasury the power to print and circulate this document before the increases in the Purchase Tax were passed by the House of Commons?
There has also been a great deal said about savings. The ex-Chancellor, on 24th October, in column 415 of the OFFICIAL REPORT, appealed to investors to invest their money in Savings Certificates and Government securities, and also said that the savings movement had been lagging somewhat. On 12th November, in column 394, when introducing his Budget proposals, the ex-Chancellor said:… the net figures of national savings since last April are very disappointing indeed. …."£[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th November, 1947; Vol. 444, c 394.]Of course, they are, and they will be so, because it is conclusive evidence that the people have lost confidence in the Government, and the Government have rained the credit of Britain. No banker, no broker, could advise, with sincerity, any investor to invest in a concern of which the Prime Minister was chairman, the Chancellor vice-chairman, and the Cabinet the Board of Directors. Why should people invest in pieces of paper which they cannot cat or wear, and which are ever decreasing in purchasing power? That decrease has been accentuated by the policy pursued by this Government. What is the use of a thousand paper pounds a week if they are of no value, and there is nothing in the shops to buy? That is the position which we are fast approaching. The main object of this Bill is to stop inflation and yet the Government, in contradiction of their election promises, and after two years in office and with the responsibilities of office, have had to issue posters headed "Work or Want." And yet during the last few days there has been an increase for the miners underground of fifteen shillings, and ten shillings for the workers above ground.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I have given the hon. Gentleman a good deal of latitude. Many of the matters to which he refers have no possible relation to the Finance Bill. Certainly the last point he has made has no relation either.
§ Sir W. Smithers
With great respect, Sir, I want to prove that this is creating inflation and that the extra wages will do no good to the miners or anyone else, because if you increase—I am trying to answer your point, Sir—the miners' wages, up goes the price of coal, gas, electricity, transport, the cost of living, up again go wages, and you have a vicious spiral.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I must point out to the hon. Gentleman that while those facts may or may not be true, he must relate his arguments to the Finance Bill. He is not doing that.
§ Sir W. Smithers
With great respect, Sir, I am trying to show what the effects of the Finance Bill will be.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The hon. Gentleman will forgive me—he is really not relating his remarks to the Bill. The fact that wages have been put up and so forth does not appear in the Finance Bill, and so as far as I know, has no direct relation to it.
§ Sir W. Smithers
I will leave that point, Sir. Now, as regards cheap money, cheap money like anything else is cheap and nasty. I want to ask the Financial Secretary: will the new Chancellor of the Exchequer continue the policy of cheap money? Thank heaven, the mandate of this Government does not go beyond the shores of this country, for controlling the price of money in Britain, which was the financial centre of the world, is like trying to bale out the Atlantic with a teaspoon. I want to ask the Financial Secretary a question to which I know he cannot reply. The Financial Secretary has spoken once. I would be glad—
§ Sir W. Smithers
I have been sitting here all the afternoon and I am feeling a bit tired. I want to finish and I will not give way. I want to ask the Financial Secretary if he will let me have a reply to this question in writing: what did it cost the Government to buy the gilt-edged market up to a 2½ per cent. long-term basis?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Again, I doubt if that question has any direct relation to 1936 the contents of the Finance Bill. It may have some relation to the general financial policy of the Government but not to the Finance Bill.
§ Mr. Oliver Stanley (Bristol, West)
Are we to understand that on the Second Reading of a Finance Bill it is not possible to discuss the general question of the financial policy of the Government, for it certainly has been made a topic of this Debate and so dealt with at considerable length by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The matter discussed must clearly have some relevancy to the Bill. That is a rule that overrides all others—the rule of relevancy.
§ Mr. Stanley
On a point of Order, Sir. We are told that the whole object of this Bill is to prevent inflation. Are we not entitled to discuss the causes of inflation and the remedy for it?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The right hon. Gentleman knows that it is neither desirable nor customary to give general rulings, but I did think that the hon. Gentleman was going beyond the purview of the Finance Bill.
§ Sir W. Smithers
With great respect, that policy of cheap money has been mentioned on all sides of the House. I made inquiries before the Budget Resolutions and understood—I say it with deep respect—that we were allowed to discuss on Second Reading the general purview of the financial condition and outlook of the country, and I want to illustrate the cheap money policy to the Chancellor by asking this question: I want to know if he is going to continue this policy, which I say is bucket-shop finance and disastrous. I want to ask him how much money he spent in buying up the gilt-edged market. I see "The Times" yesterday mentioned the amount of £800 million, when he got the market up to a 2½ per cent. long-term basis—
§ Sir W. Smithers
With great respect, this action of the Government in their cheap money policy is, in my opinion, one of the reasons for the supplementary Budget. They converted the Local Loan 1937 and issued 2½ per cent. Treasuries. I understand that this Treasury 2½ per cent. is tonight standing at 15 discount. I want to know who pays that loss on £800 million—if it is £800 million. It can only be the taxpayer, and if any directors of any company gambled in their own stocks and lost money like that they would find themselves at the Old Bailey. I want to know to what account that loss is debited, because I feel that it is one of the reasons—this mismanagement of finance—why we have to have a supplementary Budget. We still have to deal with two other factors of conversion. The Government have to find £300 million for the conversion of the Conversion Stock, and about £1,000 million to pay off the railway shareholders and debenture holders, and I want to know what they propose to do about them. Do they propose to repeat this bucket-shop finance and buy that market up again, or issue stock on a basis which is settled by the laws of supply and demand?
There is another point. One of the main reasons for the Budget tonight is the money lost through bulk purchases and State trading. The late Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he first made the Budget proposals, complained of increases in world prices, and that the Minister of Food had to pay higher prices. I wish the Government would not blame world conditions. As Kipling said:A servant when he reigneth throws the blame on someone else.The reason for the rise in food prices all over the world is because of State trading and bulk purchases.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
That is another matter which I do not think it is competent to discuss in detail on this Second Reading.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The hon. Member must again forgive my saying that this is a supplementary Budget, and it is not the occasion—nor, so far as I know, has it been so treated—for a review of economic causes, except in so far as they may relate to those matters which are dealt with in the Finance Bill, and food prices is not one of those matters.
§ Sir W. Smithers
Surely, one of the reasons for this Budget is to try to tide 1938 over the winter without our people starving. We have no more dollars left. We cannot get enough food. The Government have had to ration potatoes, and to say that they might not be able to maintain the ration at three lbs. a week. I am trying to show the reason for this. They must stop bulk purchasing and allow the ordinary traders to get back in free competition, and go out into the world and get more food at cheaper prices. With great respect, I think that ought to be allowed, because one of the reasons is shortage of food. But to shorten my point, may I recommend hon. Members who want to study this to ask for Mr. Fehr's economic survey, 4, Bury Street, E.C.2, and a series of pamphlets issued by the Commodity and Allied Trades' Association, of Plantation House, E.C. They are non-political, and they show the mortal danger to this country of the continuation of State purchasing. In wartime production is stifled because of circumstances over which we have little or no control. In peacetime, or so-called peacetime, production is stifled because consumption is restricted. There is plenty of food in the world, but what has broken down is distribution. Wheat has gone up in price—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I must really ask the hon. Gentleman either to deal with the matters before the House or to restrict his remarks. The fact of the price of wheat having gone up may be a factor in the food situation, but we cannot go into all these details of the economic situation generally on a supplementary Finance Bill. That is my view.
§ Sir W. Smithers
With great respect, it seems so impossible, on this most grave Budget in our history, to be able to point out where the mistakes arose, that I really do not think it is much good my continuing.
This supplementary Budget has been compelled by circumstances, and reveals the emptiness of the promises of 1945. It is further evidence of the incompetence and lack of foresight, and of the determination of the Government to enact their theories and ideologies and damn the consequences. The Socialists boast of freedom, but today Britain is one great concentration camp. One cannot do anything without a licence or priority 1939 from the dictators of Whitehall. It has been said this is a crisis Budget. The only hope for recovery is to place the responsibility for recovery in the only place where it can be put, and that is on the shoulders of each one of us.
The only way to save the situation is to remove all priorities, all controls inside three months. That may—indeed, would—create a tremendous upheaval, but it would be as nothing to the complete disaster that will follow if freedom is not restored to the individual, and if individuals are not allowed to trade in the world. This Government cannot break the basic laws: they can only prove them. One of the reasons for this Budget—one of the reasons for the deplorable state of affairs at which we have arrived—is that this Government have tried to break or to transgress the basic laws of life. We can only prove the basic laws of life. Suppose that the Chancellor of the Exchequer tonight—I wish he would—were to walk over Shakespeare's Cliff at Dover. He would not be breaking the law of gravity: he would only prove it. The crisis is not a financial crisis. The reason for this Budget is not a financial, economic or a dollar crisis: it is a spiritual and moral crisis. The Socialists have taken the spirit out of—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
This is really not the occasion for a frontal attack on any "ism" of any kind, Socialism or Capitalism. The hon. Member is going far beyond the scope of the Second Reading of this Bill. I must ask him to make his remarks relevant to the Bill before us.
§ Mr. Ungoed-Thomas
On a point of Order. Is it in Order for the hon. Member continually to ignore your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and to speak for- 40 minutes, in which he has made scarcely any reference to the Budget at all?
§ Sir W. Smithers
I have not ignored the Ruling of the Chair. I have sat down every time Mr. Deputy-Speaker has risen—
§ Sir W. Smithers
My last word is this. You say, Sir, we must not talk about "isms." But it is Socialism that has brought us to this pass.
§ 11.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Scollan (Renfrew, Western)
I want to say just a word because of the arguments put forward by the Member for Orpington (Sir W. Smithers). If hon. Members should read HANSARD tomorrow they will see reported in it a very damaging and culpable statement by the hon. Member for Orpington with regard to the need for the introduction of this supplementary Finance Bill. He placed the blame for it largely on the Government. I do not think that that should be allowed to pass.
The hon. Member for Orpington said that the money market of this country, which was the money market of the world, had disappeared entirely, due to the policy of this Government; and he also said that the tea market of Mincing Lane had been in suspension and would disappear also. I want to tell the hon. Member that it is obvious that he does not realise that the whole system of society that built that money market and that tea market in London has completely collapsed due to the Second World War, and now for anybody to come forward and say they can put Humpty-Dumpty back again, that London can become the money market of the world again, is nonsense, when they ought to know that the very inflationary policy they have railed against has been in operation since 1939. This Government and the Coalition Government and the Caretaker Government had to freeze £3,000 million that we could not honour. We have had to freeze another £52 million that we could not honour. We have either to have gold behind our paper money, or silver, or goods.
§ Mr. Scollan
This is an occasion to discuss the inflationary situation this Budget was brought, forward to meet. And the present situation, I submit to you, Sir, is due, as anyone with an elementary knowledge of the question will tell you, to too much paper money and not enough real value behind it. Consequently, the hon. Member ought to know, and it is particularly to the arguments he brought forward I am addressing myself, that the money market will not be established in this country again. The old monetary bases of the sterling area and hard cur- 1941 rency area are irreconcilable until we can get goods to replace the gold standard. That is the reason we are asking for more exports to redeem that money. If he did understand the system he is holding up, he would know that the competition which exists among the nations of the world, like every other form of competition, can only be won by work. They cannot all be winners in the competition. America has won. All the others have lost. And now we have to go to America whether we like it or not and ask them to disgorge what they have won to put the others on to their feet again. That is what the Marshall Plan is about. Obviously, we have here a case of a man living in and operating the capitalist system, standing up to speak and displaying complete ignorance of the very system he is operating. Therefore, I would ask the House when it discusses this little supplementary Measure to recognise it as one of the things necessary to keep this country going under Capitalism—not to keep Socialism going, but to keep Capitalism working—and to keep the wheels going between this country and the other countries of the world. Please think about that to-morrow.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for Monday next.