§ 3.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Greenwood (Rossendale)
I beg to move, in page 3, line 8, at the end to insert:Provided that the payer of duty at the said standard yearly rate may elect to pay the same by two half-yearly instalments each of ten shillings and that, if he so elects, the licence shall be valid if the first such instalment is paid on or before the issue of the licence, but, unless the second instalment is paid on or before the expiry of six months after the issue of the licence, the licence shall then cease to be valid until the second instalment is paid.This Clause provides that on every television licence, that is to say, a combined receiving licence for both sound broadcasting and television, which costs £3, there shall be charged what is calleda duty of excise, to be known as television dutyat the rate of £1 a year. The Clause provides that licence will not be valid unless that Excise duty has been paid.
The Amendment proposes that a licence holder shall have the right to opt whether he shall pay that Excise duty in two instalments and we suggest in the Amendment that, as long as the instalments are paid, the licence will be valid for the six months' period and will then cease to be valid until the next and final instalment has been paid. This, therefore, is a modest proposal, the sort of homely reform for which I am sure all of us hope to be responsible during our membership of the House.
In putting this proposal forward, our aim is to help those sections of the population whose well-being is already gravely endangered by a steady rise in the cost of living. A number of subsequent Amendments in the names of my right hon. and hon. Friends are also designed to help the same groups of the population. We have specially in mind, of course, the disabled and the old-age pensioners, and it is our view that the retirement pension at present is inadequate to meet the rising prices resulting from the economic policy of the party opposite.
1406 This morning I looked up the change in the cost of living since the right hon. Gentleman's party took office. If we take 16th October, 1951, as 100, with the price change based on the Interim Index of Retail Prices and the Index of Retail Prices we find that on 12th March, 1957, the figure was 123. If I may put it in a different way, it means that a £ note which was worth 20s. when the Labour Government went out of office is, after nearly six years of Conservative administration, worth only 16s. 3d. During that period we have also seen the combined television and broadcasting licence increased by £1 in 1954.
Our contention is that, on top of all this, the extra £1 television duty which the Government are proposing to impose will have a very serious impact on people like old-age pensioners. We suggest that the only proper thing to do in the circumstances is to lighten the blow that they will feel by providing that the tax or duty can be paid in instalments. I hope that the Government will consider our suggestions very carefully and sympathetically.
I should like the Government to bear in mind that already licence holders are paying approximately 2d. a day for holding a licence. That may not seem very much to the Chancellor of the Exchequer or to some hon. Members, but that payment is being made in addition to the general cost of maintaining a television receiver.
This morning I checked up on the current prices of television receivers and I found that the 17-inch set, which is now the most popular model, costs approximately £65. The hire purchase provisions for buying a set of that kind are that a 50 per cent. deposit of £32 10s. has to be paid and then 24 monthly payments of £1 9s. 9d. If the set is bought on credit terms it means that £6 10s. deposit has to be paid with 38 weekly payments of 33s. 10d.
It is clear that expenditure of that kind, which many old people will have strained all their resources to meet, is a serious undertaking for them, and this further addition of £1 will make their position even worse than it is. Moreover, there is the expense involved in installing a television receiver, and also the high costs of maintenance. I think it is true to say that if the cathode ray tube in the receiver 1407 fails, the cost of replacing it is between £12 and £20.
We say that in view of the heavy expense to which many people are put already for what is, in a large number of cases, almost their only source of recreation, it is unfair to add even a further £1 to the burden which they are having to sustain. If, however, the Government can convince the Committee that a further charge of £1 a year in the form of Television Duty is necessary, we maintain that the Government should be very reasonable indeed as to the method of exacting that £1. That is why we propose that it should be possible to pay it in instalments. I hope that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will find it possible to agree to this modest reform that we are proposing.
§ The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. J. Enoch Powell)
The effect of this Amendment would be to enable a payment of £4 to be made, not at once, but in two parts, one of £3 10s. and the other of 10s. The effect is not, as the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) realised, to reduce the total amount of the payment, but to enable it to be made in two unequal instalments, the first instalment being £3 10s. instead of a full payment of £4.
In the first place, the result would certainly be a substantial increase in the administrative costs of collecting the duty, because it would be necessary for the reminders which are normally sent out annually to be sent out twice a year. The second reminder would be unconnected with the necessity for the renewal of the licence. There would also inevitably be a certain loss of duty by reason of the collection in two instalments instead of one. So I suggest to the Committee that unless there is a really strong case for reducing the payment which is to be made at one time from £4 to £3 10s.—and that is the issue— it is not a change which, on other grounds, we ought to make.
The people who are called upon to pay £4 at one time, as the Bill stands, or £3 10s. as the Amendment stands, are those who are already, in the ownership of a television set, liable to incur substantial lump sum payments from time to time or—I emphasise this alternative 1408 —on whose behalf substantial lump sum payments in respect of the running of a television set are incurred by other people.
The necessity of replacing the cathode ray tube was mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, and the estimate I have been given of the cost of doing that practically coincides with his. It would mean a single payment at one time of some £15 in order to continue to enjoy the amenities of the set. The hon. Gentleman pointed out that the initial deposit to acquire the set can hardly be less than £6 or £7 and, of course, the viewer has already been paying the £3 licence fee in one sum annually.
I do not think that it can be sustained for a moment that persons who, at the moment, are paying for television sets, or on whose behalf television sets are being paid for, could reasonably be expected to make a lump sum payment of £3 10s. but could not be expected to make a lump sum payment of £4. That being so, the case for the Amendment falls.
§ Mr. Harold Wilson (Huyton)
I intervene only to put a question to the Financial Secretary arising out of what he has said. I do not want to comment on his general remarks, because I am sure that others of my hon. Friends, on both Front and back benches, will want to comment on those.
First, about the cathode ray tube. We are all aware that it is a very heavy expense, falling from time to time and at unpredictable seasons on the owner of any television set. It would be out of order to pursue the hon. Gentleman's reference to price, though he will be the first to realise that if the Government had taken action as the result of the Report of the Monopolies Commission on the Supply of Electronic Valves and Cathode Ray Tubes, it might be possible to buy these a little more cheaply, and it might be more tolerable for people in difficult circumstances to meet the extra levy which the Government are now imposing.
Now I come to my main point. The Financial Secretary enunciated correctly the effect of this Amendment, if it were accepted and written into the Bill, as meaning that there would be not two equal payments but one payment of £3 10s. and the other of 10s. He will realise the difficulty in which the Opposition were placed, namely, that it would 1409 have been out of order for us to move an Amendment to the Bill to propose that the licence fee and the Television Duty should be aggregated, and then that the aggregate sum should be divided so that it could be paid by equal instalments.
In the light of the problem, the total annual payment will come to be regarded as a single thing. People will not ask how much of it represents a Post Office licence and how much a Treasury impost. They will know that they have to pay £4. I agree with what the hon. Gentleman implied, that it would have been better if we could have proposed an Amendment suggesting that there should be two equal payments of £2, but that would have been out of order. It would even be out of order, Sir Charles, for me to argue the case now, so I will not do that.
If, therefore, the Financial Secretary will say that the Government will agree to look at this point, I am sure that my hon. Friend would be prepared to withdraw his Amendment. I do not ask for a commitment, only for an undertaking to come back at the Report stage with legislation to enable the £4 to be divided into two instalments. In that way there need be no further debate, and we could thereby save the time of the Committee, which the Lord Privy Seal told us this afternoon he would like to see done so that hon. Members can get away for two weeks at Whitsun.
If the hon. Gentleman cannot give that assurance, we shall have to continue debating what is not an entirely satisfactory Amendment, but one which, however, raises wide issues. There are many families which help old people to maintain their sets, although in some cases the licence duties are paid by the present owner of the set and not by the donor. But once the set has been given—in many cases an old, second-hand set—the donor is left not only with the responsibility for running charges, some of them substantial repairs, though less than the cost of a cathode ray tube, but is left, also, with the responsibility for paying the Post Office licence.
We are not asking the Treasury to give up any revenue. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman, therefore, will look at this point more widely than the Amendment, and will consider between now and Report an Amendment to give effect to what we are really seeking to do.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall (Colne Valley)
I, for one, agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson). There is no doubt that the Financial Secretary's answer was, in its way, complete to the Amendment on the Notice Paper; the difference between £3 10s. and £4 is not very large. What we were concerned about when we tabled the Amendment—and we put it down in this form to comply with the rules of order— was the fact that people have to pay the £4 in one lump sum, and although many of those who own television sets can find that money without difficulty there must be thousands of people to whom finding this £4 out of a weekly wage in a lump sum means stretching themselves when it is an addition to their other expenses.
I do not think that the mere fact that television sets are expensive and that repairs to them are also expensive items in a family budget is one which we ought to consider as a satisfactory argument, or one which goes to the whole root of the matter. Most of us either have a car or know someone who has, and the same difficulty arises over the Road Fund Licence for a motor car. Although the repairs to motor cars are expensive and the cars themselves are expensive, it was realised that to pay the year's licence in one lump sum might be a considerable burden on many people, and the State in its wisdom, and, in my view, very properly, decided that people should either pay in one lump sum or should pay half-yearly or quarterly.
It is true that to reimburse the State for the extra expense which this entailed, an addition was made to the cost of the licence. Nevertheless, it has worked extremely well, and I ask the Chancellor, whom I see in his place, to look at the question of the television licence between now and Report and to see whether some action can be taken, if not this year then next year.
Undoubtedly, this licence fee may be increased. I imagine that it will be increased as the years go by, particularly if we have in office the present Government or one like it. In that event, the cost of living and the value of money will change to such an extent that this fee will become derisory and will have to be increased. I ask the Chancellor to look at this matter and, if he can do something about it now, to do it; and, if not, 1411 to see whether some arrangement can be worked out before the Finance Bill next year.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)
I rise to support my right hon. and hon. Friends in what they have said. The whole of this Television Duty is mischievous, ill-conceived, thoroughly bad and thoroughly ill-advised.
Television is coming to be one of the most popular forms of public entertainment. The Chancellor takes credit to himself for having abolished Entertainments Duty on sports and the living theatre, and we applaud him for having done so, but he should not ignore what he is doing in television. Television is the most popular and most universal form of entertainment in this country. Let us consider what the Chancellor exacts from those people, many of them old and of small means, who derive all their entertainment from television.
First, he exacts a large measure of Purchase Tax from them when they buy their television sets. He then exacts a fee of £3 for an annual licence. On top of that he is imposing an Excise duty. This is adding impost on impost on impost. It may be camouflaged and concealed by one form of exaction being designated with a name different from that of the other forms, but the effect is that the old-age pensioners, the handicapped people, and those who live at home and cannot get about are being penalised by three separate and distinct forms of taxation before they can begin to enjoy their television.
I regard this mischievous duty as the thin end of the wedge, because it may be increased later. It is thoroughly bad in principle. A fortiori, therefore, I support the Amendment in order to do something to ameliorate the hardship which is being inflicted on these elderly people. It is notorious that it is the least well-off sections of the community who depend for their entertainment entirely on television.
The argument which the Financial Secretary gave us was lame, ill-conceived and highly technical. He knows perfectly well what a great hardship it is on these people to have to pay £3—now £4—a year. He told us that the only effect of the Amendment would be that the £4 1412 would be split into £3 10s. and 10s. We do not want that kind of high-falutin technical argument from the Financial Secretary when the Lord Privy Seal is appealing to us to get on with the business so that we can give his supporters two weeks' holiday at Whitsun.
As my right hon. Friend said, this is quite simple; there is no distinction between the £3 and the £1 except a superficial distinction in name. It is, in fact, an exaction of £4. The answer to the Financial Secretary's argument, and one which I prefer, is that the £4 should be divided into two; and that would mean £4 to be paid half-annually, semi-annually as the Americans call it. That would mean paying £2 every six months, a total of £4 a year. I hope that the Chancellor who, if I may say so, has a more humane and broadminded outlook, will accept this suggestion so that we may get on with the business.
§ Mr. Victor Yates (Birmingham, Ladywood)
I support the Amendment. I am very disappointed by the answer given by the Financial Secretary; it was a cold answer about a vital matter affecting, in particular, old-age pensioners throughout the country.
I cannot believe that the Financial Secretary is quite as cold as he appeared to be when he dismissed the Amendment by saying, "Of course, if they can pay £3 10s. they can pay £4", as though it did not mean anything at all. Every shilling which is extracted from an old-age pensioner at present is the cause of great hardship to him. If the question were only that of the difference between paying £3 10s. and £4, in my view it would still be a question of great hardship to the old-age pensioner.
I ask the Chancellor to consider the plight of a number of old-age pensioners who have television sets. I know of a number of old-age pensioners in the City of Birmingham who are enjoying the privilege of a television set because their families have collected the money and provided one for them. Recently, I have had to consider what can be done to assist old-age pensioners who are quite unable to meet the cost of repairs, to which my right hon. Friend, the Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) referred. I recall a recent case where old-age pensioners had a television set provided by 1413 the family, and the set broke down. The repair bill amounted to £19. It was quite impossible for the old people to pay it, as they had nothing but their pension on which to live, and there was another whip-round in the family to pay it. But the cathode ray tube broke down again, so I wrote to the Chairman of the West Midlands Electricity Board asking what could be done in conjunction with the manufacturers. I am glad to say that he took the matter seriously and obtained a substantial reduction on the second account.
This duty of £4 is a heavy burden. I agree with my hon. Friend that were it possible and in order to divide it into two payments, that would be more satisfactory and I hope that we shall have more consideration given to the matter. I do not agree that it is right to impose this duty at all. It is wrong and is unfair to old-age pensioners and others suffering disability. But if the Government say that it must be so, and that they must pay, cannot a way be found to ease the consequent burden upon old-age pensioners?
One of the greatest problems of today is loneliness in old age. Whatever may be said against television, it has provided companionship for old people and we should be careful not to remove that benefit. I ask the Chancellor to see whether something can be done to ease this burden if he feels that he cannot exempt these poeple from payment. If the right hon. Gentleman could do something to ease their position he would earn the gratitude of this House and many thousands of people in the country.
§ Mr. George Chetwynd (Stockton-on-Tees)
We were all disappointed at the unsympathetic reply of the Financial Secretary. The Government did not have to put on this £1 to recoup themselves for what they are losing in Entertainment Duty because of the concessions made there. It was within their power not to do so. If the Government have deliberately taken this way to raise extra money, it is up to them to make this new impost as bearable as possible for those with limited means.
It is true that many old-age pensioners who depend solely on their pensions, with perhaps a National Assistance grant, have television sets provided for them; or they 1414 managed to get one while they were at work. But now they are retired, with a reduced income, any addition to the licence fee, or maintenance costs, is beyond their means to pay. I do not accept the argument that if one can afford a television or if a television is provided, automatically one should be in a position to pay the extra £1. I do not think that a just argument.
The effect of the £1 increase may be twofold. It will stop many people who have television sets from licensing them again, or else they will run the risk of using a set which is unlicensed and perhaps they will have to pay a fine in consequence. Secondly, it will deter many people from acquiring new television sets and that is not very desirable. Television is now a necessity, though I often think we should be paid for looking at it rather than have to pay a licence, but that is my own opinion. Many people look upon a television set as permanent company, particularly those who are home-fast, and the aged sick. Therefore, the Treasury should give more consideration to the question of easing the burden imposed by having to pay this new licence fee.
There are precedents for easing the burden on the old. A concession was made to old-age pensioners when the Tobacco Duty was increased. They were given the right to purchase tobacco at the pre-increase price. Something on those lines should be done in this matter of television licences. My right hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Glenvil Hall) mentioned that payment for motor car licences can be split into four. I do not think it beyond the bounds of possibility for the Treasury to work out a simple system whereby a television licence could be paid for half-yearly, although, naturally, it would be better not to put on the £1 increase at all. But if that must be done, it would be better if the licence could be paid in two instalments of £2, or in one instalment of £3 10s. and another of 10s.
§ Mr. R. Moss (Meriden)
On a point of order, Sir Charles. May I ask your advice? Two of my hon. Friends have already said that they are opposed to the imposition of this duty. Am I correct in thinking that you would not allow a 1415 speech on the general aspect of the Television Duty during the debate on this Amendment, which assumes that the duty is imposed, and refers to the way in which it may be conveniently levied?
§ Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)
I am not sure that I am filled with gratitude at the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mr. Moss), who has secured a Ruling from you, Sir Charles, which will limit the observations I was about to make. I much prefer the normal course, with you ruling me out of order after I have said the things I wished to say, and in future I hope that we shall revert to that course. Nevertheless, there are certain things I wish to say which, I apprehend, are in order.
I rarely find myself in disagreement with my right hon. and hon. Friends, and even when I do I rarely express my disagreement. But in Oldham there are few old-age pensioners who have television sets. I do. not know what is the position the prosperous Midlands where there are very high wages, but in Oldham there are low wages and unemployment. Old-age pensioners in Oldham can see television at the hostels provided under provisions made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan). But if they wish to see television normally, they must visit the homes of other members of their family or their friends who have television sets.
Nor do I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd)—a place where I once mounted a gun—that television is a necessity.
§ Mr. Hale
I agree, it is not a necessity for me either. I limit my viewing ol television to about 5.30 p.m. on a Saturday, when I look at the sports results. I do that only because of the happy event of Leicester City being the champions of the Second Division of the Football League this year and of Oldham Rugby Football Club winning the championship of the Rugby League last week; and I am sure that the whole Committee would wish to felicitate me and to compliment me on those achievements in which vicariously I have taken part.
I wish to refer to the somewhat unfortunate speech of the Financial Secretary. He has the merit of consistency. It was this sentence, which he uttered on 7th May, which brought me early into the Chamber today. Then the hon. Gentleman said:The larger the outlay which the owner of a television set is called upon to pay, the smaller will be the proportion of his annual outlay represented by this duty."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 7th May, 1957; Vol. 569, c. 809.]I wonder whether the Economic Secretary—[HON. MEMBERS: "The Financial Secretary ".] Since the noble Marquess left the Government there has been a certain amount of reshuffling while I was abroad and I have not become completely au fait with the situation. We all respect the integrity and ability of the Financial Secretary, but I am not sure that he has sufficient empirical knowledge in these matters. Here is a very important new industry, a very important new contribution to our social life, something which I think, on the whole, is probably all to the good.
I hope that it is not out of order to say, in a single sentence, that television sets are made in Oldham. The great firm of Ferranti has two large factories in the Borough of Oldham. It is, after all, a social industry, the sort of industry we all wish to encourage. Television is precisely the sort of thing we ought to want to see in every house in the country. If it is not a necessity, it is a deprivation to people who see that others have it when they have not.
The social pressure is an important social pressure. We talk in these days of keeping up with the Jones's, but keeping up with the Jones's is a rather unfortunate way of putting it.
§ Mr. Hale
They are a very large family. I should not have thought that in referring to this large family I should have singled out any one member of it for any question. In any event, it is a flattering remark about the Jones's. The Jones's have got it. They are the people at the top of the tree, and it is the other people who have to try to keep up with them.
But the real pressure is not that of keeping up with the Jones's. It is the pressure of the ordinary, decent man who wants to see that his children have got the same facilities as other people's when the children come back from school and say, "The Jones children saw the performance last night", that they saw His Royal Highness giving his talk for children, and his children had not been able to see it.
The pressure upon that parent is very severe. It is precisely of the kind which I always understand of the man who has been to a public school and who wants his children to go to the same school. I think he is wrong. I think he is silly. I think that there may be a tiny bit of snobbishness in it, but it is a decent, human emotion.
§ The Temporary Chairman (Sir Robert Grimston)
I regret to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but when I was in the Chair on an earlier occasion the hon. Member said that he was going to interrupt himself in parenthesis. He did so and very soon came to some semblance of order. I ask him to do the same now.
§ Mr. Hale
I am most grateful to you, Sir Robert, for your admonition and I appreciate that you said that you did it with reluctance. I was about to call myself to order and to refer to the question—what is it that we are discussing?— of television sets.
It is a great pressure, but the Financial Secretary says, "Of course, it is only another 'quid'. What does it matter?" It is just as well to remember all the burdens which are imposed on the parent who is anxious to see that his children get the chance of seeing television which is now afforded to other children. What are the burdens imposed by this Government? First, there is a restriction of hire 1418 purchase, which means that he has to deposit a much larger sum than he would in normal circumstances. Secondly, there is the refusal to refer the cathode ray tube industry to the Monopolies Commission, though everyone knows that the cathode ray people are taking £7 or £8 of privateering money out of every one who buys a set. Thirdly, there is Purchase Tax. Fourthly, there is the licence.
Having done all that, the Government now come forward with this iniquitous tax, which it would be out of order to say is iniquitous because at the moment we are only discussing the method of payment. Perhaps it would be in order to point out that, of course, our innate respect for the rules of order, our desire to conform to the rules, makes it almost impossible for us to express with emotion the things we want to say on these matters, and that we are rather restricted on a narrow Amendment which can only symbolise the more beneficent acts which we wish to take.
Smith wants to keep up with the Jones's, and he saves the money. I say with absolute sincerity that in the discussions I have had with constituents recently I have been quite surprised at the number of problems that arise out of hire-purchase agreements for television sets. I have been surprised at the number of people who never really knew what they were signing. Although the Committee may not feel sympathy with people who sign agreements without ever having made sure that they can keep them, one knows that these things do happen.
In the days before the war high-pressure salesmen used to call at the door and persuade people to buy carpet sweepers before they had a carpet. While they were paying instalments on the carpet sweepers they could not afford to buy a carpet, and, by the time they had paid the instalments and started to pay for a carpet, the carpet sweeper would not work. That is how hire purchase worked.
It really is not good enough to say that an extra 20s. is not the straw that will break the camel's back. In point of fact, the camel's back is strained at the moment by all these burdens. Thirty-one years ago, when I entered into the bonds of holy matrimony, which are still preserved, I am glad to say, I bought a house. I built a house and I borrowed 1419 £500 on it. The building society's instalments were 17s. 6d. a week, and that 17s. 6d. a week was a very, very serious burden.
It became a question of how regularly we could pay it. In fact, I remember that the building society wrote to me and asked me to be more consistent. In those days, being less reticent than I am now, I wrote back and said that if consistency was the only thing they desired I could achieve that with ease, and I did not pay for three months. Then we had a further discussion in which the society made it clear that that kind of consistency was not satisfactory and that further payments were desired.
When my first child was born we were really frightened about what the doctor's bill would be. It was only three guineas when it came, but it could have been the sort of thing that could have made me go "subbing". It is not good enough to say that if these people can afford to pay already, they can find another 20s. I find people in Oldham, good working-class people, signing agreements to pay more in instalments for television sets than I had in 1926 to agree to pay for my house, and it was not a bad home at that.
When one is paying 17s. 6d" 20s. or 25s. a week and someone comes along and says, "We want seven ' quid' extra for a cathode ray tube over and above what it ought to cost," and someone else says, "We want you to pay for the programme," and the Chancellor of the Exchequer says, "Look here, you have stopped going to the cinema and we are going to cut off a bit of taxation from the cinema and tax you for staying at home," I cannot imagine a more evil principle than that.
I should have thought that the foundation of all our life was our home life. I should have thought that this was exactly the sort of thing on which a progressive Government would want to give remissions and not impose increases. I should have thought that they would have said, "We have something here which is of great value. Here we have a sense of keeping people at home and of restoring the sanctity of family life which is the foundation of Britain and of all civilised nations. Here we have a chance of seeing 1420 the children round the television sets, with their mother and the father." But the Chancellor says, "No."
Finally, if the argument of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury is allowed to pass unnoticed, then there is no case against not putting another £1 on next year and another £1 the year following. Indeed, there may be a stronger case for his argument, because he will say that these people have managed to pay for another year. The more they pay, the less it costs. The more they pay, the more evidence of their ability to bear a burden, and on this assumption the Government can go on putting on taxes.
I therefore beg the Chancellor to consider this matter anew and consider it, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) said, in the light of our intentions, which are honourable, rather than in the light of the Amendment, which is narrow. It is a generous act of the Opposition to give the right hon. Gentleman a chance to recover some of the measure of popularity for the Government which they have lost in the last few weeks. A generous Chancellor of the Exchequer would take the opportunity we offer him, seize time by the forelock, and make a concession which would be one of importance in most of the homes of the country.
§ Mr. Ron Ledger (Romford)
The Financial Secretary seems to be under a distinct disadvantage when he says that a person should be able to pay £4 if he can pay £3 10s. Obviously, he looks upon members of his own Front Bench as a good cross-section of the people from the point of view of their ability to pay. If he believes that, the people of Romford are unique, because most of those who have written to me about the Budget have mentioned this particular duty. I shall not repeat what they have had to say about the value which they get for their money, or the remarks which they have made about the value of the entertainment, which has, if anything, decreased, particularly since the introduction of I.T.V.
At last, the Financial Secretary appears to be showing some interest in what I am saying, so perhaps he now intends to accept the Amendment. People in Romford certainly regard 10s. as rather a lot of money. I am bound to admit, and 1421 possibly the Financial Secretary agrees, that 10s. is certainly not worth as much as it was under a Labour Government, but I should have thought that that would have meant that it was all the more precious today because it is worth so much less, and that he would, therefore, have given even closer consideration to the way in which he filched the odd 10s. or the odd £1 from the people of whom I am thinking.
People with families often find it difficult to go to the pictures. They work on a stringent budget, and they have worked out very carefully that the cheapest method of entertainment which they can get is the television set. To these people 10s. is a considerable amount of money. It is a silly argument to say that if one pays a bill it does not really matter how much the bill is, so long as it comes within 10s. of what one is able to pay. That is a ridiculous argument.
I have had a close look at this question of the sale of television sets, and I find that the statistics show that more and more people are going in for schemes which will help them to avoid having to pay large sums of money. Those are maintenance and insurance schemes which cost them a few shillings a week, and they find that they have to go in for those schemes by which they pay 2s. 6d., 3s. or 4s. a week because they simply cannot find even £1 in cash. I think that the Financial Secretary has not the slightest idea that many families have so little money that 10s. in one payment is an impossibility over and above their weekly commitments.
I think that if the Financial Secretary took a closer look at the methods by which television sets are being sold through maintenance and insurance companies he would come to the conclusion, which many of us have come to, that the industry is bound to suffer if an increased burden is put on those who want to purchase television sets. He put forward the argument, which I think that he himself did not really believe—it was just a reply to the Amendment and a way of passing it over—that it might mean having to remind people twice that they had something to pay for their licences. I suggest to him that if it is true, as we suggest, that people will have difficulty in finding an extra 10s. and certainly an extra £1, he 1422 may find that the next time licences become due and the increased amount has to be paid, some people will leave it as long as possible before paying, and take a chance.
You may find some difficulty in collecting the money and the cost will increase. If it does, you have only yourself to blame. You are going to make it harder to collect this £1 because you are not going to accept any Amendment to make it easier for the people to pay.
§ Mr. Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)
I did not know that you, Sir Robert, were going to collect anything.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Ledger
I join with my hon. Friends in saying that it is chiefly the working-class families who will suffer. Some of my hon. Friends rather limited the problem when they continually referred to the old-age pensioners. Those old-age pensioners who have television sets will certainly suffer, but I think that the problem is much broader than that, and that millions of people will find it more difficult to keep their television sets as a result of this increase of £1. Of course, the Government, by imposing it, will help us to a certain extent because they will prove, as the Financial Secretary proved this afternoon, once again very clearly, that the Government are mean when they want money and do not mind where it comes from, provided that it does not come from those who can best afford it.
§ Mr. D. M. Keegan (Nottingham, South)
I wish to intervene for only a few moments. I apologise to those who support the Amendment for not having been here earlier, but I was detained outside, and I hope that I shall be forgiven for intervening without having heard the Amendment proposed.
I think that probably what most of us are concerned about is that any increase in the charge made on television sets by way of licence or duty will tend inevitably to increase the number of people who are tempted not to pay licences and will result in rather larger numbers than hitherto of what, I believe, are referred to as pirate television viewers. I have already heard an estimated figure of about 200,000 such viewers and I should not like that figure to go any higher.
1423 I hope that the Chancellor will earnestly consider making an allowance, either by means of this Amendment or in some other way, for people to pay duty on television sets by instalments. If he cannot do that, will he consider with the Postmaster-General whether some publicity can be given to the purchase of savings stamps over a period, amounting to the £4 now necessary, and trading these stamps in at the end of the year for the total value of the television licence and the duty? I hope that that suggestion will meet with approval.
The Rev. Llywelyn Williams (Aber- tillery)
I believe that television viewing is a menace to our children and a time waster for grown-ups, but is the ideal entertainment for old people. A retired couple on pension, who have received their post-war credits—a very acceptable, though, perhaps, modest lump sum—may well devote them to the purchase of a television set. I believe that the Financial Secretary has a strong case where the majority of people are concerned, but I do not think that his case is so strong when it comes to old people, to whose interest I will limit my remarks.
The movements of the old are probably circumscribed by health and age. The ordinary forms of entertainment are not always available to them. The football match, in British weather, is not particularly attractive to them, nor is wandering out on winter nights to the cinema. They are, therefore, justified in expending their post-war credits on a television set, which is their most ideal form of entertainment. I think that younger people would be ill-advised to embark on that type of investment.
There must be thousands of elderly people who have put everything they have into such a purchase and are looking forward to years of quiet, leisurely entertainment; and there was real point in the reference by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) to the old adage about something being the last straw that breaks the camel's back. There is a lot of economic validity in that. He quoted his own experience, and I am sure that hon. Members on both sides can corroborate it with theirs. One sometimes enters into a rather large commitment. One may spend a lot of money on furniture, or on repair jobs 1424 in the house. If, after that, one is faced at the wrong moment with a demand for even 10s., it is sometimes more difficult to find it than it was to find, possibly, £50 a few months earlier.
To ask pensioners to find £4 when the finding of it presents a real difficulty means doing them a great injustice. I warmly support the pleas made by my hon. Friends to the Chancellor to reveal —I am sure that he has the ability—a willingness to look into the administration of this new duty. The mechanics are not insoluble. With good will this could be done, and I cannot believe that, in such a small matter, the Chancellor could not find the will to try to do something for these old people for whom I have spoken and who, I believe, have a very strong case.
§ Mr. Charles Grey (Durham)
I join with my hon. Friends in supporting this Amendment, and want to say how sorry I was to listen to the cold manner in which it was received on the Government Front Bench. I rather thought that when the Financial Secretary or the Chancellor looked at the Amendment he dismissed it altogether as being of no importance, but after listening to my hon. Friends I am sure that the Government will agree that there is substance in what has been said.
I agree that this duty concerns only a certain part of the population, and we must accept the fact that, whether we like it or not, the £1 will be imposed. We have to accept that as a principle now. Could there have been a means of deciding among those who have television sets how they would like to pay the money, I am sure that most wage earners, though not all, would say they would rather pay it in one sum. The type of person who cannot pay in that way is the old-age pensioner. I am sure that the Chancellor will agree that the nation has been perturbed about the plight of the old-age pensioners, who are now campaigning for an increased pension. To suggest, as is being done now, that to have their viewing they should pay an extra £1 in one sum makes the whole of that campaign ridiculous.
Due consideration should be given to those who have to measure out the weekly amounts they pay to certain people. I speak from personal experience. I had to do it after 1926, when I worked in the 1425 mine and earned 30s. a week. It was not at all an easy task to measure out weekly payments. These people are paying sums weekly to others, and it is an utter impossibility for them to find the extra £1 in one lump. I would, therefore, ask the Chancellor to look at this again, and see whether it is possible, even if the people cannot be let off altogether, at least to let them pay by instalments. If the Chancellor does that, he will earn the gratitude of all old-age pensioners.
§ Mr. Moss
As my hon. Friend the Member for Durham (Mr. Grey) has said, this Amendment assumes that the duty will be imposed. I am opposed to the imposition of the duty, but this Amendment is concerned merely with levying it in a manner convenient to many of those who have to pay it. There has not been a single argument advanced in support of this duty which will bear independent examination, and I am led to the conclusion that the Chancellor has chosen to impose it merely because he has found another method of raising revenue from a popular form of entertainment. It follows from that, I think, that in future the duty may be increased. Therefore, the total amount to be paid will be increased, and if a convenient method of levying the duty can be found it should be found now, when it is being first imposed.
The Financial Secretary has used the most peculiar argument. Although I agree with other hon. Members that in his remarks today he put paid to this particular Amendment, he used a most peculiar argument about the effect of this duty on those who will have to pay it. In the Second Reading debate on 7th May, he began by saying that the amount of duty was small. He went on to discuss the annual cost of running a television set, and concluded that that cost, including the licence, was £10—or 4s. a week. He went on to say that the tax of £1 would be only 10 per cent. of the annual running costs. All that is very nice mathematics, but the inner logic of the argument is related entirely to costs.
If I pay £60 for a television set, the annual cost of running it is one-sixth of that and the extra tax will be 10 per cent. of the annual cost of running it. What is the point of that argument? The proper 1426 approach is that if I want to spend a fairly substantial initial sum upon the purchase of something like a television set, I consider whether I can afford to have it, and whether I can afford to run it once I have bought it. I do the same if I buy a car—and I require a car in a constituency nearly 600 square miles in extent—but I must consider whether, having bought the car, I can afford to run it.
The result of an extra payment should be related not to the initial cost or the running costs, but to the capacity to pay. The Amendment is obviously concerned with people who have marginal incomes, and in respect of whom any increase in their obligations is an increase which they may not be able to meet. For most people that is true of other things, as well as television sets. For instance, it is true that in the buying of a house mortgage charges may increase. One has to consider the mortgage charges in relation to one's income, not some sort of percentage, when one is buying a house.
On the occasion to which I have referred, in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham (Mr. Hunter) the Financial Secretary finally said:The larger the outlay which the owner of a television set is called upon to pay, the smaller will be the proportion of his annual outlay represented by this duty."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th May, 1957; Vol. 569, c. 809.]That does not get us anywhere. The Chancellor said that he was prepared to discuss these matters in Committee. I took that to mean that he would consider them sympathetically.
We have to consider the spirit of the Amendment in relation to the capacity to pay. This duty will in many cases be paid during the season of festivities at the end of the year, when many other payments fall due. For that reason, the Chancellor might consider some method of having it paid in two instalments rather than in one fell swoop at that time of the year. For instance, that is the time of the year when I have to pay the tax on my car and when I have to pay for the radio and television licence. I am not saying that everyone has to pay at that time of the year, but many people do, and, added together, these burdens form a formidable sum.
The main argument in support of the spirit of the Amendment is the fact that the increased duty will fall upon people 1427 with marginal incomes. Those sections of the community who depend on smaller incomes will find it very difficult to meet this increased charge, or at all events will find it much more difficult than if the Chancellor found a way of splitting the payment into at least two instalments.
§ Dr. Horace King (Southampton, Itchen)
This is a very narrow Amendment, and we could have passed from it an hour ago if the Chancellor of the Exchequer had listened to the reasonable suggestion of my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Mr. Wilson) very early in the debate. I am in sympathy with what has been said about the claims of the old folk, and I hope that we shall have an opportunity of examining their position when we discuss later Amendments.
However, I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) was right when he said that most of the old folk are not concerned with television sets because they are too poor to buy them. There are millions of people far too poor to be concerned with anything that we are discussing on this Amendment, or indeed with this new tax. By all means, let the right hon. Gentleman be an "Iron Chancellor", but I hope that he will not be a stubborn and obstinate Chancellor, and that he will note that in addition to the representations which have come from this side of the Committee we have had a very grave statement from an hon. Member opposite, in a brief intervention.
For two or three minutes I want to examine the arguments of the Financial Secretary. He argued that there was no burden in the tax in view of the high cost of television sets and the large instalments that have to be paid in hire purchase. If he had used that argument to show that his Government were concerned with the racket in cathode tubes and were proposing to do something about it, that they were concerned with the fact that high Purchase Tax makes television sets expensive, and that their own policy makes television a far more expensive proposition today than it was in the past, one might have some sympathy with what he said.
The general argument is that television is such an expensive luxury that it does not matter if extra costs are added, and that there is no burden which requires 1428 alleviation by splitting the payment into two parts. I was interested in the meaner arguments of the Financial Secretary. My right hon. Friend said that no money was involved. The Financial Secretary thought differently. He objects to splitting the new tax into two because it would mean increased administrative costs—one more notification would have to go out to licence holders and the cost of that would have to be paid for—and he went on to say that the tax would produce less income this year or in any year if we collected it in two halves. That means that the Treasury is dishonest and that it wants to continue collecting the whole annual payment from some people who would not make the annual payment if it were in two instalments.
§ Dr. King
The Treasury wants to collect from people who might die during the year and who would thus not pay the second half. The Financial Secretary wants to get the full annual amount from all television viewers whether they use the television set for the whole year or not. I agree with him that the difference between paying £3 10s. in one instalment and 10s. in the second instalment is not very important. It was for that reason that my right hon. Friend suggested that between now and Report the Chancellor might look at other ways of solving this problem. The new tax might be collected in the second half of the year, so that the instalments would be £3 and £1.
§ Mr. Anthony Greenwood
This has been a most disappointing debate from the point of view of the Opposition.
§ Mr. Greenwood
The hon. Gentleman is not yet a Member of the Opposition, although our ranks are gradually being swelled because of divergencies on Government Benches.
§ Mr. Glover
The quality of the speeches from the Benches opposite have not only been deplorably low but were reeking of hypocrisy.
§ Mr. Greenwood
I will not comment on either the good taste of that remark or upon whether it was in order. The hon. Gentleman confined himself to making a purely obstructive intervention on a point of order. He might have raised the general level of the debate if he had had the courage or the enterprise to take part in it.
This is a very modest proposal. It does not embody any deep-rooted political principles or fine points of ideology. I hoped that Government supporters, apart from the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Keegan), might lend their voices to support the case that we have been deploying. A large number of Conservative supporters outside the constituency of Nottingham, South will view their papers with some distaste tomorrow morning when they find that the Conservative Party has been so backward about supporting the modest proposal that we have made.
When I listened to the Financial Secretary to the Treasury I thought at first that I detected some glimmer of sympathy for our point of view. He argued that it would have been much better had it been possible to divide the payment into two instalments of £2. When my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) first suggested that we might table an Amendment upon those lines, we sought to do so, but we found that that would not be within the rules of order. Therefore, we had to do the best we could.
We should have liked to equate the payment of this licence to the payment of rates or, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Glenvil Hall) said, to the payment of the Road Fund licence. That is, of course, out of 1430 order for us to do. If the Government will give us some encouragement upon this point, even that they are prepared to consider this suggestion between now and Report, or an undertaking that they will do everything they can to make a concession of this kind on the occasion of the next Finance Bill, we shall view the whole problem in a very different light.
The glimmer of sympathy which I thought I detected was obviously not there, because we had the fantastic argument from the Financial Secretary that the more expense a person has to bear the more able he is to incur still more expense. That will be a most impressive example when it appears in the Labour speaker's handbook as showing what Tory reaction can mean. I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that Marie Antoinette was a Radical compared with the Financial Secretary.
We still hope, in spite of the very discouraging remarks that we have heard from the Financial Secretary, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who has been sitting there in great ease for well over an hour, has had time to ponder this problem and will be able to give us some message of hope, and so avoid our having to summon about 200 Conservative Members from other parts of this building where their attention is apparently at the present time engaged.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Peter Thorneycroft)
I sympathise with the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) in the disappointment of the Opposition. Having listened to the debate I can understand it. The idea that we should divide this payment into two parts must have had a certain superficial attraction about it, but when we examine the arguments the case is clearly untenable.
The Amendment really suggests, as my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary pointed out, that we divide the payment into one payment of £3 10s. and another payment of 10s. That is all there is to argue about. It has nothing to do with old age because there is nothing about old age in the Amendment. We shall come to another Amendment in which old age is referred to, and that question can then be debated. I rather agree 1431 with the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) that it is unrealistic to talk about old people who are living only on their pensions buying television sets or paying either £4 or a £2 instalment. We had better be realistic about this matter. That idea is remote from the circumstances.
I will confine myself simply to discussing the Amendment. I can see little advantage in dividing the payment into £3 10s. and 10s. There might be a case for arguing that the duty or the Post Office licence should be divided, but that is clearly out of order and is not relevant to the Finance Bill. In the circumstances I rather agree with the hon. Member for Meriden (Mr. Moss) who said that the Financial Secretary's speech had really put paid to the Amendment.
§ Mr. H, Wilson
The Chancellor's answer is not good enough. At the very beginning of his speech my hon. Friend
§ the Member for Rosendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) admitted quite frankly that the idea of £3 10s. and 10s. was not a very good proposition, but that it was all that we could put forward because of the rules of order. I suggest that the Chancellor might say that he will consider this matter with a view to bringing forward a proposition on Report to divide the £4 into instalments of £2 each. Then we shall be very glad to withdraw the Amendment. It was not enough to say that the Financial Secretary put paid to the Amendment; we will put paid to it by withdrawing it if the Chancellor will give us that assurance.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
If I attempted to do that my Amendment would be just as much out of order as is the one that we have been discussing.
§ Question put, That those words be there inserted: —
§ The Committee divided: Ayes 161, Noes 213.1435
|Division No. 114.]||AYES||[5.17 p.m.|
|Ainsley, J. W.||Gibson, C. W.||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfd, E.)|
|Albu, A. H.||Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.||Mann, Mrs. Jean|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Greenwood, Anthony||Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A.|
|Allen, Arthur (Bosworth)||Grenfell, Rt. Hon. D. R.||Mason, Roy|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Grey, C. F.||Mayhew, C. P.|
|Balfour, A.||Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)||Mellish, R. J.|
|Benn, Hn. Wedgwood (Bristol, S.E.)||Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)||Messer, Sir F.|
|Benson, G.||Hale, Leslie||Mitchison, G. R.|
|Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale)||Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil (Colne Valley)||Monslow, W.|
|Blenkinsop, A.||Hamilton, W. W.||Moody, A. S.|
|Blyton, W. R.||Hannan, W.||Morrison, Rt.Hn.Herbert(Lewis'm,S.)|
|Bowden, H. W. (Leicester, S.W.)||Hastings, S.||Mort, D. L.|
|Bowles, F. G.||Hayman, F. H.||Moss, R.|
|Boyd, T. C.||Healey, Denis||Moyle, A.|
|Braddock, Mrs. Elizabeth||Henderson, Rt. Hn. A. (Rwly Regis)||Mulley, F. W.|
|Brookway, A. F.||Hewitson, Capt. M.||Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon)|
|Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Holmes, Horace||Oliver, G. H.|
|Brown, Thomas (Ince)||Houghton, Douglas||Oram, A. E.|
|Burton, Miss F. E.||Howell, Charles (Perry Barr)||Orbach, M.|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)||Howell, Denis (All Saints)||Owen, W. J.|
|Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)||Hoy, J. H.||Palmer, A. M. F.|
|Castle, Mrs. B. A.||Hubbard, T. F.||Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.)|
|Chetwynd, G. R.||Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey)||Parkin, B. T.|
|Clunie, J.||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Paton, John|
|Coldrick, W.||Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)||Pearson, A.|
|Collick, P. H. (Birkenhead)||Irving, Sydney (Dartford)||Pentland, N.|
|Collins, V. J. (Shoreditch & Finsbury)||Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.||Popplewell, E.|
|Cove, W. G.||Janner, B.||Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Jenkins, Roy (Stechford)||Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.)|
|Cronin, J. D.||Johnson, James (Rugby)||Probert, A. R.|
|Darling, George (Hillsborough)||Jones, Rt. Hon.A. Creech (Wakefield)||Proctor, W. T.|
|Deer, G.||Jones, David (The Hartlepools)||Redhead, E. C|
|Dugdale, Rt. Hn. John (W. Brmwch)||Jones, T. W. (Merioneth)||Reeves, J.|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.||Kenyon, C.||Reid, William|
|Edwards, Rt. Hon. John (Brighouse)||Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)|
|Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||King, Dr. H. M.||Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)|
|Edwards, W.J. (Stepney)||Lawson, G. M.||Ross, William|
|Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.)||Ledger, R. J.||Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.|
|Evans, Edward (Lowestoft)||Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)||Silverman, Julius (Aston)|
|Fernyhough, E.||Lewis, Arthur||Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)|
|Fienburgh, W.||Logan, D. G.||Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill)|
|Finch, H. J.||MacColl, J. E.||Slater, J. (Sedgefield)|
|Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)||McGhee, H. G.||Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)|
|Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N.||McKay, John (Wallsend)||Snow, J. W.|
|George, Lady Megan Lloyd(Car'then)||MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank||Weitzman, D.||Willis, Eustace (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Stewart, Michael (Fulham)||Wells, Percy (Faversham)||Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)|
|Stross,Dr.Barnett(Stoke-on-Trent,C.)||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)||Winterbottom, Richard|
|Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E.||Wheeldon, W. E.||Woof, R. E.|
|Swingler, S. T.||White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)||Yates, V. (Ladywood)|
|Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)||Wilkins, W. A.||Zilliacus, K.|
|Tomney, F.||Willey, Frederick|
|Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn||Williams, Rev. Llywelyn (Ab'tlilery)||TEIXERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Usborne, H. C.||Williams, Ronald (Wigan)||Mr. J. Taylor and Mr. G. H. R. Rogers.|
|Viant, S. P.||Williams, W. T. (Barons Court)|
|Agnew, Sir Peter||Goodhart, Philip||Marshall, Douglas|
|Aitken, W. T.||Gough, C. F. H.||Maude, Angus|
|Allan, R. A. (Paddington, S.)||Gower, H. R.||Maudting, Rt. Hon. R.|
|Alport, C. J. M.||Graham, Sir Fergus||Mawby, R. L.|
|Amery, Julian (Preston, N.)||Grant-Ferris, Wg Cdr. R. (Nantwich)||Medlicott, Sir Frank|
|Anstruther-Gray, Major Sir William||Green, A||Morrison, John (Salisbury)|
|Arbuthnot, John||Gresham Cooke, R.||Nabarro, G. D. N.|
|Ashton, H.||Grimston, Hon. John (St. Albans)||Nairn, D. L. S.|
|Atkins, H. E.||Grosvenor, Lt.-Col. R. G.||Neave, Airey|
|Balniel, Lord||Gurden, Harold||Nicholls, Harmer|
|Barlow, Sir John||Hall, John (Wycombe)||Nicolson, N. (B'n'm'th, E. & Chr'ch)|
|Barter, John||Harris, Reader (Heston)||Nugent, G. R. H.|
|Baxter, Sir Beverley||Harrison, A. B. C. (Maldon)||Oakshott, H. D.|
|Beamish, Maj. Tufton||Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye)||O'Neill, Hn. Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.)|
|Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.)||Harvey, Air Cdre. A. V. (Macclesfd)||Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. W. D.|
|Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.)||Harvey, Ian (Harrow, E.)||Orr, Capt. L. P. S.|
|Bennett, F. M. (Torquay)||Harvie-Wait, Sir George||Orr-Ewing, Charles Ian (Hendon, N.)|
|Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth)||Hay, John||Orr-Ewing, Sir Ian (Weston-S-Mare)|
|Biggs-Davison, J. A.||Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel||Page, R. G.|
|Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel||Heath, Rt. Hon. E. R. G.||Pannell, N. A. (Kirkdale)|
|Bishop, F. P.||Hicks-Beach, Maj. W. W.||Partridge, E.|
|Black, C. W.||Hill, Rt. Hon. Charles (Luton)||Pickthorn, K. W. M.|
|Body, R. F.||Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe)||Pike, Miss Mervyn|
|Bossom, Sir Alfred||Hirst, Geoffrey||Pilkington, Capt. R. A.|
|Bowen, E. R. (Cardigan)||Holland-Martin, C. J.||Pitman, I, J.|
|Boyle, Sir Edward||Holt, A. F.||Pitt, Miss E. M.|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W. H.||Hornby, R. P.||Pott, H. P.|
|Brooke, Rt. Hon. Henry||Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P.||Powell, J. Enoch|
|Brooman-White, R. C.||Horobin, Sir Ian||Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)|
|Bryan, P.||Howard, Hon. Greville (St. Ives)||Profumo, J. D.|
|Bullus, Wing Commander E. E.||Howard, John (Test)||Raikes, Sir Victor|
|Butler, Rt. Hn. R.A.(Saffron Walden)||Hulbert, Sir Norman||Rawlinson, Peter|
|Campbell, Sir David||Hurd, A. R.||Redmayne, M.|
|Channon, Sir Henry||Hutchison, Sir Ian Clark (E'b'gh, W.)||Rees-Davies, W. R.|
|Chichester-Clark, R.||Hutchison, Sir James (Scotstoun)||Remnant, Hon. P.|
|Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.)||Hyde, Montgomery||Renton, D. L. M.|
|Conant, Maj. Sir Roger||Hylton-Foster, Rt. Hon. Sir Harry||Robertson, Sir David|
|Cooke, Robert C.||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Robinson, Sir Roland (Blackpool, S.)|
|Cooper, A. E.||Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)||Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)|
|Cooper-Key, E. M.||Jennings, J. C. (Burton)||Shepherd, William|
|Corfield, Capt. F. V.||Joseph, Sir Keith||Simon, J. E. S. (Middlesbrough, W.)|
|Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne)||Keegan, D.||Smithers, Peter (Winchester)|
|Crowder, Sir John (Finchley)||Kerby, Capt. H. B.||Smyth, Brig. Sir John (Norwood)|
|Cunningham, Knox||Kershaw, J. A.||Spearman, Sir Alexander|
|Dance, J. C. G.||Kimball, M.||Speir, R. M.|
|Davidson, Viscountess||Kirk, P. M.||Spens, Rt. Hn. Sir P. (Kens'gt'n, S.)|
|Davies,Rt.Hon.Clement(Montgomery)||Lagden, G. W.||Stanley, Capt. Hon. Richard|
|D'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry||Lambert, Hon. G.||Stevens, Geoffrey|
|Deedes, W. F.||Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Steward, Sir William (Woolwich, W.)|
|Digby, Simon Wingfield||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.||Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.|
|Dodds-Parker, A. D.||Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield)||Storey, S.|
|Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA.||Lindsay, Hon. James (Devon, N.)||Stuart, Rt. Hon. James (Moray)|
|du Cann, E. D. L.||Linstead, Sir H. N.||Studholme, Sir Henry|
|Eden, J. B. (Bournemouth, West)||Lloyd,Maj.Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.)||Summers, Sir Spencer|
|Errington, Sir Eric||Longden, Gilbert||Sumner, W. D. M. (Orpington)|
|Erroll, F. J.||Lucas, P. B. (Brentford & Chiswick)||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Farey-Jones, F. W||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Teeling, W.|
|Fell, A.||Macdonald, Sir Peter||Temple, John M.|
|Finlay, Graeme||Mackie, J. H. (Galloway)||Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)|
|Fisher, Nigel||McLaughlin, Mrs. P.||Thorneycroft, Rt. Hon. P.|
|Fletcher-Cooke, C.||Macleod, Rt. Hn. Iain (Enfield, W.)||Thornton-Kemsley, C. N.|
|Foster, John||Macmillan, Maurice (Halifax)||Tilney, John (Wavertree)|
|Fraser, Sir Ian (M'cmbe & Lonsdale)||Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries)||Turner, H. F. L.|
|Freeth, Denzil||Maddan, Martin||Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.|
|Garner-Evans, E. H.||Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir R.||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Glover, D.||Markham, Major Sir Frank||Vaughan-Morgan, J. K.|
|Godber, J. B.||Marlowe, A. A. H.||Vickers, Miss Joan|
|Gomme-Duncan, Col. Sir Alan||Marples, Rt. Hon. A. E.||Vosper, Rt. Hon. D. F.|
|Wade, D. W.||Watkinson, Rt. Hon. Harold||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)||Whitelaw, W. S. I.||Mr. R. Thompson and Mr. Hughes-Young.|
|Wakefield, Sir Wavell (St. M'lebone)||Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)|
|Wall, Major Patrick||Wood, Hon. R.|
§ Mr. E. C. Redhead (Walthamstow, West)
I beg to move, in page 3, line 26, to leave out subsection (3).
This Amendment has been put down in the hope of eliciting precisely what this subsection is intended to cover, to try to clear up some of the obscurity in its rather involved phraseology, and also in the hope that we may remove any fears that it will catch any form of licence that was not originally contemplated. The subsection purports to deal with cases where—the licence fees for television licences are not prescribed by post office regulations.The Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1949, seems to make it perfectly clear that any form of wireless apparatus capable of reception must be covered by a licence issued by the Postmaster-General, and the regulations made under that Act prescribe licence fees in respect of every type of licence, and certainly every type of licence of which I am aware—the general form of the television licence for the individual, those for hotels, for multiples and the relay broadcasting stations.
The phrase which I have quoted for the subsection appears capable of two possible constructions. First, it would appear to suggest that there are some licences which are necessary, although not prescribed by Post Office regulations, and that I find difficult to believe. Alternatively, it suggests that there are some licences issued by the Postmaster-General for which no licence fees are payable. If it is the latter, then, quite frankly, I do not think it is within the contemplation of anyone that it is right that licences which do not call for the payment of a fee should attract this Excise Duty.
In short, it is difficult to see precisely what purpose it is hoped to serve by this subsection. If in a very involved Clause, and for so simple a purpose so long a Clause, it is possible to dispense with something for which there is no apparent purpose, I would have imagined that it would have been an advantage to get rid of the subsection.
It may be that the Financial Secretary to the Treasury will be able to enlighten us, but if there is some type of licence 1436 not within my knowledge, nor, so far as I have been able to discover, within the knowledge of any of my friends, clearly I think we should avoid any possibility of obscurity in future in interpreting this Clause, and this type of licence ought to be defined specifically in the subsection itself. It is for the purpose of eliciting that explanation and that degree of clarification which I think is necessary that I submit this Amendment.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Powell
The reason for this subsection is as follows. The power of the Postmaster-General under the Wireless Telegraphy Act to issue licences covers types of licence not provided for in the Post Office Regulations prescribing licence fees. In other words, the field of possible licences which at present is covered by the Post Office Regulations is not as wide as all conceivable types of licence which the Postmaster-General has the power to issue under the Wireless Telegraphy Act.
If therefore he decided, as would be within his power, to issue a special licence of a particular type to meet a particular set of circumstances, that would fall outside the provisions of this Clause unless the subsection were included. The only purpose of the Clause is to ensure that its ambit will be exactly as wide as the ambit of the licensing powers of the Postmaster-General under the Wireless Telegraphy Act. The hon. Member need not fear that if a licence were issued on which a fee was not payable the duty might nevertheless be payable under this subsection. I can assure him that that is not the case.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
This is not good enough. When we were discussing Clause 1, my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow, West (Mr. Redhead) moved an Amendment to delete a subsection for exactly the same purpose as he has moved this Amendment, namely, to elicit from the Government some explanation of what the Clause meant. The Financial Secretary then spoke for about two minutes in a very airy way. He did not do very much in the way of elucidating what the subsection meant. When I intervened and asked if he would give an 1437 example so that we could see, amidst all the cloud of words he used, what he really meant, he was quite unable to give us an illustration. He gave another dissertation which was almost as obscure as when he first spoke.
I ask the hon. Gentleman now if he will give a simple example of what the Treasury had in mind when it put this subsection into the Bill. Can he let us know the kind of thing it wants to cover by the insertion of this subsection? If he can do that, I have no objection to passing on to the next business, but the Committee is certainly entitled to know what it is doing. The mere fact that the hon. Gentleman said my hon. Friend need have no fear that there is something here that should not be here is not enough. Knowing this Government as I do, I have every fear, even on a matter of a simple obscure Clause such as this. I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the Committee will insist on having something a little more clarifying than the very obscure and very short so-called explanation which the Financial Secretary has deigned to throw out.
§ Mr. D. Jones
I should have thought at least that the Financial Secretary would have given us one example of the kind of thing he has in mind. I have not the slightest doubt that he has confidence in himself, but I have not very much confidence in either him or the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I have recollections of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in a previous capacity and of some of the things he said.
If there are any dangers or possibilities of licences being issued which are not covered by Post Office regulations, can we not have one or two examples of the kind of thing the hon. Gentleman has in mind? Otherwise, why not explain the Post Office regulations and make it clear to all ordinary people that this is designed to catch every kind of television licence which is issued in this country? To put in a blanket provision of this kind and then, perhaps, catch some unfortunate individual at a later date seems to be quite wrong. I should have thought that the ingenuity of the Financial Secretary would have discovered one example of the kind of thing the Treasury wants to catch.
§ Mr. F. H. Hayman (Falmouth and Camborne)
I wish to support what my right hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Glenvil Hall) and my hon. Friends have said. It is incumbent on the Committee to insist that the promoters of a Bill shall explain with due clarity what they want the House to enact.
It seemed to me that the Financial Secretary said that under some powers the Postmaster-General can issue a licence without a fee, but that if he does so that would not attract duty under this Clause. If powers exist for the Postmaster-General to do so, it should be possible to give two or three illustrations of what the hon. Gentleman has in mind.
§ Mrs. Eirene White (Flint, East)
I wish to support what my hon. Friends have said. I am afraid that this is not the first occasion on which the brevity of the Financial Secretary has proved a snare and delusion, because in the end it has taken longer to explain the matter. It would be to the satisfaction of the Committee if he could perhaps descend to our level and explain to us in precise, although simple, language what the Government intend to do.
It has been suggested to me, for instance, that one of the types of television licence to which the hon. Gentleman was referring would be a closed circuit, a private circuit, where there is television reception which is not open to the general public. I do not know whether that is covered here; it may be or may not. I suspect that my hon. Friends are as ignorant as I am on this matter, and we should like to be enlightened, and if there were hon. Members on the benches opposite they also would wish to be enlightened.
What are these special occasions or unusual circumstances to which reference has been made? We have had no indication of them at all. Are they few, or are they many? Can we have some notion how many occasions in the past financial year the Postmaster-General has issued a type of licence referred to in this subsection? We have no idea as to the scope of the television licences with which we are being asked to deal. There are many points on which, before it reaches a decision, the Committee should have a much fuller and more enlightening 1439 explanation than we have so far received. I hope that before we pass to the next matter this point, which has been very properly raised, will receive the attention it deserves.
§ Mr. Powell
Taking first the question raised by the hon. Member for Waltham-stow, West about whether as a result of this subsection television duty would be imposed where no licence fee was payable, if he will look at the governing subsection (9), on page 4 of the Bill, he will see that by lines 34 to 36 that is specifically excluded.
Secondly, the general purpose of this subsection is to ensure that the ambit of television duty under this Clause and the ambit of licences for receiving television under the Wireless Telegraphy Act are coterminous, because it would be foolish if after this Finance Bill were enacted the Postmaster-General exercised powers under the Wireless Telegraphy Act to issue a kind of licence for which provision was not made in this Clause.
The hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White) asked for an example of a kind of licence which the Postmaster-General has power to issue under the Wireless Telegraphy Act but for which Post Office regulations do not exist—at present, at any rate. An example is a licence to receive television and to charge for admission to view it. That is a licence which the Postmaster-General can issue, for which he can make a price for the licence fee, but where the licence fee is not prescribed by Post Office regulations. This subsection deals with that case by providing that the television duty chargeable on such a licence shall bear the due proportion to the licence fee which the Postmaster-General charges in that case.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
I do not know why the hon. Gentleman could not have gone into even the detail which he has now, which is not much, when he made his original speech. I gather he is telling us that at the moment there is no real illustration and no real reason for the provision, that it is a precautionary measure by the Government in case a Postmaster-General sought at some time to issue a certain kind of licence upon which otherwise the extra £1 might bite unless the words were included. Why could not the hon. Gentleman have said that when he first rose?
1440 The hon. Gentleman might realise that during the proceedings on the Bill—we shall spend many hours on it—he will save himself and the Government a good deal of time if he treats the Opposition, and, indeed, his hon. Friends, with a little more respect and in the realisation that, after all, we take the Bill seriously and want to know what we are passing into law.
§ Mr. Redhead
In the light of the assurances which have finally been extracted from the Financial Secretary, I shall not press the matter unduly, but I am by no means convinced that we have had a valid explanation. We have, in effect, had a frank acknowledgement that there is no such licence currently being issued of the type which it is intended to catch by the subsection. There is no necessity at all to provide for the one hypothetical example which has been quoted. If it became necessary to issue a licence for a television show at a place where there were payments for admission, there is no justification for applying Excise Duty, because such a performance would already be caught under the residue of the Entertainments Duty which has now become the "Cinema Tax".
I feel that in the Clause as a whole— the subsection illustrates it—there has been an unnecessary degree of pernicketiness in trying to cover all conceivable eventualities, few of which are likely to arise. It would have been to the profit of the Treasury and to the advantage of the part of the Department concerned with the administration of the provision to omit anything from the Clause which was not absolutely essential for the administration of a relatively simple duty. In all the circumstances, if the provision is regarded as so vital for the protection of the Revenue, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. Redhead
I beg to move, in page 3, line 33, to leave out subsection (4).
I would again draw attention to the excessively involved character of the Clause. The Chancellor is here seeking to impose a very simple—in terms of administration—Excise Duty of £1 per annum in respect of television licences. It takes no fewer than eleven subsections and 1,000 words to bring about such a legislative effect.
1441 In subsection (4) we seem to have reached the most excessive degree of verbosity and complexity. It is extremely difficult to follow. Precisely what is intended by the subsection? I will quote one phrase in the latter part of the first paragraph:… where a licence taken out after the expiration of a previous licence is issued so as to expire at the end of a period calculated from that expiration, it shall for this purpose be treated as a licence for that period …On first showing, what on earth does that mean? When one reads the proviso it becomes even more complex and more difficult to understand.
By dint of great study, I have come to the conclusion that it is intended to make provision in the subsection for the rate of duty which shall be payable in respect of a licence which is issued for a shorter or a longer period than one year; in other words, that the rate of duty shall be pro rata to the standard annual rate. Why that could not be said in more simple terms than those in this long subsection, I cannot understand. I refuse to believe that it is beyond the ingenuity of Parliamentary draftsmen to put it in simpler terms.
While the provision may be capable of ultimate interpretation, it must be explained to the public in much simpler terms in some way or other. I should have thought that it would have been a contribution to efficient and effective administration to seek to frame these provisions in terms which are reasonably intelligible to ordinary men. I hope the Financial Secretary will say that he is willing to look at the matter again to find a more satisfactory and less obscure construction to cover what he seeks to do.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Powell
It would, perhaps, be most convenient if I took the subsection in three parts and dealt first with the first half of the first paragraph. By the preceding subsections the yearly rate of duty has been laid down, and the first part of subsection (4) says that the duty charged shall be the yearly rate applied to the number of months for which the licence is issued.
It goes on to say, however, that where a licence is issued for, for example, fewer months than a year, but runs from one year's end to another, it shall be treated 1442 as issued for twelve months. For example, where a licence has expired and is not renewed until the following year is some way advanced, the second licence is issued so as to expire at the end of a full year from the expiry of the previous licence. In such a case, the renewal licence, although it may only cover nine months, is treated as running for twelve months and is charged accordingly.
The proviso deals with a special case where a licence which would normally be issued for twelve months is issued for a longer period. For example, if a licence in one year were not used for a considerable portion of the year, the Postmaster-General would have the power to issue a licence for the following year at the same rate to cover twenty-one months instead of twelve months to make up for the use which had not been made of the previous licence. In such a case, it would clearly be unfair to levy the duty in proportion to the total number of months, so in that case it is treated as a normal twelve months' licence. That is the effect of the three parts into which the subsection falls.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
Cannot we be told the reason for this? The hon. Gentleman has given a very long explanation, but I do not know how many hon. Members understood it. I did not follow all of it. I wonder whether we can prevail on the Economic Secretary, who has a great command of language and an extreme facility of phrase, to explain to us in simple terms just what the provision does. Is it another precautionary measure? It seems a pity to have all these subsections, but I suppose there is something to be said for it, particularly as the Government failed to take obvious precautions at the time of the Suez affair and on other occasions which I should be out of order in elaborating now.
At any rate the Financial Secretary has given us a somewhat longer explanation than he deigned to give in respect of earlier Amendments. Nevertheless, he has left the matter in almost as complete obscurity as it would appear to anyone reading the subsection for the first time. I do not think that the Committee would be doing itself justice if it let the matter pass merely with the explanation that has been given. I can only submit that as the Financial Secretary seems to be quite unable to give us an explanation which we 1443 can understand someone else should do so. The Postmaster-General has been sitting there without saying anything. Perhaps he can tell us what it means. If he cannot, perhaps one of the Whips could be sent for—or even a Law Officer. We are entitled to have one here, but I have not seen one on the Front Bench since we began our proceedings. If that had happened when a Labour Government were in office the whole Committee would have been in an uproar until a Law Officer came along.
There are now three Members of the Government on the Front Bench—all apparently quite knowledgeable upon the meaning of the subsection. We have had an explanation from one which is no explanation at all. I am as completely in the dark now as I was when the hon. Gentleman began his speech. The only thing that we can do is to ask for another Minister to try to explain just what these words mean. The Postmaster-General seems to be feeling very happy. He is smiling. He must therefore know what it means. It affects his Department, and he appears to be quite satisfied. Let us have an explanation from him before we go any further.
§ Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)
I join my right hon. Friend in his appeal, save for one thing. I do not think that we would be any better off if we sent for a Law Officer. I do not think that he would help; in fact, we should probably be more confused after his explanation. I did not understand this provision when I read it, and I cannot understand it now that I have heard the Financial Secretary explaining it. I think that I may understand it when I read the Report of the Financial Secretary's speech in HANSARD tomorrow.
I wonder whether we ought not to change our methods of procedure. Perhaps we ought to receive a "hand-out" when a statement like this is to be given. I do not think that we, as a Committee, should agree to legislation when we do not understand what it is doing or what it is for. I am not alone in this, but, even if I were, it would be right for the Government to explain it to me.
I want to reinforce what my right hon. Friend said about the Postmaster-General. When I said that I did not think a Law Officer could help us, I said it without intending any offence. But 1444 Law Officers are apt to express themselves in terminology which is not readily understood and which needs time for reflection. But if the Postmaster-General will explain the matter, he will express himself in terms more likely to be intelligible to hon. Members on both sides of the Committee.
I hope that we can get ahead because I have an interest in the Amendments which are to follow, and I am anxious to have an opportunity of discussing them. I do not think that we should be held up by a matter such as this, which, when it is properly explained, may turn out to be non-controversial after all.
§ Mr. Denis Howell (Birmingham, All Saints)
Does not my hon. Friend agree that it would help considerably if the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, whose job it is to explain Government legislation, stopped standing outside the precincts and came in and sat on the Front Bench in order to fulfil his task?
§ Mr. Willey
I appeal to my hon. Friend not to try to persuade him to do so. He is the last person I should send for. He spent much time trying to explain food matters to me. He made them more obscure, and I regret to say that he often misled me. Again, I found it necessary to read HANSARD for the following day in order to see what he had been trying to say. This is a question of legislation, and we must be sure that what we approve is something of which we approve. It is as simple as that.
As the Postmaster-General has courteously consented to adorn the Front Bench, why cannot he now tell us what he thinks the provision means? We can then check his explanation against that which we have already had and against the words which we are asked to approve. If he will do that immediately, we might be able to proceed to the Amendments in which I have a particular interest.
§ Mrs. Jean Mann (Coatbridge and Airdrie)
My hon. Friend thinks that when he gets HANSARD tomorrow the meaning of the provision may be clear. I think that when he gets it tomorrow he will find that the statement made by the Financial Secretary contradicts subsection (4). One would expect the hon. 1445 Member to interpret properly what appears to us to be Greek, but he has failed to do so. I take it that his interpretation means that if a television set had not been used for, say, nine months of one year, at the end of the second year that nine months would be added to the twelve months and the owner would therefore have twenty-one months.
The provision states that the television duty:shall be calculated at the appropriate yearly rate according to the number of months in the period for which the licence is issued (any incomplete month being treated as a complete month) and where a licence taken out after the expiration of a previous licence is issued so as to expire at the end of a period calculated from that expiration, it shall for this purpose be treated as a licence for that period.In other words, the owner shall not have another nine months, but the nine months of the dead licence will be treated as having been covered.
§ Mr. Powell
My explanation was in regard to the proviso to the subsection to which the hon. Lady was referring— and that is the part which she has not read.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
We have not nearly finished with this matter yet. As my hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mrs. Mann) was speaking I noticed the Financial Secretary nodding his head. From that I assume that her explanation was the correct one. Unless we are to hear either from the Postmaster-General or the Solicitor-General, who has just come in, we ought to be told whether we are to assume that my right hon. Friend's explanation is the correct one and the one given by the Financial Secretary is incorrect. If so, would it be possible for me to move that the Financial Secretary's speech be annulled and my hon. Friend's put in its place in HANSARD tomorrow?
§ Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)
I want to ask one or two questions about this matter. It looked at first sight rather more simple than it appears to be on further investigation and explanation. I listened with very great interest 1446 to the hon. Member's exlanation of the preceding subsection. He happened to give us an instance of a licence which was issued on an occasion, but it seems to me equally to cover licences which are issued for a period and, as I see it, under subsection (3) a licence might be issued either for a year or for a number of months. Offhand, I should have thought that if we prescribed a yearly rate and then indicated a unit and subdivided it that would be all right. Why are all the licences chargeable under subsection (3) not to be subject to the same kind of procedure as the licences issued at the standard rate?
We did not get quite enough from the hon. Gentleman to indicate the reasons for excluding not only the particular instance he gave under subsection (3) but any other licence whatever which is issued under subsection (3). If, in fact, it is the case that one can get any licence other than the licence for the single occasion issued under subsection (3), why does one need any provisions of this sort about it?
The hon. Gentleman treated the subsection as containing two provisions and, for the purpose of my next question, I take the second one. The subsection says:… where a licence taken out after the expiration of a previous licence"—that is to say, any licence other than the first one—… is issued so as to expire at the end of a period calculated from that expiration …Perhaps the answer is in the Post Office regulations, but what does that mean? Does it mean that one has an annual licence or does it not?… it shall for this purpose be treated as a licence for that period.Will the Financial Secretary tell us what "for this purpose" means? I find it a little obscure.
As regards the third matter, the proviso, the words are:… where a licence of a type normally issued for a period of a particular length "—let us call it an annual licence—… is for special reasons issued for a longer or shorter period, but the licence fees payable for it are the same as if it had been issued for a period of the normal length …I wonder if the hon. Gentleman would be good enough to indicate the circumstances 1447 in which one can get for £1 a yearly licence valid, let us say, for two years. We are, I feel, now coming to the meat of the matter, and we might here get a useful tip for the old folk who have, perhaps, been a little hard hit by these provisions.
§ Mr. Tom Brown (Ince)
We cannot allow this to go without challenge. We have had an attempt at explanation from the Financial Secretary, but he has not satisfied us. We must, therefore, register our protest. The Government brought along the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor-General, but when he is called upon to give an explanation or interpretation of the particular part of the Bill now under consideration, he shakes his head. Surely, that is not treating the Committee as it ought to be treated. We are entitled to an explanation from the Law Officer of the Crown. [An HON. MEMBER: "He shook his head; he does not know."] Perhaps he cannot explain it himself.
So far as I can understand the Clause and its application to the outside world, it appears to be a cross between a crossword puzzle and a jigsaw puzzle. I beg the Solicitor-General, at least, to attempt to explain to the Committee what it really means.
§ Dr. King
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow, West (Mr. Redhead) on calling attention to the obscurity of the Clause. I protest against Parliament having from time to time to consider Sections or Clauses in Acts of Parliament which are so obscurely drafted that their meaning is debatable in Committee. I raised this matter some years ago and was told outside the Chamber by an Attorney-General that there is a Section of an Act of Parliament so confused and badly drawn that nobody could decide what it meant, and that, a certain judge having put a meaning upon it, that was the meaning of the Section which now obtains in law.
When I heard the Financial Secretary, I thought I understood what he said. I approve of the Clause if it means what he thinks it means, but it seems extraordinary that we should have an obscure piece of phraseology like this and then, after a member of the Government has said what it means, instead of our putting 1448 his speech into the Bill, we have to be satisfied with the obscure terminology of the Clause.
§ Mr. Powell
I am much complimented that the hon. Member for Itchen (Dr. King) should wish to see my language enshrined in an Act of Parliament.
§ Mr. Powell
The hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) asked why the words in brackets in lines 33 and 34 are made an exception to the procedure laid down in the subsection. The reason is that where a licence is covered by subsection (3) the duty payable is not fixed on a time basis but is fixed on a proportionate basis. Having settled the duty in subsection (3) on a proportionate basis, one could not go on to apply the time basis prescribed by subsection (4).
§ Mr. Powell
If the hon. Lady will read lines 30 to 32 of subsection (3), she will see the proportion there set out.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
I have intervened more than once already, and I regret having to do so again. I understood from the Financial Secretary earlier that subsection (3) at the moment means nothing but is merely a precautionary measure.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
The hon Gentleman indicated that the words in brackets in subsection (4) referred back to a licence issued under subsection (3). We are told that, up to now, no licence has been issued under subsection (3) and nobody expects one to be issued.
§ Mr. Powell
The right hon. Gentleman is going a little beyond what I said on subsection (3). He will find that the words in brackets do refer back to subsection (3), and subsection (3) has an effect, even though that effect has yet to be invoked.
The meaning of the words in subsection (4), about which the hon. and learned Member for Kettering and other 1449 hon. Members asked, is this. Let us suppose that a licence expires on 31st December but that the owner of the set fails to go for another licence until 31st March. He will then be issued with a licence to run to the next 31st December, but although he will enjoy that licence for nine months only, he will, of course, be charged the full normal fee for it, and, of course, will pay the yearly rate of duty for twelve months. It would be clearly unfair—and the reason for this subsection is to avoid unfairness—that a licence holder who neglected to renew his licence for several months after the conclusion of the year should, for that reason, pay less by way of duty.
§ Mr. Mitchison
The hon. Gentleman has not quite answered my question. Perhaps I have interrupted too soon. I quite understand the intention he has just expressed; indeed, I think he said the same thing previously. But when this happens and the licence is issued, let us say, at the end of three months for a period of a year starting from the expiry of the previous licence, what is "for this purpose"?
§ Mr. Powell
Such a licence as that described is, of course, issued for nine months, for the nine months April to December, but it is issued so as to expire twelve months after the previous licence expired, that is to say, on 31st December. Therefore, it attracts both the fee and the duty of a twelve months' licence, as it should.
§ Mrs. White
Could the Financial Secretary go a little further? We all appreciate that someone who, through negligence, does not pay for his licence at the correct time should not thereby get a benefit, but would the hon. Gentleman make perfectly clear what happens if, for instance, someone goes abroad, closes his house entirely for nine months of the year and does not use his television set at all? Must such a person also pay at the twelve months' rate for only three months' use?
§ Mr. Powell
I am coming to that, because that is the point to which the proviso relates and the point to which the hon. Lady the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mrs. Mann) referred. That is the case where a licence is issued carrying the normal fee for a twelve months' 1450 licence, but is neverthless issued to run for more than twelve months. It is a normal licence carrying the twelve months' licence fee, but it is made out for a longer period than twelve months. The Postmaster-General has power to do that, and as I indicated—and the hon. Lady has again mentioned—there are circumstances in which he might possibly exercise that power.
It would clearly be wrong that, because the licence was issued for a longer period, though at the normal annual fee, it should attract more than the twelve months' annual rate of duty. It is to avoid that unfairness that the proviso to the subsection is necessary.
§ Mr. Redhead
I do not want to be unhelpful about this, because I have appreciated from the outset that there were cases in which the period of the licence would be different from the annual basis, which is the basis for the proposed Excise Duty. It is obvious that some provision has to be made in the Clause for dealing on a pro rata basis as may be appropriate to the particular form of licence.
My chief purpose was to draw attention to what has been abundantly demonstrated in this debate—that is, the obscurity in which the Clause is expressed. If it is obscure to Members of Parliament, who are not unversed in dealing with rather obscure matters of Parliamentary drafting, how much more difficult will it be for members of the public?
I will refer simply to two aspects. In the type of circumstance which the Financial Secretary has outlined, imagine the task of the luckless post office counter clerk who tries to explain all this, with far less ability to grasp the essentials than even the Financial Secretary himself, before a long queue in the post office. Imagine, too, that the Postmaster-General does what he has hitherto done in regard to the Post Office regulations concerning the television licence, a copy of which I have in my hand and three parts of which are full of close print, setting out the vital parts of the existing regulations under the Wireless Telegraphy Act and which, presumably, now have to be supplemented by setting out the provisions of the Clause. It will become a most fearsome document, completely unintelligible to the general public.
1451 I sincerely hope that even at this late stage, having regard to the discussion and the clear confusion of thought that it has induced among Members of the Committee, the Financial Secretary might be willing at least to say that he will be ready to consult his advisers to see whether before the Report stage he can produce simpler phraseology to cover the purpose he has in mind. I invite the hon. Gentleman, even now, to say that he is ready to consider that possibility.
Question put, That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause: —
§ The Committee proceeded to a Division:—
§ Mr. R. Thompson and Mr. Hughes-Young were appointed Tellers for the Ayes, but no Member being willing to act as Teller for the Noes, The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN declared that the Ayes had it.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Sir Gordon Touche)
The next Amendment to be selected is that in the name of the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans), in page 4, line 36, at the end to insert:or to any licence issued to a person, who by means of a certificate issued by the local authority (being the local authority for the purposes of subsection (2) of the said section one of the Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1949) and produced by the person satisfies the Postmaster-General that he is a handicapped person to whom section twenty-nine of the National Assistance Act, 1948 (which provides for welfare arrangements for blind, deaf, dumb and crippled persons), applies ",I think it would be for the convenience of the Committee to discuss with it the following three Amendments, that in the name of the right hon. Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson), also in line 36, at the end, to insert:or to any licence issued to a person who proves in such manner as 'the Postmaster-General may direct that for the week during which the licence is issued he is receiving a retirement pension under the National Insurance Act, 1946, or, if he satisfied the relevant contribution conditions under that Act, would be receiving such a pension, or is receiving an old age pension under the Old Age Pensions Act, 1936";that in the name of the hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle), also in line 36, at the end to insert:or to any licence issued to authorise the installation and use for receiving television broadcast programmes of apparatus in residen- 1452 tial accommodation provided under Part III of the National Assistance Act, 1948 (which obliges local authorities to provide such accommodation for aged and infirm persons and others in need of care and attention) or in a disabled persons' or old persons' home registered under section thirty-seven of that Act";and that in the name of the hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Lee), also in line 36, at the end to insert:or to any licence issued to a person, who by means of a certificate issued by the local authority (being the local authority for the purposes of subsection (2) of the said section one of the Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1949) and produced by the person satisfies the Postmaster-General that he is a deaf and dumb person ".
§ Mr. Charles Grey (Durham)
On a point of order. May I ask your guidance, Sir Gordon, concerning the Amendment in the names of myself and a number of my hon. Friends in page 4, line 35, after "Britain", to insert:elsewhere than in the counties of Durham and Northumberland or in the county boroughs comprised in those counties".While I am not questioning your decision not to call the Amendment—I have no doubt that you will have given it careful thought—I was wondering what advice you could give. The folk in the North-East have a sense of grievance at the grave injustice meted out to them over the past year. We have attempted to obtain satisfaction by questioning the rather stubborn Postmaster-General, and we have continued the campaign for quite a while—
§ The Deputy-Chairman
We cannot deal with this point at the moment. The position is that the Amendment has not been selected by the Chairman of Ways and Means, and there is, I am afraid, no opportunity for debating it now. It occurs to one that there might be a possibility of raising the question to which the hon. Member refers on the Adjournment.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
I cannot give an undertaking now about what would be in order when discussing the Motion, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."
§ Mr. H. Wilson
While we understand that at this stage, Sir Gordon, you cannot say what will or will not be in order and thereby bind whoever occupies the Chair, 1453 surely, as the Amendment has not been selected—it is entirely within the discretion of the Chair—it would be reason able for my hon. Friend to assume that this and a similar but rather broader; Amendment in the name of my hon Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mrs. Mann), in page 5, line 4. at the end to add:but shall not apply to those areas which are not yet covered by commercial television ",which, I understand, is not being selected and which is designed to deal with the same purpose, could be raised when discussing the Motion, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill." While we understand you cannot give a Ruling on that, Sir Gordon, it might help if I were tc suggest to my hon. Friends that they might have a good chance of keeping in order on the Motion, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill" and enabling the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) to be discussed.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
Although I have sympathy with what the right hon. Gentleman says, he will realise that I cannot prejudge the debate. I might not be in the Chair at the time.
§ Mr. Edward Short (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central)
While I realise, Sir Gordon, that it would be unusual for you to tell us why the Amendment has not been selected, there is here a matter of considerable grievance affecting millions of people which the Postmaster-General has been unwilling to redress. Can we assume, at least, that the reason why the Amendment has not been selected is not that it is out of order?
§ The Deputy-Chairman
We cannot discuss the merits of the decision of the Chairman of Ways and Means. All I can say is that the Amendment has not been selected.
§ Mr. H. Wilson
Surely, it is not unusual, Sir Gordon, to say either that the Amendment has not been selected or that it is out of order. Surely, the position concerning the Amendment is not that it out of order, but merely that it has not been selected, which we cannot question.
§ Mr. Ernest Popplewell (Newcastle-: upon-Tyne, West)
I understood you to say, Sir Gordon, that the Amendment has not been selected, not because it is out of order but because the Chairman of Ways and Means, in his wisdom, thought that he would not select that type of Amendment. When Amendments are not called for this reason, is it usually the privilege of Members who have put down the Amendments to raise their particular points when dealing with the Motion, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill"? Would I be correct in assuming that the same procedure will be followed in this instance?
§ The Deputy-Chairman
I do not think there is any fixed procedure on the matter. The position is that this Amendment is not selected, and I cannot prejudge what will be admitted by the Chair on the Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill".
§ Mr. H. Wilson
It is clear that the Amendment is not out of order, and so we shall not be precluded from raising the matter again at a later stage of the Bill. While I would certainly be prepared to command my hon. Friends to take their chance on the Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill", and although I understand that you, Sir Gordon, cannot give a Ruling upon that now, I should like to make clear the position of the Opposition upon the matter, for that may affect consideration of the Ruling.
My hon. Friends have made it clear that the reason why they put down the Amendment is that they have no commercial television in that area and that, therefore, they ought not to pay the tax. Some of us who have seen commercial television may think they ought to pay a much bigger tax for wanting to watch commercial television, but it would be out of order to put down an Amendment to increase the tax. However, I should 1455 not like the Chancellor of the Exchequer to believe that everyone on this side of the Committee is necessarily united in thinking that commercial television is such a blessing that anyone who has not got it should have exemption from this tax.
My hon. Friends have many points to make on behalf of that area, and my hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mrs. Mann) has arguments on behalf of more widespread areas farther north, and we hope that whoever is in the Chair when we reach the Question "That the Clause stand part of the Bill" will realise after this exchange of views how strongly my hon. Friends feel about the matter and will give them scope to express their feelings when we reach that Question.
§ Mr. Edward Evans (Lowestoft)
I beg to move, in page 4, line 36, at the end to insert:or to any licence issued to a person, who by means of a certificate issued by the local authority (being the local authority for the purposes of subsection (2) of the said section one of the Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1949) and produced by the person satisfies the Postmaster General that he is a handicapped person to whom section twenty-nine of the National Assistance Act, 1948 (which provides for welfare arrangements for blind, deaf, dumb and crippled persons), applies".
§ The Deputy-Chairman
I would remind the Committee that I did suggest that it might be convenient to take the next three Amendments with this one.
§ Mr. Evans
The object of this Amendment is very clear from its terms. We had some lighthearted moments in our preceding discussions, but I am quite sure that the Committee will consider that this is a most serious and vital matter to a great many people. The Amendment is designed to relieve a body of most deserving persons from an additional hindrance to their enjoyment of television. Although a great many of us are not as ardent fans of television as others here, there are many handicapped people who now regard television as one of their major relaxations.
The persons to whom the Amendment refers are clearly defined in Section 29 of the National Assistance Act, 1948, that is to say, they suffer from a major physical disability. That Section 29 describes them aspersons who are substantially and permanently handicapped.1456 I ask the Committee to note the precise terms of the definition. They are not persons who are temporarily ill or even severely ill. Their handicap must be so substantial and permanent as to make them eligible for the welfare provisions of the National Assistance Act.
Hon. Members will note that one of the duties laid by that Act upon local authorities which have submitted schemes which have been approved by the Minister is to maintain a register of handicapped persons in their areas. It is pleasing to note that of all the local authorities more than 70 per cent. have voluntarily submitted schemes for the welfare of these handicapped persons. I am quite sure that when the time comes —and I hope it will be soon—when the recommendations of the Piercy Committee-—which has not long since submitted its Report relating to Government grants to local authorities for welfare services-have been considered, every local authority will be able to undertake the duties laid upon them by Statute.
The handicaps of these people are wide in range. They include blindness, partial blindness and deafness, and the handicapped persons include the general category of cripples, spastics and epileptics. They include all who come under the general classification of the physically handicapped. I urge the Committee to try to visualise what so many of these people suffer, their isolation, their loneliness, the inhibition which dogs almost every action of their lives, their sense of being cut off. Just imagine what a great boon it is to them to be able to see television. They are not like us, for we can go out and mix with the wider world, but very many of them are homebound, and many of them, in addition to suffering a major physical handicap, suffer some other disability as well.
It is the duty of the local authority's medical officer to maintain this register. That is one of his functions. So there is a complete list of the people who would benefit from this concession. It does not open the door wide to anyone to claim benefit from it by saying, "I am sick. I am a handicapped man". It does not even extend to those registered at the employment exchanges as disabled, because that register is based on employ-ability. The National Assistance register is based on the need for welfare services.
1457 I am sure the Committee will agree that anything which brings light, happiness, joy, contact with the outside world, to the permanently handicapped must be a beneficent influence. There has for long been a register of blind persons. It was set up under the great Blind Persons Act, 1920. Blind persons have benefited from sympathetic legislation since then. It is relevant to remember one concession to them, the remission of the wireless licence fee. I should have liked, had it been within the rules of order, to have argued the remission of the licence and the duty for these other handicapped people, too, but I could stress that if, in addition to the licence fee, we impose another financial obligation upon these people, we shall be treating them inconsiderately, if not cruelly. The least we can do is to refrain from adding to the difficulties which they already suffer. We must remember that Jarge numbers of the handicapped are homebound or partially so, and that therefore they enjoy much more intensively than we do the contact which television gives with the outside world. It means much more to them. They are cut off from so much that happens around them.
Most of these handicapped people are also in the very lowest income groups. Many of them are on National Assistance. Their earning capacity is either very low indeed or entirely non-existent. Some of them engage in part-time occupations or domiciliary work of some kind or another, but it is work that is ill-rewarded, and, in the great majority of cases, the amount they have to spare with which to enjoy television cannot be stretched. A great number of these handicapped people who come within the terms of the Amendment are people who are right on the borders of indigence.
One of the arguments adduced by the Financial Secretary today was that if a man can afford to buy a television set costing up to £60 or more, he can also afford to pay the additional duty. That argument has been demolished time after time by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) and others. We must remember, too, that a great many handicapped people are the beneficiaries of grants from voluntary societies. The 1458 National Institute for the Deaf, of which I am the chairman, last year spent £6,000 in distributing sets. I assure hon. Members that if we had ten times that amount of money we could spend it profitably throughout the country on behalf of these people. When gifts of sets are made by societies or individuals of goodwill, the sets are rarely accompanied with a guarantee that the licence will be paid.
§ Mr. Evans
To add to the cost of maintenance of these handicapped people is anti-social, cruel and entirely unnecessary. When the Chancellor considers the amount of revenue that he will get from this miserable levy on handicapped people he will find that it does not square with his conscience and his better feelings.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newton (Mr. Lee) has on the Order Paper an Amendment designed to help the deaf and dumb—a term which is not often used nowadays. I should like to be allowed to say a special word for them in this connection. The deaf are the loneliest people. They are cut off from the spoken word and from the intimate communication with the world of speech, music and the sounds of nature. Very few people realise how completely isolated they are from the normal activities of the social life of our community. They approach the world wholly in visual terms.
Sound radio is of no use to them at all, but they derive tremendous pleasure from the spectacle programmes which are transmitted by the B.B.C. and the other authority. Thanks to the understanding sympathy and enterprise of the B.B.C., special programmes are presented for them. I assure the B.B.C that this privilege is very much valued by the deaf and by those who work on their behalf.
How cruel it is, then, to put even the smallest obstacle in the way of these people who are handicapped and home-bound, and who very often suffer intense pain because of their disability. How cruel to add anything that would make the slightest obstacle to their enjoying the full 'benefit of their sets. I am sure that many of my hon. and right hon. 1459 Friends would like to emphasise what I have inadequately put before the Committee and I urge the Chancellor to look at this matter most sympathetically. He will not lose a great deal of money, but he will create a fund of good will, and he will show that he has sympathy for these people who very much need not only all the good will and sympathy that the general public can give, but all that the House of Commons can afford.
§ Mr. H. A. Marquand (Middlesbrough, East)
I want to speak in support of the Amendment. As soon as I saw that my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) had placed it on the Order Paper, I gladly added my name to it. My hon. Friend is indefatigable in the work he does for the kind of afflicted people that he has described today. When I was Minister of Health he acted as chairman of a committee which reported to me on the implementation of Sections of the National Assistance Act which deal with such people. I adopted the report and brought those Sections into operation. Seventy per cent. of local authorities have chosen to implement those parts of the Act dealing with the welfare of the class of people my hon. Friend has so accurately described today.
I know that Ministers who are dealing with Finance Bills have to reply to Amendments of this kind, though they may sympathise with the objective, sometimes have difficulty in accepting an Amendment because the class proposed to be exempted from taxation is not clearly defined. I do not think that the Chancellor will feel in that difficulty today because, as my hon. Friend has already explained, the class of whom we are thinking can be readily identified. As the Amendment provides, they can obtain a certificate from a local authority stating that they are just this type of person in need of special help from the authority for rehabilitation and general welfare. They can be clearly and easily defined.
The Chancellor is bound to have sympathy with the conditions that so many of these people have to endure through no fault of their own but either through congenital reflex or some injury or disaster. Having that sympathy, I hope that he will feel that he can aid them in this respect. So many of these people 1460 are home-bound and have no substantial income of their own. Many of them are drawing National Assistance. Even those who do not have, of necessity, very small incomes. Yet these people are waging the battle of life in a way which leaves us ashamed of our inadequacy when we see how they carry on.
Two of the finest people that I have ever met I came across in my constituency almost by accident. Here was a man who was terribly injured in the steel works about thirty years ago. Until I happened to meet his wife when walking down the street these two people had subsisted for the whole of that time entirely on £2 10s. a week, which was the maximum workman's compensation that they were then able to receive. Although undoubtedly they had full claim to do so, they had never applied for National Assistance. I had the utmost difficulty in persuading them to do so; indeed, I had to go to the National Assistance Board myself and get it to send an officer round to visit these people before they would even consider taking aid of any kind. Yet that little house was spotlessly kept. The man cannot walk about because he has no legs. He has to sit on the floor most of the time and can only move when he is carried by his wife. Yet he had been scrupulously looked after all that time.
If it is possible for a charitable organisation to supply such people with a television set, surely nobody would expect them to have to pay the full additional charge? I believe everyone would agree that they ought to be relieved as much as possible. We cannot expect the National Assistance Board to do it. At least we cannot instruct the Board to do it, because we have no power to instruct it what sums it is to pay to anyone and, under the Statute, the Board has to make up its mind about what is appropriate. I can conceive of the Board saying that to give one set of persons direct assistance might lead it into a moral obligation to give it to all.
Certainly, however, this Committee must do all in its power to help such people. It has the power this afternoon to relieve them at least of the additional tax proposed, and so I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider those people with all the sympathy of which he is capable. I know the Chancellor has it, because I 1461 remember well the sympathetic attitude he adopted when he was a private Member to the welfare of the war disabled in his own constituency. So I hope our plea today will not fall on deaf ears, and that he will be able to meet our case.
§ Dr. King
It is a privilege that this debate should have been opened by my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans), and I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Marquand) has paid a well-merited tribute to him for a life's work of service, especially to the deaf people of this country. I am glad, too, that my right hon. Friend has paid a tribute to the handicapped people of Britain. Sometimes they shame the able-bodied people of the country by their courage, by their cheerfulness and by the way in which they endure the handicaps which nature has given them.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. J. Howard) shares with me the privilege of visiting the Invalid Tricycle Association, the parents of spastic children and numbers of associations of handicapped children. I am certain that if he were permitted to intervene in this debate he would echo the tributes to the courage and devotion shown by all these people. I hope that, by accepting the four Amendments which we are discussing, the Chancellor will show that he appreciates this group of the community.
I do not think the Committee could object to the payment of £4 in all for television. It could not object to the extra £1 if it felt sure that all the money involved would go to the provision of programmes. After all, £4 is not much to pay for daily entertainment which, in spite of occasional criticism, is of a high quality. But while £4 a year for this mass of sound and vision programmes is something which people in fairly comfortable circumstances can bear, an extra £1 cannot be carried without hardship by the bottom millions of our people, and especially by the groups mentioned in these Amendments.
I would be out of order if I went into details about the lot of the old-age pensioner at present, but I think that this group is the hardest hit in the community, that it is meeting an ever rising cost of living on an inadequate pension, a pension now lower in value than when 1462 first introduced in 1946. I hope that outside this debate the Government will do something, and quickly, for the old-age pensioner.
The Chancellor can help a little this afternoon. He can do so by exempting some of the old-age pensioners from the Television Duty. In the previous debate, the Chancellor gave us our case. I agree that there are few old-age pensioners who would benefit from this concession. Most old-age pensioners cannot afford a television set, but there are lucky ones, who, by the kindness of societies, by the kindness of their relatives, have television sets. Those of us who know such people realise what a great companion television is to them. Those of us who go to old folks' clubs and Darby and Joan clubs know that every penny counts to the old-age pensioner, and that the £1 will be a real burden on them if this Amendment is not accepted. So I hope that we can persuade the Chancellor to relieve them of the extra £1.
As for the handicapped persons, it ought not to need speechmaking to plead their cause. I am certain that any able-bodied person in the country would gladly carry in this Finance Bill any microscopic extra burden necessary to relieve the handicapped, the halt and the maimed, the lame and the blind, from the burden of this extra £1.
When the Minister replies to this debate we may be told that there are technical difficulties involved, that it would be hard for the Treasury to distinguish between one kind of television licence and another. I have never believed this argument when it has been advanced, and it has often been advanced in this Chamber when we have asked for the exemption of, say, school stationery from Purchase Tax or for the payment of post-war credits to small groups of people ahead of their turn.
I want to pay tribute to the Treasury. It contains some of the most superb technicians in the world when it is a question of getting money in. It is only when we ask for money to be paid out, it is only when we seek to exempt someone from the Treasury net, that the cry of technical difficulty arises. I am certain that if we were seeking by these Amendments to impose an extra tax on television for the 1463 blind, there would be no technical difficulty; or if we tried to impose an extra tax on the unfortunate people in the North-East who have been precluded from getting into this debate so far—
§ Dr. King
I mean apart from his physiological organ. A paltry sum is involved. Every Chancellor has a few millions to play about with in his Budget, but here we are not talking of millions— we are hardly talking of hundreds of thousands of pounds. In the earlier debate the Chancellor said very few old-age pensioners would benefit by this concession. There are not a great number of cripples, there are not a great number of blind people, there are not a great number of the other categories of handicapped people who would benefit by this concession. Yet it is a concession which would help the old folk in the old folks' homes and in the disabled persons' homes. I have pictures of the excellent old folks' homes in Southampton, and at the moment I have a vision of the disabled ex-Service men's home at Portsmouth run by B.L.E.S.M.A. In each of these cases, television can play an important part, and this is a new tax which nobody here would want to impose on them. At all events, the Amendment would help at least some of the two million old-age pensioners who are looking to the Chancellor for much more than this at the earliest possible moment.
I hope the Chancellor will show that he is genuinely concerned about these groups of people and will sweeten the rest of the debates in this Committee by being generous to those to whom life is difficult and to whom radio and television have brought more comfort and happiness than to anyone else in the community.
§ Mr. T. Brown
I support the arguments advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) and my hon. Friend the Member 1464 for Itchen (Dr. King). I always wonder why it is necessary for the Opposition to have to table Amendments to the Finance Bill to secure a degree of happiness for the unfortunate people of this country. I sometimes wonder whether, when drafting Bills, the Treasury, or the Treasury Bench have any regard to what the effect will be on the unfortunate people.
I plead with the Chancellor to reflect for a few moments while he considers our Amendments. I believe that the greatest joys in life are those which are shared with the unfortunates. Here the Chancellor has an opportunity to ensure that things which he enjoys are not denied to people who are unfortunately placed by being blind, deaf or crippled or by suffering from other afflictions. Surely we have not reached a stage where we shall deny happiness to such people.
I sometimes wonder whether those responsible for the drafting of Finance Bills ever give a single thought to the unfortunates. Whenever I have taken part in discussions upon a Finance Bill, we have been like cripples at a cross, pleading for something to be done for the unfortunates. Why cannot something be done for them with a generous hand? Why cannot the Chancellor say, "We cannot leave these people in the wilderness of loneliness and deny them the happiness and enjoyment to which they are entitled "?
My experience of blind and deaf people is that they find it extremely difficult to live anyway. It looks as if we are now to add to their hardships and worries by denying them enjoyment. While sitting here, I have been wishing that I possessed a fairy wand so that I could wave it and transfer one or two occupants of the Government Front Bench to the homes of some of these unfortunate people so that they could see how the hardships are endured. I am sure that there would then be no need for us to table Amendments of this character.
When my right hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Marquand) spoke about the injured workman—we have many such, particularly in the industrial areas—there came to my mind a man I knew very well who was on his back for 22 years as the result of being injured in the pit. When television arrived, he was provided with a 1465 set by subscriptions raised by the people living around him. It was a boon and a blessing to him, bringing into his life a large degree of happiness and contentment. If he had lived, he could not have afforded this increase.
I know that there are voluntary charitable organisations which do very useful work for the unfortunates. The people concerned respond out of the goodness of their hearts to the call which is made to their inner self to help the unfortunates, and they do it from no ulterior motive. There ought not to be any acrimony or division of opinion about this matter. The Government ought to say, "These are people who may have been crippled in industry, who have been overtaken with misfortunes. We must not deny them a right to a little happiness simply because they have been overtaken by misfortune in industry or some other sphere."
I sometimes wish that I could infuse a little humanity into the Treasury. It seems to be so stereotyped in trying to prevent our spending £100 here or £100 there, and all the while it ignores the effect that its actions will have on the poorer people. I shall be ruled out of order by you, Mr. Blackburn, if I begin to discuss what the Chancellor has failed to do for the old-age pensioners in respect of the basic pension, although we are assured that in course of time—perhaps when it gets a little nearer the next General Election—the Government will come forward and say, "Here is what we are going to do for the old-age pensioners." All the time the pensioners are suffering greater hardship than any other section of the community because of the niggardly and parsimonious policy pursued by the Government.
§ The Temporary Chairman (Mr. F. Blackburn)
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not go into too great detail about the policy of the Government in general.
§ The Temporary Chairman
It is not the policy of the Government in this particular aspect which has Amendments to be tabled.
§ Mr. H. Wilson
On a point of order, Mr. Blackburn. We recognise that it would be straining the rules of order if we were to debate on this Amendment the whole question of old-age pensioners and what the Government have not done for them. I am sure that was the last thing in the mind of my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown). However, it might save a great deal of time, particularly in this debate, if the Chancellor were to tax your patience for two or three moments in order to say that he really is going to do something for these people. We should then perhaps withdraw the Amendment.
§ The Temporary Chairman
That may be the case, but I am afraid that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be out of order too.
§ Mr. Hale
Further to the point of order, Mr. Blackburn. Your predecessor in the Chair said that we might discuss four Amendments together. One of those Amendments is limited entirely to old-age pensioners. It is extremely difficult for my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown), who speaks very movingly on this subject, to argue in favour of a remission on behalf of old-age pensioners unless he briefly gives information to the House about the position of old-age pensioners today. Surely he is in order in saying that old-age pensioners are now receiving so very little that they cannot afford the additional charge imposed by the Clause.
§ The Temporary Chairman
I am aware that there is an Amendment dealing with old-age pensioners. The hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) is in order in referring to it in passing, but he cannot go into detail about the whole of the Government's policy.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Brown
I have no desire to get at cross purposes with you, Mr. Blackburn. You are a Lancastrian, as I am, and you have been lenient with me. I started with the best intentions to try to persuade the Chancellor to my point of view. He has known me sufficiently 1467 long to know that what I am trying to do is to make him think of the old folk, the unfortunates, the cripples, the deaf and the blind. I want to persuade him if I can.
We all realise that the position of these people is worthy of our consideration. A great amount of work is done by voluntary and charitable organisations, all of them passionately trying to bring some happiness into the lives of people less fortunate than themselves. I am not asking too much in suggesting that the Government should copy some of the, things these organisations do. If they did, the unfortunate people in this country would be much happier than they now are.
I do not need to deal with the question of whether old-age pensioners can live on £2 a week. I do not need to deal with the question of whether they can afford to pay the increased cost of the licence. The admission from the Front Bench opposite on 25th February is sufficient to convince anybody. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance then admitted that the Government did not pretend that old people could live on £2 a week. With that admission from the Government, I can do nothing to add to that evidence from the Front Bench.
I do not know whether the Treasury keeps up to scratch on information about these matters. I know that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has the task of collecting information, but I do not know whether, when he has collected it, it reaches Government Departments. Has the attention of the Treasury been called to a recent independent investigation into the situation of old people in Sunderland? Dr. R. C. F. Smith, the medical officer of health for the Sunderland Rural Council, says in an interim report on the living standards of old-age pensioners, which is to be presented to the Council in due course:All these people rely on gifts of clothing from their relations. Many of them have to eke out a weary existence plagued with the worry of trying to make ends meet.Those are among the people with whom the Amendment deals. I plead with the Government, for goodness sake let us have no more of this niggardly, parsimonious policy. Let the Govern- 1468 ment accept the Amendment and adopt the philosophy that "The greatest joys in life are those shared with others who are much less fortunate than ourselves ".
§ Sir Frederick Messer (Tottenham)
Strangely enough, I have some sympathy with those who would oppose the Amendment, because I do not like the idea of a lot of indiscriminate concessions being made to people because of their inability to meet what should be their proper commitments. Some time ago I had the temerity to write a pamphlet for an organisation which devotes its activities to handicapped people, and I was very pleased to note that subsequently the Report of the Piercy Committee on the Rehabilitation, Training and Resettlement of Disabled Persons followed lines similar to those of my pamphlet.
My own view is that Amendments of this sort ought not to be necessary, that society is under an obligation to those who, by virtue of any consideration, by virtue of any circumstances, find it difficult to live a normal life. It would not be difficult for us to make moving speeches. Anybody who is engaged in welfare work can easily recount his experiences and make the subject one of urging that concessions should be made because of the pathetic physical condition of these people.
That is wrong. That is not the right approach. The Chancellor of the Exchequer would be entitled to say that it is a matter not of the physical condition of people, but of whether they are in a financial condition to pay. The problem will be solved only when society faces its obligations and says that handicapped people, who because of their handicap are unable to earn enough money to enable them to live a normal life, shall be entitled to a handicapped persons' allowance, apart from National Assistance.
National Assistance is something which should be used only in cases where there is temporary need. Originally it was never intended as a continuing payment for lengthy periods. Indeed, it will be remembered that the Blind Persons Act, 1938, which amended previous Acts, took blind persons and their dependants and relatives completely out of the sphere of what was then public assistance. Blind people were entitled to benefit under 1469 local authority schemes. Amendments of this description would not be necessary if we were to do something of that sort.
I think that it is humiliating when a handicapped person has—as old people have to do at the present time—to show some sort of identification to get something on the cheap, old people getting tobacco coupons, cheap or free baths, free transport by the local authority—and then being challenged by somebody. We ought not to want to give these people cheap things because we fail to give them enough to live on.
What we ought to do is to assure them of an income. That brings me to a point which has not been made and which cannot be too often stressed. I shall deal only with the physically handicapped. A physically handicapped person who is registered, can be registered only if he is in that physical condition which prevents him earning his living. I am not now referring to registration under the Disabled Persons (Employment) Act. 1944. Under that legislation, disabled people have to be certified by a medical practitioner as not too handicapped to be able to work. That is a different sort of certificate. They are registered rather differently. Those who are registered by local authorities are registered as having been so physically handicapped as to come under the local authority's welfare scheme.
The point to which I wish to draw attention is this. I do not think that it is recognised clearly enough that it costs a badly disabled person more to live than a normal person. Therefore, if we eliminate sentiment, if we say that we know when we see that poor hobbling spastic that he is suffering with every step he tries to take; if we say that we know that when a man or woman, rising from bed in the morning, cannot even dress without assistance unless he or she has some special gadgets, we realise that they need more money.
Indeed, it would not be a bad thing if in one of the Committee rooms we had an exhibition of the gadgets which crippled people need. They need tongs with which to put on their socks and all sorts of other appliances before they can start their day.
I wish to develop the point about the cost of living. There are people who earn 1470 just a little money, who cannot walk very far. They must take a taxi when a normal person would walk. Physically handicapped persons have to pay. They cannot always ride in public conveyances. There are a large number of circumstances where the place to which a person wants to go is not served by public transport. A normal person might be able to walk, but it is hopeless for these people to try to do that.
Reference has been made to the home-bound. They are those who are in their homes but are not completely prostrate. They are not tied to their beds but they have not sufficient physical strength or ability to do their ordinary housework. Whereas a normal person can do it, they have to pay someone else. It is a fact that their physical condition creates a degree of poverty which ought to be recognised as a reason for focussing attention on this problem. If I support the Amendment it is because it is the next best thing. If society has neglected to look after that section of the people, as I claim that it has, we should do something about the matter.
There may be some who say that if the Amendment were accepted what would happen would be that there would be some homes which would benefit from the concession just because in the family was one physically handicapped person. That is one of the problems which arise when we try by compromise to get out of a difficulty which faces us. In our own families what happens when one of the family is less able to bear the strain of life is that everybody conspires to help.
The nation should act like a family. We should endeavour to give not merely the self-respect which comes from an income which will leave people independent of the charity on which they are now dependent. What we should do is to bring into their lives something in addition to just eating, sleeping, breathing and hearing other people's conversation. We should bring into their lives some of that brightness which we can get when we get outside our homes and which is denied to those who are bound with bonds of greater severity than any physical bond—the bond of being a hopeless cripple.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Mrs. Harriet Slater (Stoke-on-Trent, North)
After the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Sir F. Messer), who has spoken from his wide experience, the Chancellor must feel very moved. My hon. Friend has given a life of sacrifice in order to bring some comfort and help to those for whom we are pleading tonight. Before he spoke I had written down these words—that a good family makes very great sacrifices in order to help the weakest person in it. We as the people who legislate for the community should act as a good family to those who are least able to help themselves.
We ought not to have to ask for concessions to be made on a matter such as television licences for those who may be crippled, blind, deaf or aged. In a State which prides itself on its care and welfare services for those whose need is greatest, these people ought not to be in the position of having to ask for this help. It should not be necessary to make a plea for them; they should be financially provided for.
The blind, the deaf, the dumb, the physically handicapped and the aged live a very restricted life by the very nature of their handicaps. Examples have been given of people who have been crippled for years. I know of miners who have had spinal injuries as a result of which they are not able to get about and to go to watch football or cricket. When television came into their homes they were able for the first time in years to share in some of the enjoyment which they had known before their misfortune.
It costs much more to look after these people than it costs to care for a normal person. They wear out their clothes very quickly. Some need special shoes and other appliances such as those of which my hon. Friend spoke. Sometimes they become crotchety and need tasty little extras to entice them to eat. The cost of all these things mounts up, and to them this extra £1 is almost the last straw. We should not make it more difficult for them to enjoy the simple pleasure of seeing sport and documentary travel features on television. On television they can see places which they will never be able to visit because of their condition; they can enjoy some of the beauty of other parts of the world.
1472 I ask that, in this direction at least, the Chancellor should be prepared to give. He has not been giving much since we started the debate. This concession would not cost him very much. We are often told by Members on the benches opposite when we have debates on old-age pensions that the families of the old people should help. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions has often put that to us. We know that many aged people have television only because their sons and daughters have bought the sets for them. If the licence fee goes up to £4, this means that the cost will be more for the sons and daughters. It is a little bit of extra expense for them on top of running their own homes, and it makes them wonder whether, if something goes wrong with the television, they will be able to make sure that it is repaired.
I suggest that many of my hon. Friends have been very kind to the Chancellor in the speeches they have made on these Amendments. They have pleaded with him and have been very kind and courteous to him. I suggest that this is a Finance Bill in which in some Clauses we are giving many concessions to those who already have. We are asking in these Amendments that he should give a little of it to the folks who have not so much.
§ Mrs. Slater
That is perhaps a better way to put it. In this Finance Bill the Government are giving Income Tax relief to very many wealthy people. They will be giving to those people the opportunity to buy more of the normal things of life. We ask them on this issue, which is not a very big one, to say to those folk for whom we have a very great responsibility, "We are prepared to forgo the extra £1 for the small number of old-age pensioners who come within the category of the Amendments—the blind, deaf, dumb and crippled."
Surely the Government are not going to use the argument that all kinds of difficulties will be involved in exempting these people from the extra £1, which would mean that they are in fact saying that the Treasury either is not able or is not willing to surmount the difficulties which will be presented. That should be the least of the difficulties. Therefore, I add 1473 my plea to those of my hon. Friends to the Chancellor to look favourably on the Amendment and to give to these people the concession which is asked for.
§ Mr. Collins
I do not view this from the standpoint of asking the Chancellor to give anything but of asking him to change his mind and not to take away. I am sure that every hon. Member in the Committee will agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Sir F. Messer) that we ought not to be put in the position of having to ask for these things. In our society, people such as those mentioned in the Amendments, handicapped people and the aged, ought to be in a financial position which will enable them to enjoy a reasonable standard of existence. Unhappily, the country has not yet discharged that moral obligation, and therefore we say to the Chancellor, "Please create conditions so that we can say to these people, 'Show us your sores and we will give you alms'." If these Amendments are accepted, as I hope they will be, that is exactly what we are asking the Chancellor to do.
I have spent the whole of my working life in connection with handicapped people, and I can say with certainty that they would not have come here to ask for what we are now asking in their name. That is all the more reason why we should ask it. Those who have come into contact with handicapped people, particularly the crippled and the deaf, know that they are in the best sense of the word the proudest and most independent people there are.
It is only when they are in extremis— and not perhaps even then—that they ask anything of anybody. It is a most pitiful thing to see the brave and gallant way in which crippled and handicapped people deliberately ignore their disabilities and decide to ask nothing of anyone if they can possibly avoid it. By these two Amendments we are asking the Chancellor not to injure people who, in general, have one thing in common. It is that they are poor. If they are pensioners, of course they are very poor, and, if they are crippled or handicapped they are also very poor, and usually not very mobile. Therefore, it is beyond question that if they have television sets, whether provided out of their own resources—which is not very likely—or by relatives or a 1474 charitable society, this extra £1 Excise Duty is going to be a burden.
In the case of elderly people, we know that tens of thousands or even millions of them have not a penny after Wednesday. They do not count their means in shillings; they count them in pennies; and much the same thing applies to handicapped people. Some of my hon. Friends have pointed out quite rightly that a good family makes sacrifices in order that the lot of any crippled or handicapped member of the family will be made lighter. Of course they do. I ask the Chancellor to ask himself what happens in that family when the parents get old or die.
I know of a number of families in my own division where there is, perhaps, a mentally deficient child. 0ne case is that of a man of 45 who will always have the mind of a child who enjoys on television the adventures of "Noddy" rather than some more adult programme. The mother and father are still looking after him, although they are themselves old-age pensioners and would, therefore, also qualify under the second of these Amendments. We have all seen at times and marvelled at the tremendous love and affection which exists in families where there is a child such as that or any particularly handicapped child. When I have seen a mother going about with such a man the thought always arises in my mind: What is going to happen when she is no longer there to help? These people, if they can enjoy television, although they are tied to the home, can nevertheless travel the world, and although it is impossible for them to take part in any sporting activity, they can have a better view of sport than many of the people who attend the events.
I am not going to pretend that most of these people because of this extra £1 will be deprived of their television. I think that the money would be found for them somehow. But that is not the point. I hope that the Chancellor will tell us two things at least when he comes to reply, namely, how much revenue he thinks would be lost if this concession were granted to the handicapped people mentioned in the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans), and how much would be lost if it were granted also to the pensioners? Let the Committee and the country know the cost, so that if these 1475 concessions are not granted the extent of the Government's parsimony may be known, and the hypocrisy of any statements they might make of sympathy towards the handicapped people and the old-age pensioners. We are merely asking for a measure of justice.
Before the Chancellor replies I ask him to have these people in his mind's eye. If he has ever been to a gathering of deaf people he will have seen the vivacity and joy with which they talk to each other. It is impossible to imagine a livelier set of people. He may have seen a gathering of crippled people, not one of whom has been able to attend without some assistance from a wheelchair or some other appliance, talking together as they do in the organisation of which my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham is president. These people are deserving not so much of our sympathy as of our heartfelt admiration, and I hope that the Chancellor will add his little tribute to them by saying that he will accept the Amendment.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Miss Elaine Burton (Coventry, South)
I shall not detain the Committee for many minutes, but I want to tell the Chancellor a few things about old people, because it is the old people who have been to see me in connection with this matter. Hon. Members on this side of the Committee were very distressed when the old-age pension was not raised in the Budget. I think I am correct in saying that when the Chancellor broadcast on the day of his Budget speech he rather implied—in evading a direct question put to him— that the Budget was not the proper place to increase the old-age pension. If the Budget is not the place to increase the old-age pension I submit that, equally, it would hardly seem to be the place for taking something away from the old-age pensioner.
We have not yet heard the Chancellor speaking about the old-age pensioners. I hope he believes what hon. Members on this side know—and I am quite sure hon. Members opposite also know—namely, that the old people just have not got this extra money. It is not a case of being sentimental or anything like that. My hon. Friend the Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury (Mr. Collins) said that by the middle of the week old-age pensioners 1476 have no coppers left at all. I know that we cannot discuss the cost of living on this Amendment, but I can assure the Chancellor that when a few coppers are added, for example, to the price of bread or milk each week, the old people in Coventry—and this must apply to old people everywhere—just cannot afford to pay those few extra coppers; it really is an impossibility.
I want to read part of a letter which I have received from an old-age pensioner. She writes:Do you think the old-age pensioners should pay £4 for their wireless and television licence? I for one, out of many, have a television. My husband bought me a View-master five years ago. As I am an invalid I have not been able to get about for twelve years. Three years ago he was killed going to his work. My grandson lived with me up till last July. Now he is married and buying his house. He used to pay the licence for me. Now it means that the only pleasure I get I shall not be able to afford. I think it is a disgrace. If I pay it it will mean two week's pension.In all seriousness, and not as a party political point, I suggest to the Chancellor that people in that position must be helped. I have tried various funds and I cannot get any help. The National Assistance Board in Coventry does a very good job and gives help to the maximum of its capacity but, as the Chancellor doubtless knows, its capacity does not include paying for television licences.
Whether we think of this old woman of 72 or of other old people, I very much hope that the Chancellor will not deprive them of something which means even more to them than it does to us.
§ Mr. Willey
Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown), I do not anticipate the Chancellor providing for these exceptions; that would be taking too rosy a view of the Chancellor. When he is providing for additional revenue it is unlikely that he will at the same time provide for the exceptions. Now that the Amendment has been moved, however, I expect him to accept its spirit. I agree that the burden was upon us to demonstrate the worth of the Amendments which we are considering, but having done that, I hope that the Chancellor will accept them.
I am sure that he appreciates the work that many of my hon. Friends have done for handicapped persons and aged people. 1477 I say at once that I do not suggest that this matter divides the Committee. If hon. Members opposite have not spoken it is probably because they are concerned about their Whitsun bonus, and not so much because they are unconcerned about the problem which we are now considering.
If the Chancellor is to oppose the points which have been raised in the Amendments he can do so only upon one of two grounds. First, he can argue that this is administratively impossible. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Marquand) in this matter, and I hope that the Chancellor will not try to defend his position on that ground. I know that he is always perfectly briefed in these matters, but he must recognise that it is quite possible, administratively, to provide for these exceptions. The exceptions can be identified and defined, and they are permanent exceptions. He cannot say that there is any difficulty on that score. Secondly, he cannot have any financial objections. The loss involved to the Exchequer is not sufficient to upset his calculations.
There are no administrative difficulties which cannot be overcome, and no financial difficulties which would embarrass the right hon. Gentleman. We are therefore faced with the simple political problem. It is a fact—and if the Chancellor rejects the Amendments he does no more than demonstrate the fact—that hon. Members on this side of the Committee have a far greater concern for handicapped and aged people than have Members of the Government. I believe that the Financial Secretary said that he was handicapped. He may be handicapped politically, but I was speaking in broad terms. There is a difference in emphasis in the regard and attention that we pay to the needs of old people and handicapped persons. I am not trying to make an unfair political point. I concede at once that many hon. Members opposite have a deep personal concern about this matter, and support many charitable bodies.
Whatever his views may have been twenty or thirty years ago, surely the Chancellor realises that we can no longer rely upon charity, if for no other reason than that the high level of taxation which has been continued by the present Government means that sources of charity 1478 are not now available on the scale required. We ourselves therefore have to provide for aid to be given to old and handicapped persons.
I agree with all that my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Sir F. Messer) said about it being our primary obligation to see that proper provision is made. I am sure that the Chancellor would agree that that provision is not made today. We do no more than set out to provide for meagre standards of subsistence. The need is there. In view of many of his activities I should have thought that the Chancellor had as much experience as anyone of the fact that if need exists today it is amongst this class of person. If there are people living in difficult circumstances today, they are particularly the handicapped persons, and, on occasion, the old-age pensioners. I should have thought that the Chancellor would at any rate concede that there is evidence of need. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham; I do not think that the Amendment would provide for that need.
Much more has been done, but if we express any regard for the handicapped persons and old-age pensioners, this is an issue which we have to face. We are driven to recognise that there is need to take advantage of every opportunity to help them. That is all that we are asking the Chancellor to do. We are saying that he is imposing a charge on people generally. We know that in many cases, particularly in the case of handicapped persons, television sets are provided, but the maintenance, upkeep and charges are borne by the people themselves. In these circumstances, surely it is right and proper to say that, apart from the major question of making proper provision for people less fortunate than ourselves, we should pay regard to and recognise the fact that they are people less fortunate than ourselves, and we should take the opportunity of making this small concession.
I hope, therefore, that the Chancellor will give way on this matter. The fact that he has not intervened earlier probably indicates that he is not persuaded that he should accept these Amendments. Now that the matter has been brought to his attention and now that the condition and circumstances of the old people and the handicapped persons has been stated, I hope that he will give this measure of 1479 his good faith and say, "Whatever I may do later, involving much greater considerations, at any rate I have the power to take advantage of this opportunity to make this special concession to people who are less fortunately placed."
§ Mr. P. Thorneycroft
We have had a fairly full debate on this series of Amendments and hon. Members on both sides of the Committee have spoken with great sincerity about the desire to do what we can to look after the unfortunate. In particular, I do not think that anybody could have listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Tottenham (Sir F. Messer) without being moved by what he said. I agree with almost everything that the hon. Gentleman said. It is true that at the end of his speech he indicated that he supported the Amendments, whereas I shall be advising the Committee not to do so, but the hon. Gentleman was entitled to say that. He was doing it as a second best. In fact, the tenor of his argument should be considered by the Committee, that whatever one's sympathy for the aged or infirm, this would not be the right way to help them. That was indeed the tenor of the speech of the hon. Gentleman.
In these Amendments we are asked to exempt from the duty people who are either old or infirm, without laying down conditions as to means. That is the tenor and purport of all four of these Amendments. I believe that an attempt to help these people by relief from Customs and Excise taxation is an inequitable, hazardous and indiscriminate way of trying to give assistance, and I do not believe that it would work. I think that it would cause a great deal of ill-feeling. I concede that it has been attempted in the case of the tobacco scheme. I do not propose to debate the tobacco scheme, but its fiercest advocate would not say that it is not open to criticism by the people closely associated with the working of it.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward Evans
How does the right hon. Gentleman relate that argument to the exemptions for radio licences in respect of the blind? What ill-will has been occasioned by that? It has commanded universal approval. It is unlikely that those persons who register under the provisions of the National Assistance Act would want welfare if they could maintain themselves in social life.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
The hon. Gentleman made his speech with a great knowledge of these matters, and he is right to say that in the case of the blind there was an exemption from the licence altogether. If it is held—I am not debating it one way or another—that a television set is essential for the aged, let us face it squarely and take away the licence altogether. That would be the honest way to approach the matter. But to seek to say that there is a wide range of old people and a number of infirm people who somehow should be exempted from Customs duty is not a right or sensible way of dealing with the matter.
I think that the Economist put the point extremely well last week in an article which stated:The worst possible way of aiding pensioners would be to give the better-off groups of them special exemptions from indirect taxes, of the sort that the smokers (or alleged smokers) among them get already. Half the families in the country might suddenly decide that their television sets really belong to grandma.That puts rather pithily the kind of problem we are up against. I would go even further. One could borrow grandma for this purpose because a television set is not tied to the premises. Anybody's grandma would be sufficient for this purpose. When we think of the number of grandmas there are, the Committee will see that any arrangement of this kind would be quite unworkable.
The hon. Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury (Mr. Collins) asked what would the cost be. Were it limited to these two types of people the cost is not an issue and it would be very small. The point about this is that it would be an unworkable arrangement.
§ Mr. Collins
I asked the Chancellor two questions. One was the cost of the concession to the handicapped, the people mentioned in the Amendment, and the other—a separate question—the cost of the concession to the old people. The cost to the handicapped people is ascertainable. Can the right hon. Gentleman answer that?
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
In either case the cost is negligible. I am not worried about the cost in cases of this kind. If it was a sensible and workable arrangement where, at a small cost we could help, no Chancellor would be concerned 1481 about the cost. My case is that the proposal is unworkable.
The arguments that I have used about the aged people apply equally to the infirm. They could apply to anybody who falls within the category defined in Section 29 of the National Assistance Act, 1948:persons who are blind, deaf or dumb, and other persons who are substantially and permanently handicapped, by illness, injury, or congenital deformity or such other disabilities as may be prescribed by the Minister.That wording was for the purpose of deciding the category of persons who could be helped. In that Statute the definition was very rightly cast in the widest possible terms, and any arrangement of this kind would mean that anybody who fell within that very wide category should be exempt from paying this television duty.
The hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) cast the definition even wider to include people who would have been entitled to retirement pensions had they in fact fulfilled the conditions required. In considering matters of that kind we should encounter considerable administrative difficulties, apart from any other consideration. But the whole criticism here is that this would mean that a television set would not go to the poor people we have been talking about, but to people like retired judges and colonial governors. They are the people who would benefit. I have nothing against retired judges and colonial governors, but I cannot think that it is the purpose of the Committee to pass a special exemption from television duty in cases of that kind.
§ Mr. Edward Evans
I feel that the right hon. Gentleman has failed to read the terms of the Amendment. We are referring to those persons who come on the register of the local authority. We cannot imagine retired judges would register as persons in need of the welfare services of the local authorities. It refers to the persons on the register of the local authority for whom welfare services are provided.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
Different methods to solve this problem are undoubtedly dealt with in different Amendments. I was dealing, at that moment with the retired person and saying that it is an 1482 illusion to think that if the Amendment were accepted we should be able to help people who are living on their old-age pension and nothing else. Let us be honest with ourselves in this Committee. People in those circumstances are not able to afford television sets, nor the licence. It is idle to pretend that they can do so. Their circumstances are very far removed from that.
Someone said that charity was no longer possible. But I think the evidence given to the Committee is rather to the contrary because I think there are cases where people in those circumstances have had television sets provided by neighbours and friends and the admirable associations which seek to help them. They supply amenities of that kind, and the licence and the 4½d. a week, or whatever the duty amounts to. That is a different category of people from those considered here. Here, as the Economist said, we should be concerned with the better-off people who could afford a television set. I would seriously advise the Committee, whatever it may feel about the need for help, or however hon. Members have been moved by the words of the hon. Member for Tottenham—as I think we all were—to recognise the real purpose of his argument. If we want to help people who are sick or old there are much better ways of doing it than by trying to fiddle about with Customs and Excise duty.
§ Mrs. White
I think we have all been slightly shocked, if not surprised, by the attitude of the Chancellor towards these Amendments. One must bow to the Ruling of the Chair that they must be discussed together, but the right hon. Gentleman has completely failed even to mention some of the special points raised by my hon. Friends and which were included in certain of the Amendments.
If the Chancellor had been able to indicate to us that it was in the mind of the Government to make a really substantial increase in the retirement pension, even if he was not at present in a position to mention a precise amount—had he given some indication that that was coming in the near future, I am sure that my hon. Friends who put forward the Amendments dealing with old-age pensioners would have been prepared to consider that, but we have had no indication from the Chancellor that Her 1483 Majesty's Government have any such step in view. I think that all of us would be of one mind that really adequate pensions for old-age pensioners would be better than particular concessions. We are not quarrelling with the right hon. Gentleman on that as a matter of principle, but about the practice of this Government.
Even if one were prepared to grant that, however, I believe that there is still a strong case for making some gesture towards the handicapped people about whom the greater part of our discussion tonight has been concerned. I ask the Chancellor the straight question: holding the views which he has enunciated tonight, why has he not put down an Amendment to the Finance Bill to withdraw the concession from blind persons? If he really holds the views which he has expressed that such special concessions are bad public policy, it was his public duty to take the opportunity of this, his first Finance Bill, to put that matter right. Why has he not put in a Clause showing that he believes it was a mistaken act on the part of his predecessors and that he now wishes to withdraw that concession? That is the only logical conclusion to the opinions that he has expressed.
If he is prepared to continue the radio licence concession to blind persons without alteration, surely it is equally logical for my right hon. and hon. Friends to suggest that there are other handicapped persons to whom a television set has come as a great blessing. All of us would agree that to many handicapped people television has brought a new interest and a new joy in life. I have a very special sympathy for deaf persons. Sometimes I think that they are much more cut off from ordinary life than are the blind. For them television has made a very great difference. There are a large number of deaf people. In the six North Wales counties and the adjoining County of Cheshire there are 500 registered deaf persons. Many of us have known the very great pleasure which television has brought to persons who are so handicapped.
§ In dismissing in a summary fashion all these Amendments with very little differentiation between them, the Chancellor has really paid no attention to the force of the arguments employed on our side of the Committee concerning handicapped persons in particular. I repeat that if he believes what he says he should take immediate steps—there are still further stages of the Bill and I dare say that it could be done within the terms of the appropriate Financial Resolution—to withdraw the concession which is now made to blind persons. The arguments in respect of television for other handicapped persons is based entirely on the same principle.
§ The right hon. Gentleman tried to deride the speeches of my hon. Friends in this matter by suggesting that we could all go around borrowing grandmothers.It is true that every one of us has had a grandmother —
§ Mrs. White
Yes, that is correct. Does the right hon. Gentleman really suggest that we should go round borrowing spastics? Does he suppose that people would try to defraud the Revenue in such a very undignified manner? I do not think that even he would suggest such a thing.
I suggest to the Chancellor that even if he is not able to accept all these Amendments which we have been obliged to discuss together he should be prepared to make some concession, at least for this particular group which my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) very properly said is a very easily recognisable group and a small group. It is one in respect of which I submit there would be no administrative difficulties. It is clearly no use arguing any longer with the right hon. Gentleman Therefore, we shall bring this matter to a close and support our Amendments in the Division Lobby.
§ Question put, That those words be there inserted: —
§ The Committee divided: Ayes 138, Noes 179.1487
|Division No. 115.]||AYES||[8.0 p.m.|
|Ainsley, J. W.||Benson, G.||Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.|
|Albu, A. H.||Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale)||Brown, Thomas (Ince)|
|Allen, Soholefield (Crewe)||Blyton, W. R.||Burton, Miss F. E.|
|Balfour, A.||Boyd, T. C.||Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)|
|Benn, Hn. Wedgwood (Bristol, S.E.)||Brockway, A. F.||Castle, Mrs. B. A.|
|Chetwynd, G. R.||Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)||Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)|
|Clunie, J.||Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)||Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.)|
|Collick, P. H. (Birkenhead)||Irving, Sydney (Dartford)||Proctor, W. T.|
|Collins, V. J. (Shoreditch & Finsbury)||Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.||Redhead, E. C.|
|Cove, W. G.||Janner, B.||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Jones, David (The Hartlepools)||Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)|
|Cronin, J.D.||Jones, T. W. (Merioneth)||Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)|
|Deer, G.||Kenyon, C.||Ross, William|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.||Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.|
|Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||King, Dr. H. M.||Silverman, Julius (Aston)|
|Edwards, W. J. (Stepney)||Lawson, G. M.||Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill)|
|Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.)||Ledger, R. J.||Skeffington, A. M.|
|Evans, Edward (Lowestoft)||Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)||Slater, Mrs. H. (Stoke, N.)|
|Fernyhough, E.||Lewis, Arthur||Slater, J. (Sedgefield)|
|Fienburgh, W.||Logan, D. G.||Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)|
|Finch, H. J.||MacColl, J. E.||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Fletcher, Eric||McGhee, H. G.||Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank|
|Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)||McKay, John (Wallsend)||Stross,Dr.Barnett(Stoke-on-Trent,C.)|
|George, Lady Megan Lioyd(Car'then)||MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)||Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E.|
|Gibson, C. W.||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfd, E.)||Swingler, S. T.|
|Gooch, E, G.||Mann, Mrs. Jean||Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)|
|Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.||Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A.||Tomney, F.|
|Greenwood, Anthony||Mason, Roy||Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn|
|Grenfell, Rt. Hon. D. R.||Mayhew, C. P.||Viant, S. P.|
|Grey, C. F.||Mellish, R. J.||Weitzman, D|
|Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)||Messer, Sir F.||Wells, Percy (Faversham)|
|Hale, Leslie||Mitchison, G. R.||Wheeldon, W. E.|
|Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvil (Colne Valley)||Monslow, W.||White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)|
|Hamilton, W. W.||Moody, A, S.||Wilcock, Group Capt. C. A. B.|
|Hannan, W.||Mort, D. L.||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Hastings, S.||Moyle, A.||Willey, Frederick|
|Hayman, F. H.||Mulley, F. W.||Williams, Rev. Llywelyn (Ab'tillery)|
|Healey, Denis||Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon)||Williams, Ronald (Wigan)|
|Henderson, Rt. Hn. A. (Rwly Regis)||Oliver, G. H.||Williams, W. T. (Barons Court)|
|Hewitson, Capt. M.||Oram, A. E.||Willis, Eustace (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Hobson, C. R. (Keighley)||Owen, W.J.||Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)|
|Holmes, Horace||Palmer, A. M. F.||Winterbottom, Richard|
|Houghton, Douglas||Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.)||Woof, R. E.|
|Howell, Charles (Perry Barr)||Paton, John||Zilliacus, K.|
|Hubbard, T. F.||Pearson, A.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey)||Pentland, N.||Mr. Short and Mr. J. Taylor.|
|Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Popplewell, E.|
|Agnew, Sir Peter||Dodds-Parker, A. D.||Howard, John (Test)|
|Alport, C J. M.||du Cann, E. D. L.||Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral J.|
|Anstruther-Gray, Major Sir William||Eden, J. B. (Bournemouth, West)||Hughes-Young, M. H. C.|
|Arbuthnot, John||Errington, Sir Eric||Hurd, A. R.|
|Ashton, H.||Farey-Jones, F. W.||Hutchison, Sir Ian Clark(E'b'gh, W.)|
|Atkins, H. E.||Fell, A.||Hutchison, Sir James (Scotstoun)|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Finlay, Graeme||Hyde, Montgomery|
|Balniel, Lord||Fisher, Nigel||Hylton-Foster, Rt. Hon. Sir Harry|
|Barlow, Sir John||Fletcher-Cooke, C.||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)|
|Barter, John||Fraser, Sir Ian (M'cmbe & Lonsdale)||Jennings, J. C. (Burton)|
|Baxter, Sir Beverley||Freeth, Denzil||Keegan, D.|
|Beamish, Maj. Tufton||Garner-Evans, E. H.||Kerby, Capt. H. B.|
|Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.)||Glover, D.||Kershaw, J. A.|
|Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.)||Godber, J. B.||Kimball, M.|
|Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth)||Gomme-Duncan, Col. Sir Alan||Kirk, P. M.|
|Biggs-Davison, J. A.||Goodhart, Philip||Lagden, G. W.|
|Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel||Gough, C. F. H.||Lambert, Hon. G.|
|Bishop, F. P.||Gower, H. R.||Lancaster, Col. C. G.|
|Black, C. W.||Graham, Sir Fergus||Leather, E. H. C.|
|Bossom, Sir Alfred||Grant-Ferris, Wg Cdr. R. (Nantwich)||Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield)|
|Bowen, E. R. (Cardigan)||Green, A.||Lindsay, Hon. James (Devon, N.)|
|Boyle, Sir Edward||Gresham Cooke, R.||Linstead, Sir H. N.|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W. H.||Grimston, Hon. John (St. Albans)||Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.)|
|Brooman-White, R. C.||Grosvenor, Lt.-Col. R. G.||Longden, Gilbert|
|Bullus, Wing Commander E. E.||Gurden, Harold||Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.)|
|Burden, F. F. A.||Harvey, Air Cdre. A. V. (Macclesfd)||Lucas, P. B. (Brentford & Chiswick)|
|Channon, Sir Henry||Harvie-Watt, Sir George||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh|
|Chichester-Clark, R.||Hay, John||McCallum, Major Sir Duncan|
|Cooke, Robert C.||Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel||Macdonald, Sir Peter|
|Cooper-Key, E. M.||Heath, Rt. Hon. E. R. G.||Mackie, J. H. (Galloway)|
|Craddook, Beresford (Spelthorne)||Hicks-Beach, Maj. W. W.||Macleod, Rt. Hn. Iain (Enfield, W.)|
|Crowder, Sir John (Finchley)||Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe)||Macmillan, Maurice (Halifax)|
|Cunningham, Knox||Hirst, Geoffrey||Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries)|
|Currie, G. B. H.||Holland-Martin, C. J.||Maddan, Martin|
|Dance, J. C. G.||Hornby, R. P.||Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir R.|
|Davidson, Viscountess||Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P.||Markham, Major Sir Frank|
|D'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry||Horobin, Sir Ian||Marlowe, A. A. H.|
|Digby, Simon Wingfield||Howard, Hon. Greville (St. Ives)||Marples, Rt. Hon. A. E.|
|Marshall, Douglas||Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)||Sumner, W. D. M. (Orpington)|
|Maudling, Rt. Hon. R.||Raikes, Sir Victor||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Mawby, R. L.||Rawlinson, Peter||Temple, John M.|
|Medlicott, Sir Frank||Redmayne, M.||Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)|
|Morrison, John (Sallsbury)||Rees-Davies, W. R.||Thompson, Lt.Cdr.R.(Croydon, S.)|
|Nabarro, G. D. N.||Remnant, Hon. P.||Thorneycroft, Rt. Hon. P.|
|Nairn, D. L. S.||Renton, D. L. M.||Thomton-Kemsley, C. N.|
|Neave, Airey||Robinson, Sir Roland (Blackpool, S.)||Turner, H. F. L.|
|Nicholson, Godfrey (Farnham)||Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)||Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.|
|Nugent, G. R. H.||Shepherd, William||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Oakshott, H. D.||Simon, J. E. S. (Middlesbrough, W.)||Vaughan-Morgan, J. K.|
|O'Neill, Hn. Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.)||Smithers, Peter (Winchester)||Vickers, Miss Joan|
|Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. W. D.||Smyth, Brig. Sir John (Norwood)||Vosper, Rt. Hon. D. F.|
|Orr-Ewing, Sir Ian (Weston-S-Mare)||Spearman, Sir Alexander||Wade, D. W.|
|Page, R. G.||Speir, R. M.||Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)|
|Pannell, N. A. (Kirkdale)||Spent, Rt. Hn. Sir P. (Kens'gt'n, S.)||Wakefield, Sir Wavell (St. M'lebone)|
|Partridge, E.||Stanley, Capt. Hon. Richard||Watkinson, Rt. Hon. Harold|
|Pickthorn, K. W. M.||Stevens, Geoffrey||Whitelaw, W. S. I.|
|Pike, Miss Mervyn||Steward, Sir William (Woolwich, W.)||Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)|
|Pilkington, Capt. R. A.||Storey, S.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Pitt, Mist E. M.||Stuart, Rt. Hon. James (Moray)||Mr. J. H. Harrison and Mr. Bryan.|
|Pott, H. P.||Studholme, Sir Henry|
|Powell, J. Enoch||Summers, Sir Spencer|
Amendment proposed: In page 4, line 36, at end insert:
or to any licence issued to a person who proves in such manner as the Postmaster-General may direct that for the week during which the licence is issued he is receiving a retirement pension under the National Insurance Act, 1946, or, if he satisfied the relevant contribution conditions under that Act, would
§ Question put, That those words be there inserted: —
§ The Committee divided: Ayes 138, Noes 182.1489
|Division No. 116.]||AYES||[8.7 p.m.|
|Ainsley, J. W.||Hastings, S.||Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon)|
|Albu, A. H.||Hayman, F. H.||Oliver, G. H.|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Healey, Denis||Oram, A. E.|
|Balfour, A.||Henderson, Rt. Hn. A. (Rwly Regis)||Owen, W. J.|
|Benn, Hn. Wedgwood (Bristol, S.E.)||Hewitson, Capt. M.||Palmer, A. M. F.|
|Benson, G.||Hobson, c. R. (Keighley)||Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.)|
|Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale)||Holmes, Horace||Paton, John|
|Blyton, W. R.||Houghton, Douglas||Pearson, A.|
|Boyd, T. C.||Howell, Charles (Perry Barr)||Pentland, N.|
|Brockway, A. F.||Hubbard, T. F.||Popplewell, E.|
|Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey)||Price, J. T, (Westhoughton)|
|Brown, Thomas (Ince)||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.)|
|Burton, Miss F. E.||Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)||Proctor, W. T.|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)||Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)||Redhead, E. C.|
|Castle, Mrs. B. A.||Irving, Sydney (Dartford)||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)|
|Chetwynd, G. R.||Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.||Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)|
|Clunie, J.||Janner, B.||Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)|
|Collick, P. H. (Birkenhead)||Jones, David (The Hartlepools)||Ross, William|
|Collins, V. J.(Shoreditch & Finsbury)||Jones, T. W. (Merioneth)||Shlnwell, Rt. Hon. E.|
|Cove, W. G.||Kenyon, C.||Silverman, Julius (Aston)|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill)|
|Cronin, J. D.||King, Dr. H. M.||Skeffington, A. M.|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C||Lawson, G. M.||Slater, Mrs. H. (Stoke, N.)|
|Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||Ledger, R, J.||Slater, J. (Sedgefield)|
|Edwards, W. J. (Stepney)||Lee. Miss Jennie (Cannock)||Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)|
|Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.)||Lewis, Arthur||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Evans, Edward (Lowestoft)||Logan, D. G.||Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank|
|Fernyhough, E.||MacColl, J. E.||Stross,Dr.Barnett(Stoke-on-Trent,C.)|
|Fienburgh, W.||McGhee, H. G.||Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E.|
|Finch, H. J.||McKay, John (Waltsend)||Swingler, S. T.|
|Fletcher, Eric||MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)||Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)|
|Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfd, E.)||Taylor, John (West Lothian)|
|George, Lady MeganLloyd(Car'then)||Mann, Mrs. Jean||Tomney, F.|
|Gibson, C. W.||Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A.||Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn|
|Gooch, E. G.||Mason, Roy||Viant, S. P.|
|Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.||Mayhew, C. P.||Weitzman, D.|
|Greenwood, Anthony||Mellish, R. J.||Wells, Percy (Faversham)|
|Grenfell, Rt. Hon. D. R.||Messer, Sir F.||Wheeldon, W. E.|
|Grey, C. F.||Mitchison, G. R.||White, Mrs. Elrene (E. Flint)|
|Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)||Monslow, W.||Wilcock, Group Capt. C. A. B.|
|Hale, Leslie||Moody, A. S.||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvll (Colne Valley)||Mort, D. L.||Willey, Frederick|
|Hamilton, W. W.||Moyle, A.||Williams, Rev. Llywelyn (Ab'tillery)|
|Hannan, w.||Mulley, F. W.||Williams. Ronald (Wigan)|
|Williams, W. T. (Barons Court)||Winterbottom, Richard||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Willis, Eustace (Edinburgh, E.)||Woof, R. E.||Mr. Short and Mr. Deer.|
|Wilson, Rt. Hon. Haroid (Huyton)||Zilliacus, K.|
|Agnew, Sir Peter||Grimston, Hon. John (St. Albans)||Neave, Airey|
|Aitken, W. T.||Grosvenor, Lt.-Col. R. G.||Nicholson, Godfrey (Farnham)|
|Alport, C. J. M.||Gurden, Harold||Nugent, C. R. H.|
|Anstruther-Gray, Major Sir William||Hall, John (Wycombe)||Oakshott, H. D.|
|Arbuthnot, John||Harvey, Air Cdre. A. V. (Macclesfd)||O'Neill, Hn. Phelim(Co. Antrim, N.)|
|Ashton, H.||Harvie-Watt, Sir George||Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. W. D.|
|Atkins, H. E.||Hay, John||Orr-Ewing Sir Ian (Weston-S-Mare)|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel||Page, R. G.|
|Balniel, Lord||Heath, Rt. Hon. E. R. G.||Pannell, N. A. (Kirkdale)|
|Barlow, Sir John||Hicks-Beach, Maj. W. W.||Partridge, E.|
|Barter, John||Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe)||Pickthorn, K. W. M.|
|Baxter, Sir Beverley||Hirst, Geoffrey||Pike, Miss Mervyn|
|Beamish, Maj. Tufton||Holland-Martin, C. J.||Pilkington, Capt. R. A.|
|Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.)||Hornby, R. P.||Pitt, Miss E. M.|
|Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.)||Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P.||Pott, H. P.|
|Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth)||Horobin, Sir Ian||Powell, J. Enoch|
|Biggs-Davison, J. A.||Howard, Hon. Greville (St. Ives)||Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)|
|Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel||Howard, John (Test)||Raikes, Sir Victor|
|Bishop, F. P.||Hughes, Hallett, Vice-Admiral J.||Rawlinson, Peter|
|Black, C. W.||Hughes-Young, M. H. C.||Redmayne, M.|
|Body, R. F.||Hurd, A. R.||Rees-Davies, W. R.|
|Bossom, Sir Alfred||Hutchison Sir Ian Clark (E'b'gh, W.)||Remnant, Hon. P.|
|Bowen, E. R. (Cardigan)||Hutchison, Sir James (Sootstoun)||Renton, D. L. M.|
|Boyle, Sir Edward||Hyde, Montgomery||Robinson, Sir Roland (Blackpool, S.)|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W. H.||Hylton-Foster, Rt. Hon. Sir Harry||Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)|
|Brooman- White, R. C.||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Shepherd, William|
|Bullus, Wing Commander E. E.||Jennings, J. c. (Burton)||Simon, J. E. S. (Middlesbrough, W.)|
|Burden, F. F. A.||Keegan, D.||Smithers, Peter (Winchester)|
|Channon, Sir Henry||Kerby, Capt. H. B.||Smyth, Brig. Sir John (Norwood)|
|Chichester-Clark, R.||Kershaw, J. A.||Spearman, Sir Alexander|
|Cooke, Robert C.||Kimball, M.||Speir, R, M.|
|Cooper-Key, E. M.||Kirk, P, M.||Spens, Rt. Hn. Sir P. (Kens'gt'n, S.)|
|Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne)||Lagden, G. W.||Stanley, Capt. Hon. Richard|
|Crowder, Sir John (Finchley)||Lambert, Hon. G.||Stevens, Geoffrey|
|Cunningham, Knox||Lancaster, Col. C. G||Steward, Sir William (Woolwich, W.)|
|Currie, G. B. H.||Leather, E. H. C.||Storey, S.|
|Dance, J. C. G.||Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield)||Stuart, Rt. Hon. James (Moray)|
|Davidson, Viscountess||Lindsay, Hon. James (Devon, N.)||Studholme, Sir Henry|
|D'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry||Linstead, Sir H. N.||Summers, Sir Spencer|
|Digby, Simon Wingfield||Lloyd, Maj.Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.)||Sumner, W. D. M. (Orpington)|
|Dodds-Parker, A. D.||Longden, Gilbert||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)|
|du Cann, E. D. L.||Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.)||Temple, John M.|
|Eden, J. B. (Bournemouth, West)||Lucas, P. B. (Brentford & Chiswick)||Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)|
|Errington, Sir Eric||Luoas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Thompson, Lt.-Cdr. R. (Croydon, S.)|
|Farey-Jones, F. W.||McCallum, Major Sir Duncan||Thorneycroft, Rt. Hon. P.|
|Fell, A.||Macdonald, Sir Peter||Thornton-Kemsley, C. N.|
|Finlay, Graeme||Mackie, J. H. (Galloway)||Turner, H. F. L.|
|Fisher, Nigel||Macleod, Rt. Hn. Iain (Enfield, W.)||Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.|
|Fletcher-Cooke, C.||Macmillan, Maurice (Halifax)||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Fraser, Sir Ian (M'cmbe & Lonsdale)||Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries)||Vaughan-Morgan, J. K.|
|Freeth, Denzil||Maddan, Martin||Vickers, Miss Joan|
|Garner-Evans, E. H.||Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir R.||Vosper, Rt. Hon. D. F.|
|Glover, D.||Markham, Major Sir Frank||Wade, D. W.|
|Godber, J. B.||Marlowe, A. A. H.||Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)|
|Gomme-Duncan, Col. Sir Alan||Marples, Rt. Hon. A. E.||Wakefield, Sir Wavell (St. M'lebone)|
|Goodhart, Philip||Marshall, Douglas||Watkinson, Rt. Hon. Harold|
|Gough, C. F. H.||Maudling, Rt. Hon. R.||Whitelaw, W. S. I.|
|Gower, H. R.||Mawby, R. L.||Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)|
|Graham, Sir Fergus||Medlicott, Sir Frank||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Grant-Ferris, Wg Cdr.R.(Nantwich)||Morrison, John (Salisbury)||Colonel J. H. Harrison and|
|Green, A.||Nabarro, G. D. N.||Mr. Bryan.|
|Gresham Cooke, R.||Nairn, D. L. S.|
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Clause stand part of the Bill.
§ Mr. Anthony Greenwood
As I have a pressing engagement with the electors of Hornsey, I hope that the Committee will forgive me if, after opening this debate, I take my leave in order to pursue my political duties elsewhere.
1490 We have made a number of attempts to improve Clause 2. Unfortunately, those attempts have been unsuccessful, and it may be useless at this stage to continue the struggle. Nevertheless, there are certain disadvantages about this proposed television duty which I feel it my duty to bring to the attention of the Committee. 1491 I find this a surprising tax. I say "surprising" because I have no recollection of the Conservative Party at the last General Election pronouncing officially in favour of a tax upon television.
My opponent at the election certainly did not mention in his address that the electors of Rossendale would be compelled to pay an additional £1 on their television licence as a television duty. Indeed, the general impression that right hon. and hon. Members opposite gave at the last Election was that they represented the party which was to cut taxes. Indeed, in order to create that impression, they gave a very dangerous inflationary boost on the very eve of the General Election itself. I have not the slightest doubt that this television duty will be removed on the eve of the next General Election, and that the Conservative Party will seek to claim credit for having removed it.
I hope that the Government have considered all the implications of this present proposal. This is a tax on entertainment, instruction and enlightenment. As my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White) said earlier, television is now a part of the life of the people. However inadequate and unsatisfactory many of us may find the television programmes from time to time, most of us, I think, would not be ashamed to admit that, whenever opportunity permits, we are keen followers of television.
I confess that I do not go so far as the reader of the Daily Mirror who wrote to say that he or she could not understand people who were annoyed at the noise from neighbours' houses, and went on:I welcome the sound of B.B.C. television through one wall and I.T.V. through the other. It really cheers me up.I have some sympathy with the reader in the Spectator who talked about television having laid… the medium grey cloak of its medium grey standards over our lives,but I have even greater sympathy with Mr. Samuel Goldwyn who, in the course of his last visit to Britain, said:Why should people go out of their homes to watch bad entertainment when they can see it sitting in their armchairs?Whatever we may think, this is a subject upon which all of us must at any rate try to be objective. Whatever our 1492 own views may be, this is really almost the only form of recreation available to many of our constituents. I was interested to discover the other day that in my constituency, the total number of television licences is now 10,303, as against 9,387 radio licences. When the Holme Moss transmitter opened only five-and-a-half years ago, Rossendale had only 92 television licences, so in the course of that time there has been a very striking development in that area.
The effect of this new duty means that my constituents will be mulcted to the tune of £10,000 every year, and be mulcted of that amount in spite of the fact that, from time to time, I have had to complain to the Postmaster-General of very bad reception in parts of my constituency. I think that members of the public who find it difficult to receive one or both of the programmes properly, or who, as is the case in some parts of the country, have only the one television programme, will feel very seriously aggrieved that they are being expected to pay this additional £1 per year.
Although our constituents are all generous people who will no doubt welcome the contribution that this additional money will make towards preserving the living theatre and helping sport, I am quite sure that they would have preferred this money to have been found by less generous treatment of the Surtax payers. After all, we should not overlook the fact that those possessing television sets have already paid a very large amount in Purchase Tax on them. On a set costing £63 6s. 0d., a tax of £20 2s. 8d. has already been paid. One would have thought that the holder of a television licence had already contributed a reasonable amount towards helping the Treasury out of the difficulties into which it has got under the present Administration.
There is another aspect of the problem which I wish to bring to the attention of the Government and of the Committee before this Clause is finally accepted. We have two television systems in this country. Since I, like some hon. Members on both sides of the House, have from time to time done a small amount of work for both, I hope that I can be reasonably impartial in what I say. One system, of course, is that provided by the British Broadcasting Corporation, and the 1493 other is the commercial system. Already, one programme contractor at least describes the programmes which are put out on the commercial system as, "Your free television service", intending, presumably, to give the public the impression that they are contributing to the B.B.C. through the payment of the £3 licence fee, whereas the commercial programme is being provided free.
At the moment, 20,700,000 people can receive television, and 9,455,000 can receive both commercial and B.B.C. programmes. The point I want to make is that the addition of this £1 will be especially unfair to the B.B.C, because people will believe that all that additional money they have to pay is going to the B.B.C. for the financing of its work and programmes.
The truth of the matter is that the British Broadcasting Corporation's finances are gravely stretched already so far as television is concerned. In 1956, the net combined licence income of the B.B.C, that is, for both television and sound, was £9,476,000. Of that amount, £7,033,000 was spent on the television service. Out of the money which the B.B.C. receives from licences, all its development expenses have to be met. The B.B.C. is at this disadvantage compared with the commercial television service in that it, as a public service, is providing a television service, or seeking to provide a television service, for every part of the country, whereas the commercial television companies, it is reasonable to suppose, will attempt to cover only those areas where the density of population is sufficiently great to justify commercial advertising. It may well be that the less densely populated parts of the country will not be covered by the commercial system, but the B.B.C. will continue to have to serve them.
Another difficulty is that, at present, the Postmaster-General—whom we are delighted to see in his place—limits the number of hours during which the television service can be on the air each week. The present figure is fifty hours a week. I understand that every extra hour that B.B.C. television runs every week costs £150,000 a year. If, by any chance, the Postmaster-General decides to increase the number of hours that television is permitted, the B.B.C. will 1494 have to find, for every hour, £150,000 a year out of the finance which we vote it.
The commercial companies, on the other hand, are in a favoured position because they are able to recoup their expenses from the advertising revenue they receive for the extra hours they are working. Associated Rediffusion, for example, charges £475 a minute between 6.55 and 7.25 on Thursday and Friday, and the figure drops to £150 a minute on Monday. Associated Television, on the other hand, charges as much as £1,100 a minute for advertising between 8 and 9 o'clock on a Sunday evening.
It is clear that, if the Postmaster-General should decide to extend the hours from, shall we say, fifty to fifty-five hours a week, that would place a very severe burden upon the British Broadcasting Corporation. I hesitate to say that the Government would not be reluctant to see a strain of that kind imposed.
One should, I think, argue that, if the licence holders can afford to pay this additional sum every year, they are entitled to say that the additional sum should be used exclusively for developing the services which the B.B.C. can provide. It is instructive to see how the licence money is at present used. The figures I propose to give to the Committee are approximate, and taken from the annual report and accounts of the B.B.C. for the year 1955–56. In 1954–55, 6½ per cent. of the money collected in licence fees went to the General Post Office for the expenses of collection.
To the Treasury went 9 per cent., and to the B.B.C, for the development of its. services, went 84½ per cent. In 1955–56, the proportion which went to the General Post Office had risen to 7 per cent. The proportion which went to the Treasury had risen to 10½ per cent., and that which went to the B.B.C. had fallen to 82½ per cent. If we take the proportions for 1955–56, and take into account this additional £1 now to be charged to the holders of combined licences, we find that it would mean that 5 per cent. will go to-the General Post Office for collection, 34 per cent. will go to the Treasury, and only 61 per cent. will go to the B.B.C.
If one expresses that in terms of money instead of percentages, it means that in 1954–55 4s. of the licence money went to-the G.P.O., 5s. 5d. was kept by the 1495 Treasury and £2 10s. 7d. went to the B.B.C. In 1955–56, 4s. 2d. went to the G.P.O., 6s. 5d. was kept by the Treasury and £2 9s. 5d. was received by the B.B.C. It we take into account the £1 which is now to be added to the combined licence in the form of a television duty, it will mean that 4s. 2d. goes to the General Post Office, £1 6s. 5d. is retained by the Treasury and £2 9s. 5d. is received by the B.B.C. That seems to me to be a wholly disproportionate state of affairs.
I know that the Government's argument is that this amount will balance the losses which the Exchequer is sustaining in view of the changes in Entertainments Duty, but I should like to remind the Committee that in the case of television we are not considering something which is merely light entertainment or even drama.
One of the redeeming qualities of Independent Television, for example, has been the high level of feature production, the kind of programmes for which people like Miss Caryl Doncaster have been specially responsible. I hope that Members of the Committee saw the recent programme on "Warhead" on commercial television, which was the kind of production for which a television undertaking ought to be responsible, in the sense that it was intelligent, courageous and sensitive in the very best sense of the word.
I think that hon. Members on both sides would agree that Independent Television News has set, on the whole, a very high standard for the presentation of news to the public. Programmes of that kind, which are not light entertainment, rank with programmes like "The Hurt Mind" by the B.B.C, for which my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew) was responsible. There are, of course, other outstanding B.B.C. programmes like "Panorama" and the B.B.C. news bulletins which immediately occur to our minds.
It represents the Government in a rather curious light that they should be seeking to tax people for watching serious, instructive and enlightening programmes of that kind. We ought to remember that it is now 102 years since the House of Commons repealed the tax upon newspapers. What the Government are really seeking to do now is to 1496 recreate a tax of that kind by taxing, not merely light entertainment, but also programmes of instruction, education and enlightenment at the same time.
My right hon. and hon. Friends will await with interest to see what reply the Government give to the criticisms of many of us against this proposed television duty. I have already expressed my regret that I shall not be able to hear the whole of the discussion, but I shall hasten back as quickly as I can to hear the Government point of view. At this stage, I content myself with deploring the harsh and unsympathetic response that we have had so far from the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the various arguments that we have advanced.
§ The Chairman
I was asked to give an indication of how far it would be in order to consider local grievances such as that referred to in the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Grey), in page 4, line 35, after "Britain", insert:elsewhere than in the counties of Durham and Northumberland or in the county boroughs comprised in those counties".I think that this is a fair and correct Ruling. It will be permissible to argue that the tax on television is unfair as some parts of the country do not get the full service, but hon. Members cannot go into details of local grievances.
§ The Chairman
Yes. It refers to that type of Amendment. It can be argued that some people are not getting the service for which they are paying, but to go into local grievances would be out of order.
§ Mr. Chetwynd
Would it be in order, Sir Charles, to argue that the proceeds from the new tax should be devoted to improving the services in the local areas? Surely, that is permissible. Perhaps we may be allowed to see how far we can get with it.
§ The Chairman
I am doubtful whether that is permissible. The thing to do is to try and to see what luck one has when the time comes.
§ Mr. Grey
I accept your Ruling, Sir Charles, and as my hon. Friend the 1497 Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd) has suggested, I must wait to see how far I can keep in order. It is a question of interpreting what is a sense of grievance and what is not. The Amendment in page 4, line 35, was put down with the intention of excluding Durham and Northumberland from payment of the duty, but it was not selected. I was rather expecting that when we reached the Motion, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill", we might be able to expound this grievance.
Most of the debate on the Clause has been devoted to trying to obtain from the Chancellor of the Exchequer some relief for old-age pensioners and the disabled, and no one could have listened to my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Sir F. Messer) without being moved by the plea which he put forward for the relief of those people. As I listened to him and to other speakers I could not help but feel a certain inferiority complex about my own Amendment as being less important, but after thinking over the past twelve years and of the great injustice meted out to quite a number of people in a certain part of the country I felt more justified in seeking to speak.
It seems to me that the debate on the Finance Bill is our last resort. We have continually questioned the Postmaster-General and the Assistant Postmaster-General and they have remained wooden. We cannot get any hope from them. Even as recently as yesterday I thought that the Postmaster-General had a sense of frustration and that he expressed irritation because he could not give us a satisfactory answer. He is now on the Front Bench, and I am sure that he will advise the Financial Secretary to the Treasury of what has transpired between him and those who are interested in this problem.
What more can we do? My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Short) tried to put a Question to the Prime Minister, asking for some kind of inquiry, but that was referred again to the Postmaster-General and my hon. Friend obtained not satisfaction. The only thing that we can do is to seek some redress, and we have tried to suggest that people who live in the area where we say there is cause for complaint should not be required to pay the extra £1 on the licence.
1498 I know that it would be completely out of order if I dealt with sound broadcasting, although it must be remembered that many people have sets which combine television and wireless. There are many such people in the North-East, which is a vast area, and indeed the most important part of the United Kingdom. It is not so local as all that, Sir Robert. All those people who have television and wireless sets combined get pleasure out of their sets, provided that they can receive the right programme. Some prefer sound wireless and they receive the Northern Region programme. When they switch on they hear nothing but programmes from Northern Ireland, which might be good for the people of Northern Ireland but is of no use at all to people in the North-East. I have in my hand a copy of a full week's programme of sound broadcasting.
§ The Temporary Chairman (Sir Robert Grimston)
I cannot allow the hon. Member to discuss sound broadcasting on this Motion.
§ Mr. Edward Short (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central)
On a point of order. Although the licence that we are discussing is called a television receiving licence, it is a licence to receive sound broadcasting as well. When a person pays £4 he is to get a licence which may be called a television licence but in fact is a licence to receive both sound and television.
§ Mr. Short
The point is that it is an extra £1 on a licence which authorises the holder to receive sound and television broadcasts. The purpose for which the licence is obtained is to receive either. It may be that the £1 is added to the cost, and it is called a television duty, but the licence covers both sound and television.
§ Mr. Grey
Further to that point of order, Sir Robert, and before you reply, may I say that I am dealing now not with people who have separate television receivers and wireless sets but with persons who have these combined. They cannot say that they will take out a wireless licence and not use the television. They have to pay the full £4. I was also saying that if they want to 1499 hear the Northern Region radio programme they are disappointed if they get Northern Ireland programmes instead. However, I will not pursue that point any further.
I have made my point, that this is a source of grievance which has been felt by the people in the North-East for over twelve years. On top of that grievance I was amazed at the indignation displayed after the Budget. When I went back to the North-East the weekend afterwards, one would have thought that I was the Chancellor of the Exchequer and that I was charging the extra £1 for Television Duty.
You know what people are, Sir Robert, when they feel they have been treated shabbily. They complained that it was a double form of injustice. My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) said earlier that it was the last straw that breaks the camel's back, and I think he was right. Here there has been this one injustice for twelve years and now there is another form of injustice in having to pay the Television Duty without having an alternative programme.
Let me make myself clear. I thought that the Government were wrong in accepting the principle of I.T.V. I spoke about it on platforms. Most churches had the same objection to it as I did. However, there are some people who like it. There are some in' my constituency whom I have not been able to educate and they have said that they want an alternative programme. The B.B.C. has failed to achieve that. I do not know whether it will try to provide one. Perhaps the Postmaster-General will speak in this debate and tell us? At the moment, however, there is no alternative programme, and yet these people are asked to pay an extra £1 for something which other people have got and they have not. That is their main objection.
We have been arguing today that the old-age pensioners, the disabled, the people who have not got big incomes, should not pay the extra £1. Yet they will have to do so, and in the North-East they will do so knowing that they cannot get the same kind of service as is given to the rest of the country. We have a right to explain to the House the sense of injustice and frustration felt by the people 1500 in the North-East. They want to be treated more justly. They are tired of being treated as nitwits. They want to feel that they are an important part of society and that they are equal to anyone else. I am sure that their grievances are just as they realise that they are paying £4 for a television licence and are only getting one service whereas other people are paying £4 and getting two services.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Chetwynd
I am very glad to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Durham (Mr. Grey), who has been fighting this crusade on behalf of listeners and televiewers in the North-East for a long time without any apparent success. It seems to me that we in the North-East are the forgotten people of broadcasting and television. So few of us have the opportunity of putting our views on the media that we have to make up in the House for that failure.
I want, first, to deal with a wider aspect. I am totally opposed to the Clause standing part of the Bill, because I consider this tax an unjust burden to place on many people. For instance, if we set it against the background of the Budget we find that certain people have done extremely well in the Budget but that those who get nothing from it, those who are not paying Income Tax and who have no concessions in the Budget, are the people who suffer, for if they have a television set an extra tax of £1 is imposed upon them. The least well-off section of the community has been penalised by the Budget, whereas the more well-to-do have obtained benefits from it.
Why has the Financial Secretary proceeded in this way? Why has he made it a separate tax on television rather than adopt the more straightforward way of increasing the licence fee? If he wanted an extra £1 for the B.B.C. service, a case could be made for it, but I can see no case for increasing the national revenue by £6 million to make up for what has been given away in relief of Entertainments Duty and other reliefs. One does not follow automatically from the other. I should like an explanation why the Government have proceeded by means of a tax and not by means of an increase in the licence fee.
What is to happen to the proceeds of this extra tax? I do not know how many 1501 millions of pounds it will bring in during a year, for no one knows how many television sets there will be in the future. Clearly a considerable sum will accrue to the revenue each year.
That brings me to the problem of the North-East, where we are receiving an unsatisfactory sound broadcasting service. It seems impossible for that to be put right. We have to suffer or enjoy sharing the service with Northern Ireland; it is a marriage of convenience, or perhaps a shotgun wedding, but we should like a divorce from Northern Ireland as quickly as possible. If we cannot put Northern Ireland with Scotland or Wales, or put Scotland with Wales and have our own independent service, and if we are to have this extra burden of Northern Ireland in sound broadcasting, then I think we are entitled to ask for a better television service.
The North-East is one of the areas where it is extremely difficult to get good commercial television reception. Some people may think that there is no harm in that, but if the rest of the country can have a reasonable commercial television service when we have not even an alternative sound programme, we should have some priority in the North-East about the development of commercial television.
I understand that the B.B.C. television programme from Pontop Pike has solved one problem and that V.H.F. has solved the problems of sound broadcasting for those people who have been able to get new V.H.F. sets, but in the North-East there are many thousands of licence holders who do not possess new wireless sets and who have to make do with the old. I argue that we are entitled to demand that the proceeds of this new levy, this new impost, should be used almost entirely for improving the services available to the people in the North-East and for generally improving the broad-casting services throughout the country.
I cannot believe that there is any logic in the argument that in order to relieve the theatre and sport of Entertainments Duty it is necessary to put a tax on the home viewer. One of the main problems in past years has been to keep people at home, and television has been an excellent medium for doing that, provided that it has been used in moderation and with some wisdom. To put a tax on it may 1502 result in driving people to see pictures which they do not really want to see. That seems to be wrong, and I cannot understand why we should penalise the T.V. viewer to benefit Mr. James Arthur Rank and his associates. That is not the right kind of priority.
Is it intended that the tax should become a permanent feature of our fiscal system? It is very easy once a tax is imposed to double it in the following year when more money is wanted, and so it goes on, like Income Tax, temporary in the beginning and then becoming permanent and reaching outrageous proportions. We should like some guarantee from the Treasury that it does not look on this as a kind of perpetual tax to soak the television viewer year by year.
What form will the new licence forms take? Will they be issued in two parts, licence and duty, separated by a perforated edge, or will the two be on one document? For administration it is obviously much better to have the two on one piece, but that raises certain problems about the mechanics of the way this is to be done, about which we should be told more.
Finally, I want to stress that the Clause is bad. It is unnecessary, but if we must have it, I stake a claim with my colleagues from the North-East that the major part of the proceeds from the new duty should be used for the benefit of the people of the North-East to give them a much better service than they are now having.
§ Mr. Popplewell
I oppose the Motion, because the Clause is an additional imposition which is obviously purely for revenue purposes. It has nothing to do with television or sound broadcasting, but is an attempt by the Government to bolster their finances because they have removed entertainments tax from sport and other forms of entertainment and want compensation for the loss of revenue.
This is a very great injustice, because television is not just entertainment in the way that the other forms of entertainment which were taxed were. Television and sound broadcasting have a dual role, entertainment and education. My hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) referred to the tax which 102 years ago was removed from 1503 newspapers because in those days newspapers were educational—although today they may be classed as entertainment or sensationalism. That is a very fair comparison with the television duty, because whether we like it or not television is playing and will continue to play a very great part in educating the people.
We have recently seen a number of national and other newspapers going out of circulation for a variety of reasons. One of the most important has been the increase in newsprint costs and so forth, but another is that television has taken advertising revenue from the newspapers and, as such, is a form not of entertainment but of education, in that through I.T.V. advertisements are trying to educate the people to buying a particular brand of goods. From that point of view alone it is very wrong to approve the Clause. As was said by my hon. Friends, once this additional payment of duty—termed a "duty" in the Bill, but we all know that it is another word for additional licence—is made, there is very little likelihood of it being taken off.
§ Mr. Popplewell
The old-age pensioners, the sick and the blind, have this additional imposition put upon them, while at the other end the Chancellor very freely and gladly grants easement to the Surtax payer of £12 a week and over. But these poor, sick souls will have to pay an extra £1 per year television duty in order to assist the Chancellor to recoup the losses he has made by the entertainments tax concessions. From that point of view this is a very unjust Clause indeed, and I sincerely hope that further thought will be given to it with a view to taking it out of the Bill altogether.
I have also a particular constituency and local interest in this matter. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Durham (Mr. Grey) and other hon. Members representing the North-East Coast, I feel that the people in the North-East have a further grievance because, if they are being asked to pay £4 for a licence for television and sound radio, they are surely entitled to equal treatment with the rest of the country.
1504 For twelve years people in that area have been suffering an injustice. Possibly it is inevitable, with the difficulty of wavelengths agreed internationally, that we cannot have all the wavelengths we desire and that someone has to suffer an injustice from time to time. The teeming millions in the North-East, which is providing coal, steel and engineering products so vital to the economy of this country, while they do not desire any preferential treatment in any way, feel that after a period of twelve years, if easement cannot be given to them, they should not be asked to bear this additional burden. They feel that like other parts of the country they should have a wavelength which will entirely cover their local point of view.
We all know that this has been pressed for by North-East Members of Parliament for a considerable time. I think that the Postmaster-General, who is present, feels that we have a case because of his observations earlier this week, when he said that he had at least two interviews with the Director General, or at any rate with the B.B.C. personnel, in connection with this matter. Having gone into this twice so recently, he will probably feel that there is an injustice attaching to our particular area of the country. Therefore, if nothing can be done immediately, the Chancellor ought to come to the aid of the Postmaster-General and also the people of the North-East. If an additional wavelength cannot be allocated he ought not to ask these people to pay the increased television duty. They should receive equity of treatment with people in the rest of the country.
On the ground, first, of the general injustice to the least fortunate sections of the community—the sick, the blind the old-age pensioners and those people who look to television for some little comfort because they cannot get other entertainment—and, secondly, of the particular injustice to those people of the North-East who are constantly having to pay their full dues but are still refused the benefits enjoyed by the rest of the country, the Chancellor should accept the Amendment.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
I want to read what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said when he announced this tax to the House. He said:On the other hand, there have been many changes since the duty was introduced in 1916 1505 and, indeed, since it was last revised in 1954. Some forms of entertainment are expanding. As they expand they affect the profit of the other types. In particular, television has, in recent years, grown to be a powerful competitor with other entertainments and I have had to consider whether it is bearing a share of taxation comparable with its rivals. I have not overlooked the fact that anyone who buys a television set pays a substantial amount of Purchase Tax upon it. But there is no tax on its use comparable with the tax on the admission price to a cinema. I am satisfied that a fairer balance in the taxation of these competitive entertainments is desirable.I accordingly propose that an Excise duty of £1 should be levied on each combined television and radio licence which at present costs £3.I want you to notice those words, Sir Robert. The right hon. Gentleman himself said that this was a levy on each combined television and radio licence. In spite of the rubric to the Clause being confined to television, that was the way in which the right hon. Gentleman described the provision, until the draftsman got hold of these words, and, as usual, had to put in something which the Minister did not have in mind. The Minister went on:There will, of course, be appropriate rates for the comparatively few cases where television licences are issued at something different from the standard charge. This new duty will not, of course, apply to licences for sound reception only. The new duty will operate from 1st August and I estimate that it will yield £6¼ million in this financial year and £8 million in a full year."—[OFFCIAL REPORT, 9th April. 1957; Vol. 568, c. 989.]It seems to me that the whole excuse for this tax—the right hon. Gentleman cannot say there was any reason for it— is based upon a fallacy. No one will go to the cinema rather than pay this extra tax, and the cinema people will not get anything out of it, although the Chancellor will get £8 million a year. To argue that these two forms of entertainment are competitive and that because he is getting something out of the cinemas he must therefore get a little more from television viewers, seems to me to be a complete fallacy. This is not robbing Peter to pay Paul; this is robbing Peter to have an excuse to rob Paul as well. It seems to me that this is hardly a policy which can be justified even by a Chancellor of the Exchequer.
I represent one of the county boroughs on the North-East Coast. I do not know 1506 why the people who drafted the Amendment should talk aboutcounty boroughs comprised in those counties.The one thing about a county borough is that it is not in the county.
§ Mr. Chetwynd
My right hon. Friend will recognise that he was instrumental in stopping a non-county borough becoming a county borough.
§ Mr. Ede
We do not want "small girls" in the playground of the "big boys." The hon. Gentleman must think of a better excuse.
I have no objection to Independent Television. The only thing the B.B.C. asks me to do is to deliver obituary notices, for which it pays nothing in spite of the strain on one's conscience when one is preparing them. I had a nice set prepared for all the Members of the present Government. But when I read them over to my sister, she said, "You really cannot give any of these because the motto regarding obituary notices is de mortuis nil nisi bonum and therefore the only thing to do about obituary notices for Members of the present Government is to remain completely silent." But that would not satisfy the B.B.C. Independent Television does on occasions pay me a reasonable fee and therefore I have no objection to it.
It is not fair on my constituents that they should not have the same service as other people who are mulcted by this tax. They grumbled enough about the sound broadcasts, because if there is one place which is not like Northern Ireland it is the North-East Coast of England. There are other places which are like Northern Ireland, but certainly those two places are completely distinct, and it is a genuine grievance that they are supposed to have a common television service.
People on the North-East Coast quite rightly feel that until they get the same service which is available to other parts 1507 of the country, there should be a differential in the tax which is levied. The excuse of the Chancellor is that, because it is an entertainment, everybody should pay the same. After all, a person who goes to the cinema pays tax in proportion to the seat he gets and the comfort he enjoys at the cinema. Surely, therefore, the tax on television should have some relationship to the actual service provided. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will see the justice of this and that, if he cannot do anything at this stage, he will on Report attempt to put right this grievance.
I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that the feeling about the matter on the North-East Coast is very strong. The people there do not mind paying on the basis of fair shares, if they are getting an equal return for their money. But they have every right to protest against being asked to pay the same amount as people who are getting the full service when they get only half of it. Are the cinema tax and the television duty linked in his mind now in the way they were on the day he introduced his Budget?
It is quite clear that taxes on entertainments generally are on the way out. The only reason for not abolishing the whole of the cinema tax was, I gathered from what the right hon. Gentleman said earlier in the week, that he could not afford to give up the whole amount, at any rate this year. Let us assume that next year he finds it possible to reduce or abolish the cinema duty, will there be corresponding reduction or abolition of this extra £1?
§ Mr. Ede
I would ask my hon. Friend not to think that he can get into the mind of a Chancellor of the Exchequer a year ahead. After all, last year it was not the right hon. Gentleman opposite who promised us that all the taxes on entertainment would come under review. With the rapid changes which take place in this Government, goodness only knows what the right hon. Gentleman may be by this time next year. His conscience might take him right outside the Government altogether.
§ Mr. Ede
My hon. Friend must not get too optimistic.
I ask the right hon. Gentleman quite seriously, are these two things now linked in his mind and in the mind of the Treasury? This tax is put on because there is a tax on going to the cinema. That was the only reason that the right hon. Gentleman gave for putting it on. I believe that it was only an excuse, but he put it forward as a reason. As the cinema duty declines—I do not think anyone imagines that it is going to increase in future—or is abolished, will this extra £1 disappear?
I wish to ask a question about subsection (4) of this Clause. The Financial Secretary made two efforts at explaining it to the Committee. I should like to know exactly how it works. I pay my duty in this matter on or about 1st May. Therefore, at present I have a licence which will expire on 30th April, 1958. If I am away from home and the place is closed down for three or four months during the present year, can I give notice to the Postmaster-General that I shall not be using my apparatus, and, if necessary, will give him a certificate that it has been properly dismantled? That could be done by a great nephew of mine who would take great delight in doing it, and when I came back he would take equal delight in putting it together again. On the assumption that it would then work— a pretty rash assumption—would the period begin to run again then?
I gather that subsection (4) was designed to enable tax to be made proportionate to the use made of the apparatus. I want the right hon. Gentleman to understand that the break in the use is to be in such a form, that the Postmaster-General can have a guarantee, in whatever form he likes, that the apparatus will not be used during that period.
What happens when my licence becomes due on 1st May, 1958? Do I have to pay for only eight months in 1958–59, or can I have the fee for the four months during which I have not used the apparatus reimbursed to me at the end of the current year? I assure the hon. Gentleman that the kind of explanation that he gave merely drives one into abstruse mathematical calculations as to the way in which the matter would be adjusted.
1509 I hope my hon. Friends will go into the Lobby against the Clause. I do not believe that there was any ground for the excuse put forward by the right hon. Gentleman linking this up, in the astounding way he did, with the retention of a tax on the cinema. I can only hope that this tax will be short lived. In fact, if it is stillborn, so much the better.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Short
I support my hon. Friends the Members for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd) and Newcastle-upon-Tyne (Mr. Popplewell) in opposing this vicious imposition. It is an imposition, because television benefits most the sick, lonely and aged; in other words, the people least able to afford the additional charge.
The additional £1 is imposed on everyone, and our Amendments to provide relief have been resisted by the Chancellor. When the Government removed subsidies, they did so because they said it was unfair to pay subsidies to the rich as well as the poor. In the case of an imposition like this, it is apparently fair to apply it to the poor as well as to the rich, and so the earlier argument does not apply the other way round.
I should have hoped that there would be a little more extensive opposition to the right hon. Gentleman's proposals from my hon. Friends. I am glad that there has been some very weighty opposition to them in the last few minutes. I support what my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) has said, and I hope that my hon. Friends will not allow the imposition to go through on the nod.
As the Chancellor said in his Budget speech, it is an extra £1 on the receiving licence—a licence for receiving both sound and television. Like my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields, I represent a constituency in the North-East. I represent 55,000 people in Newcastle, the great metropolis of the North-East, the greatest county borough in the North-East. [Interruption.] Does my right hon. Friend wish to interrupt me?
§ Mr. Short
My hon. Friend will probably do that later. The people whom I represent are hard-working people. They build great ships, tractors and tanks, and they hew coal. Incidentally, they send many Labour M.P.s to the House of Commons, and that may be the reason why they get no satisfaction of their grievance. They are 55,000 of the most hard-working people in the British Isles, and I should have thought that a Government Department and a public corporation like the B.B.C. would have tried to serve them well, for of all the people in the British Isles they ought to be given a good service and value for their money.
What shall we get for the £4 for a receiving licence? I have already pointed out that it is a licence for receiving sound and television. First, we shall get the worst sound broadcasting service in the British Isles. I see the Assistant Post master-General shaking his head, but we shall be the only people in Great Britain who do not have a full regional service.I think that that is unjust. We are the only people in Great Britain—
§ Mr. Short
Scotland has a whole regional service. We have only part of a regional service. We share it with Northern Ireland. As my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields has said, we share with a region that is hundreds of miles away from us with which we have no community of interest. Very often we do not know what they are talking about. Their dialect, idiom, folk songs, mean nothing to us, and some of their programmes are quite unintelligible to us.
For years we have pressed the Postmaster-General to rectify this situation. What does he do? What did he do at Question Time this week? To say the very least, he treated the complaints of hon. Members on both sides of the House who represent, I should think, almost a million people, with disdain—almost with contempt. At least four solutions are possible and the Postmaster-General has refused seriously to consider any one of them. All he does week after week is to repeat from the Dispatch Box the silly excuses of the B.B.C, which will not do anything. It is not that it cannot do anything—as I say, there are solutions— 1511 but it will not do anything at all. That is the picture of sound broadcasting in the North-East.
What do we get for the rest of our money? Television. Nine people out of ten who have licences for television have two programmes. We in the North-East have one. Both for sound broadcasting and for television we are part of the B.B.C.'s submerged tenth. On this side of the House, we did not want I.T.V. We opposed it as hard as we could, both here and in the country. I think that I.T.V. was wrong, but it was the only way in which the Conservative Government were prepared to provide an alternative programme, and whether we like it or not it is here as that alternative, and as it is here, and as it is the best that the Government provide, I think that the people in the North-East should have it, just as have the other nine-tenths.
I do not want to take up any more time, but we who represent constituents in the North-East would not deserve their confidence if we did not protest very strongly against this raw deal. We do protest against it, we shall keep on protesting against it, and we shall keep on protesting against it whenever the rules of order of this House allow us to do so. The Assistant Postmaster-General can tell his right hon. Friend that our protest will go on rising to a crescendo which will, if he does not do something, remove him from office.
§ Mr. Willey
With everything that my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Short) has said, except with reference to Newcastle, I agree, but in view of his very justifiable strictures upon the Postmaster-General I think that I should say a word in the right hon. Gentleman's support. I think that he has been disgracefully treated today. He has been on the Front Bench, gagged. I make no protest at all about his not being in the Chamber now. I think that he has done the only thing that a Minister could honourably do when treated in this way by the mandarins of the Treasury. But at an early stage he could have helped us considerably.
I think that this is a bad Clause, first, because parts of it are incomprehensible to me, and probably to others. I heard the Financial Secretary's explanation, but the Postmaster-General, who 1512 can usually express himself with sufficient lucidity to expose the faults of his argument, was not allowed to speak. That is a pity. I hope that the Government will pay attention to what has been said earlier, and that we shall have an opportunity to study the contribution of the Financial Secretary, and that the Chancellor will indicate that we are not to complete our consideration of this Clause tonight.
That is my first reason. I do not think that we should accept this Clause when we do not really understand what parts of it do. I think that we should be open to criticism as legislators if we legislated on something which many of us cannot understand.
Secondly, the Clause is bad because it imposes avoidable hardship upon handicapped persons. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, I regret to say, disgraced himself by the flippant way in which he replied to a very good debate. He showed a complete lack of sympathy for unfortunate handicapped persons, and all he could do as regards old-age pensioners was to hold up the spectre of our grandmothers. What was particularly disgraceful was his suggestion that we are a nation of "fiddlers". That is what he was saying, and I think that he is the last person in the world who should say that.
The reputation of the British people stands high; there is not, I believe, any other people in the world which conducts its tax affairs with such integrity as we do. Yet the only answer the Chancellor could give to a well-informed, serious debate—unsupported from the Government Benches, but let that pass—was to say that advantage will be taken of our proposal by dishonest people. With a smirk and a sneer, he castigated us as dishonest. He did not answer the challenge that I put, that our proposal was not difficult to administer. He conceded that, as far as administration went, it was quite practicable. But he said, of course, that if he were to allow this concession to handicapped people or old-age pensioners, advantage would be taken of it on a wide scale, and for that reason he did not want to do it.
That answer will not do, and I hope that between now and the Report stage the Chancellor will read what he said, realise the unfortunate impression that he 1513 created upon the Committee, and think again about it. I express disappointment about it because it unfairly reflected upon the Chancellor himself. I do not think that he is nearly so bad as the impression which his contribution to our discussions would lead us to believe. I hope that, in order to save his own good name, he will see to it that before the Report stage he removes the unfortunate impression created by that contribution of his, look at the matter again very seriously, and consider whether he could not make a charitable and human concession to handicapped people, many of whom are in particular need at the present time.
§ Mr. Hale
My hon. Friend has made his point with so much lucidity and force that I venture to hope that, if he will move to report Progress, that being the normal method of preventing us from coming to a conclusion tonight on this Clause, it will give us all an opportunity of considering the implications of the events which have taken place today.
§ Mr. Willey
If you feel that that would be the proper step for me to take, Sir Robert, I will, of course, accept my hon. Friend's invitation and forthwith move, That the Chairman do report Progress and ask leave to sit again.
§ Mr. Willey
I rather anticipated that answer, Sir Robert, and I thought that I might not have quite the success which my hon. Friend seemed to expect. I rather feel that I have let him down.
§ Mr. Willey
At all events, it is a matter to which we can return. We have made out a case for consideration, and the Government have not given any indication yet of their intentions. I am optimistic enough to believe that they have no intention of obtaining this Clause tonight.
I now wish to add my support to my hon. Friends from the North-East in protesting at this unfair imposition upon the people who live in the Counties of Durham and Northumberland, including the county boroughs. I will give an illustration to show how unfair it is. When the representatives of the cinemas 1514 approached us with regard to Entertainments Duty, one of the points that they made with regard to the North-east was that they were not—and they produced facts and figures to prove it—as badly affected at the present moment as cinemas in other parts of Britain. The reason is that television viewers do not have the choice of an alternative programme. It is anticipated that if such a choice were given, there would be a falling away in cinema attendances. That, surely, demonstrates that the attractiveness of television is less in the North-East than in other parts of the country.
I do not see why the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, with the ingenuity that he showed on Clauses 3 and 4, which, I understood, had something to do with proportions, should not have worked out a formula to determine the proportion to be paid by the North-East. He must concede that we should not pay it in full. In other parts of the country, when the B.B.C. is showing something that they do not like, people can turn to commercial television, and when they find that that is equally objectionable, they can turn it off. That is obviously an advantage over people in the North-East, who can only turn their sets off. They have no alternative programme. The Financial Secretary is good at working out things of this sort. He could easily work out a formula, explain it incomprehensibly and leave it at that. Had he done that, we would have felt that our position was appreciated by the Government.
The other point is that we cannot divorce viewing from listening. I do not want to repeat the arguments and further embarrass the Assistant Postmaster-General, but he knows that the whole of the North-East Coast is seething with discontent about this. We have put up with this situation for far too long and we ought to receive at least some monetary compensation. Instead, we get the kind of reply which does the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. P. Williams) no good at all. This has become a political issue in the North-East. We are being discriminated against in every matter which arises. We have had all the trouble about the Tyne tunnel and only years of protestations have got it restored.
1515 We cannot go on being treated like this in the North-East. I should have thought that the independent Member for Sunderland, South would have been here to support me tonight. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where is he?"] I hope that there is still time for him to come and support me. This is the sort of issue which might help him. In politics, he seems to have put himself at some disadvantage, and it is on matters such as this that he could show that he has the interest of the North-East Coast at heart. He could take advantage of his independent position to come and speak for us on the North-East Coast who are suffering in this way.
The Chancellor has the opportunity to do something. I hope that before we complete our consideration of the Clause, he will say that he has given careful consideration to the pleas that have been made on behalf of the North-East Coast, that he appreciates the reason why the Postmaster-General has felt obliged to leave us, and that he will make easier the position of the Postmaster-General by announcing that before the Report stage he will work out a formula whereby we in the North-East will feel that we are receiving monetary compensation for the disadvantages that we are at present suffering.
§ Mrs. Mann
I want to protest at the outset at the imposition of the extra £1. I spoke on this matter on Second Reading and I do not want to go over the same argument again, but I have the evergrowing fear that television and broadcasting in general are the milch cow for the Government—whichever party it may be—to help to pay for the welfare services. I say "whichever Government" because I was disappointed beyond measure at hearing the Chancellor of the Exchequer, about two weeks ago, announce that he knew that the £1 would not be opposed by Opposition Members. That was something I did not know.
We are supported in this view. My hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) has shown how in his constituency the number of television sets rose from 92 to 10,000. On every one of those the Government of the day received £20 in Purchase Tax. One would have thought that as television sets multiplied and production was 1516 speeded up, the article would become cheaper, but it is not so. Television sets are dearer than when production started. The great multiple production of sets in their thousands fails to contribute towards reducing costs, and the Government have a hand in the till all the time.
It comes as a shock, in particular to working-class people who, in the main, are owners of television sets, that when a set breaks down it is just another excuse for the Chancellor to get his greedy hand into the till. He receives anything from £5 to £9 in Purchase Tax whenever a tube is replaced according to the size of the screen. It is bad enough to be in the hands of a monopoly, about which the Chancellor has done nothing at all.
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Sir Gordon Touche)
I would ask the hon. Lady to address herself to the Motion, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill".
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)
Surely my hon. Friend must appreciate that if the Chancellor is to give the poor £10,000-a-year man a rebate of £12 to £14 a week on Surtax, he must get the money somewhere. This is one means of getting it—by charging the old-age pensioners an extra £1 for the licence.
§ Mrs. Mann
I understand my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Lewis) to say that the Chancellor must get the money somewhere. I object to the right hon. Gentleman taking it from Scotland. That is why I have an Amendment on the Order Paper to provide that the extra charge of £1 shall not apply to areas not yet covered by commercial television. I object to his taking it from Scotland because Scotland is not receiving 1517 the full service that most of England receives. We have no alternative viewing programme. [HON. MEMBERS: "Lucky."] We are promised—some people would say threatened—with commercial television at the end of August, but we find that half the population of Scotland and two-thirds of the area of Scotland will be excluded from commercial television.
§ Mrs. Mann
I hear something about "Free Speech." I have not the opportunity of looking in and do not know all these programmes. I know, however, that when it comes to a matter of free speech—I hope I may have the attention of my own Front Bench—the parties in this House have done their best to stop it on the B.B.C. We know that the spokesmen on either Front Bench intervene time and again if they think a person is too popular with the rest of the country—
§ Mrs. Mann
I have tried to explain why I do not think there is much to choose between one and the other. After all, for this extra £1 we want selective viewing, and we cannot always have it, particularly when it is laid down that the only M.P.s we shall hear are those selected for the dullest of all programmes, party political broadcasts. We want to be able to turn them off and have another programme, because some of the commercial programmes are very good, just as some of the B.B.C. television programmes are very good. Then we would 1518 be getting the best value for our money. But until we in Scotland can get that free choice, I do not think the Chancellor has any right to ask us to pay an extra £1. I hope, therefore, that he will have second thoughts and exclude Scotland from this imposition.
§ Mr. William Ainsley (Durham, Northwest)
I am glad to have the opportunity of raising my voice in protest on behalf of my constituents against this tax. Mention has been made of the North-East area and its genuine grievance. As the Chancellor of the Exchequer admitted, this tax is for television and sound broadcasts, and therefore in my constituency there is a genuine double grievance. As regards sound broadcasting, we are receiving in the North-East half of the wavelength. As regards television, we receive only the B.B.C. programme in the main part of my constituency, although it is true that we are on the fringe of I.T.V.
I want to give you, Sir Gordon, an idea of my constituency. It is composed of two large rural areas on the undulating ground of the hills of Weardale. On the calm side of Pontop Pike, there is a booster station. On television receivers I have seen the B.B.C. programme fading away. These people have no hope of getting I.T.V. In the greater part of my constituency we are left with only half of the sound programme and we are able to get only one of the television programmes—and at times the reception of that programme is poor.
I want to look at the problem from a larger point of view. I regard this tax as an attack upon the social services, because television and broadcasting have become an integral part of our life today. Just as we progressed from the use of the stage coach in carrying messages to the reading of the daily newspaper, so we have progressed from the daily newspaper to the B.B.C. news, which comes to us from all parts of the world. When we think of how the world has contracted and how the problems which at one time were so far away are now very close at hand, we realise how essential it is that we in our homes should be conversant with the news which reaches us from day to day by wireless and television.
1519 In the County of Durham we used to house our old people in large buildings. They were a legacy which we had from the old Poor Law days. We have, however, evolved a scheme by which in the new housing estates we built homes and hostels for aged people. We took them there in small groups. Through the generous organisations which we have in the North-East, television sets have been given to these homes.
This comment also applies to children. We had 250 children in the Mensley Cottage Homes, but in the county we have developed arrangements whereby we take them to homes in new housing estates and, to give these children some semblance of home life, we put eight, nine or ten children with foster parents. Again, these organisations have given television sets to the foster parents in these homes.
The local authority will now be saddled with the responsibility of carrying this burden, or it may fall on the foster parents or the matrons and masters of these homes scattered throughout the County of Durham. They are to be penalised. In my opinion, therefore, this tax is an attack upon the Welfare State and the standard of living of the working class in the county. This is particularly the case when we make comparisons with the concessions given by the Chancellor in the Budget to people earning over £2,500 a year. I must therefore protest against the injustice against the workers and their standard of life which is caused by the acceptance of this Clause as part of the Bill.
Mr. Wedgwood Bean (Bristol, South-East)
I feel sure that the Committee will not believe the first thing that I say, which is that this is the first time I have ever spoken on a Finance Bill. I had a letter this morning beginning,Dear Mr. Benn.This is the first time I have written to a Member of Parliament…and I did not believe him either. It is true that I have never spoken before on a Finance Bill, and I must therefore ask the indulgence of the Committee.
My first reaction on looking at the Clause was to notice a gleam in the eyes of both the Chancellor and my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson). Both had that rather special 1520 gleam which a man responsible, or in our case hoping to be responsible, for the country's finances has when he spots a new tax. I think that before the Committee agrees to this new tax, or even reaches the point where it has to decide on it, it should think very carefully about it.
Like most hon. Members, I must declare an interest in that I have and greatly enjoy my television set, and I am one of those who believes that television is a very important force in the community. We are, of course, tonight dealing with a very large section of the public. The figures available show that about 11 per cent. of the total population are listening to radio at any one time every evening and 15 per cent. of the population are watching television at any one time.
Although I know that that shocks some people, because they think that television is undesirable, there is little doubt that this tax is not designed as a deterrent. Some taxes are intended to reduce expenditure—the taxes on alcohol and so on. This is not to reduce expenditure, and I think that we may say that what we are discussing is not a deterrent tax. My grandfather was brought up in a very strict Calvinist home on the West Coast of Scotland, and at the end of the day he would be ushered to bed with the words, "Come along, Daniel, you have had enough pleasure for one day". That was the general view, that if one had too much fun, life had gone wrong. This tax is not a punishment for fun, but undoubtedly an attempt to cash in on an expanding industry.
I am one of those who believe that the growth of television, far more than the activities of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, has produced the general changes in our entertainment pattern. Greyhound racing, although I have representations from my constituency every year, has not been as greatly affected by the tax upon it as by the growth of television. Similarly, I think that the cinema has been more badly hit by television than by Entertainments Duty. We must accept these changes, as it is undoubtedly true that television will continue to grow.
This new tax will therefore become a permanent feature. Indeed, if the tax had been described as a temporary tax, I should have been certain that it was 1521 permanent, but as it is described as a permanent tax, I must have some doubts about how long it will last. I want to talk about the financial structure on which the new Television Duty is to be imposed. If we are looking at this matter in a long-term sense, as we must, it is very important that we should examine the existing structure of the finances and see exactly how the new tax fits it. There are three elements in the television industry. There is the B.B.C. and the I.T.A., which are the two output elements, and there is the viewer himself. I want briefly to direct the attention of the Committee to each of those three elements in turn.
First, the B.B.C.; supposedly the licence revenue, which an ordinary person pays when he buys a television or radio set, is to finance the B.B.C. programmes, but a moment's examination will show, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) said, that it is not true that that money or even the majority of it, is used for that purpose. The Post Office takes £2 million a year in return for services rendered.
I have always been extremely doubtful about the basis on which those figures were assessed. The Post Office takes£2 million which it says is justified by the collection of the duty. Of course, the Post Office does not collect it. We go to post offices and buy the licences. The Post Office is not a pedlar going around collecting the duty from us. The other reasons are that the Post Office checks interference and, presumably, finances those little vans which go round deciding whether the people in this or that house have a television licence. This anti-pirate business is an important element of the functions of the Post Office.
At all events, whether this£2 million is a fair or unfair assessment, it is taken from the licence revenue and it is, of course, just as much a benefit for the I.T.A. as for the B.B.C. Anyone who has a television set on which he can receive both programmes but who watches only I.T.A.—it is conceivable—still benefits from the service of the Post Office, and therefore it is a mistake to think that the B.B.C. gets the full benefit from that.
The second element in licence revenue is the £2¾ million which the Treasury gets 1522 for no very good reason other than the fact that it thinks that there should be some yield from the licence revenue, and that is in effect the existing television duty which ran to £2¾ million, last year. That, of course, is a very high proportion, about 20 per cent, or a little under, of the total licence revenue.
Thirdly there is the Income Tax which the B.B.C. has to pay. This has always been a highly controversial point The B.B.C. has always argued that if one is in receipt of public money for public purposes and there is already a tax taken on that by the Treasury it is quite wrong to be charged Income Tax on supposed profits which are not distributed.
§ Sir Ian Fraser (Morecambe and Lonsdale)
The B.B.C. pays tax only on its earnings and not on the general licence duty, for instance, on what it receives from sales of the Radio Times.
§ Mr. Benn
At the same time, a fairly large amount of money is paid by the B.B.C. in Income Tax and, as it says, profit is scarcely the word to use when it is not distributed in the ordinary commercial sense I think that the B.B.C. has a case. It is a point which, as nobody knows better than the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser), who has had long and distinguished connection with the B.B.C., the B.B.C. has taken up constantly with the Lord Commissioners of the Treasury without success.
I am now trying to estimate the balance of the finances of this industry. One can see that out of the money which is raised from the television licenses £2 million goes to the Post Office which is really in part a subsidy for I.T.A. as well. The Treasury gets £2¾ million and there is also the Income Tax to pay.
§ Mr. Collins
I think that the position is even more serious than suggested The B.B.C. in fact also pays Income Tax on what it sets aside as capital. If it spent all its revenue it would pay no Income Tax.
§ Mr. Benn
That is perfectly correct. The difficulty is that if none of the profits can be put aside on capital account one is bound to have to pay Profits Tax on it.
1523 At any rate I hope that the Committee will not take this matter too far because I am trying essentially to draw a comparison between the B.B.C. and I.T.A. and to show exactly what is the position. When we look at the B.B.C. position we see that it makes not only a very considerable contribution to the Treasury and the Post Office but, in regard to the Post Office, is actually financing from B.B.C. licence revenue part of the work of I.T.A.
Now let us look at the second output unit, which is the I.T.A. itself. It falls into two groups. First, there is the Authority, which is in receipt of a £2 million loan—at any rate that was given under the initial legislation—to enable it to provide the capital equipment necessary to run the alternative station. That money was provided by the Treasury, as is the £100,000 a year now made available under the provision of the Television Act itself. So we find that I.T.A. is a net gainer from the Treasury whereas the B.B.C. is a net loser.
Finally, I turn to the companies themselves, and here is the origin of all the money available for commercial television. It is money made available by those companies that show the advertisements. All the companies that show advertisements are allowed to charge their advertisements against their expenditure and, therefore, get an annual tax remission from the Treasury for every £1 they spend on advertising.
We find that, in contrast to the B.B.C. —in respect of which a constant stream of money goes to the Treasury —the I.T.A. receives money coming from the Treasury. I do not want to go into the question of who really pays for advertising because I know that there is a glorious myth, shared by hon. Members opposite, that advertising money creates itself. They are always saying, in relation to our Welfare State, that we get something for nothing, and in the case of commercial television they tell us that it is a free television service, which seems to imply that the public are getting something for nothing.
This is largely an illusion, although advertisers are getting something for their money, because they get a tax remission in respect of the expenditure of 1524 every £1 of their business income. An example was the renewed activities of the petrol advertisers when rationing ended.
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Sir Gordon Touche)
The hon. Member is getting away from the Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."
§ Mr. Benn
I have in fact passed from that point now, and I shall not return to it. What I was trying to say was that we should very seriously consider the justice of asking the viewer to pay more when other sections concerned with television are getting something for nothing.
I turn now to the position of the viewer. Let us assume that he pays £60 for his television set, which is the price of a rather smaller set than would now be average. Of that sum about £20 goes in Purchase Tax. I understand that the average length of life of a set is only six years. Many cathode-ray tubes fail in a much shorter period, but six years can be taken as a fair average for the life of a television set. That means that the depreciation is about £10 a year. With the present rate of Purchase Tax on a television set this means that the person with a £60 set is already paying £3 a year in tax to the Treasury for the pleasure of watching television programmes.
Although I am not a mathematician, I want to try to break down the average cost per day to the average viewer in respect of his television set. I calculate that with the cost of the television set broken down as between purchase price and Purchase Tax, as I have indicated, a £60 set means a cost of about £7 a year—which is very roughly 4d. a day—and £5 in tax, made up of £3 in Purchase Tax, £1 paid out on behalf of the B.B.C. to the Treasury and the Post Office and the new imposition of another £1 a year.
In fact the viewer is paying £5 a year in one form or another to the Treasury 1525 as a result of the new provision. Up to now he has been paying £4 a year, and now he has to pay an extra£1. That works out at about 3d. a day, which is a very heavy tax to levy upon the ordinary television viewer. I am not saying that for the value of the programmes available that price is too high. I think that at 7d. a day the average viewer is not getting at all bad value for his money, when we consider that a television programme costs about £2,700 an hour to put on.
I would not rule out the possibility of an entertainments tax on television. What I am saying is, however, that I hope the Committee will not pass the Clause because to impose this tax, operating as it does upon this industry, financed as it is, is an absolutely lunatic thing to do, because it will be a permament tax. No doubt when I am an old man people will say of me, "He remembered a time before the television tax came into operation," just like those old people who boast that they knew the days when there was no Income Tax [Laughter.] Am I wrong about that?
§ Mr. H. Wilson
Income Tax was first introduced in 1799. It was suspended in 1815; revived by Sir Robert Peel in 1841 on a temporary basis, for a period of four or five years; Gladstone announced in 1853 that it would go in 1860; he fought the Election of 1874 on that issue, and was defeated. That is the history of the matter.
§ Mr. Benn
My hon. Friend is tempting me still further. I merely say, as a relatively young Member with a great respect for the older Members, that some of them actually look as though they do remember.
The point that this Committee has to consider, the sole point that we have to consider, is whether in the present 1526 circumstances we should impose this tax, and there are many reasons why we should not do so. Before there is further revenue from television, there must be an improvement in the services in those areas of the country where the service is bad. My right hon. and hon. Friends have referred to the North-East Coast and elsewhere and, there is a strong rumour that in another place those noble Lords who listen with earphones are really listening to Radio Luxembourg. The idea of an alternative service through the loudspeakers is one which might be considered as a way to get a better attendance. I believe that hon. Members representing constituencies where there is not good reception have a real claim for consideration.
The second thing I wish to urge is that there should be a re-examination of the financial structure of television generally. I is monstrously unfair that the B.B.C. should be subsidising the Treasury to the extent that it does and that I.T.A. should draw money from the Treasury in various ways and at the expense of the licence payers, and then advertise its programmes as being the only free television service. In those circumstances, and when one considers the way in which this tax will bear on many people in the community, I am hopeful that, while maintaining the right in principle to tax television, my right hon. Friend will indicate what i believe to be the correct course and urge the Committee not to follow the Government in the Division Lobbies tonight.
The Rev. LI. Williams
I oppose the retention of this Clause in the Bill for many reasons, some of which have been forcefully adduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn). I also feel that a strong case can be made out—as it has been this evening —for opposing this Clause because of the injustice which will be caused to many thousands of old-age pensioners, for whom this extra £1 television duty will prove iniquitous.
We have heard moving pleas on behalf of the handicapped people, and if they did not succeed in touching the hearts of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Financial Secretary, surely the second appeal made by my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) should have done so. There is 1527 another reason which I wish to bring to the notice of the Committee, and it relates to the position of Wales. Hon. Members who represent constituencies in the North-East have complained, and rightly, about the lack of service which they have received both in regard to sound and television reception. But they cannot complain at the way in which they have been allowed to state their case this evening. It has been left almost to the last before the voice of Wales is heard.
With all respect to the North-East, I believe our case is a much stronger one, because after all we are speaking not for a region but for a nation—a proud nation in which 800,000 people still speak a language which is the oldest spoken language in Europe. In recent months we have suffered an injustice in television reception in the Principality. We were receiving programmes at a good viewing hour, between six and seven at night, when our workmen had returned from their occupations, our housewives were usually free to relax for an hour or so, and children were free to participate in the pleasures of television.
That hour has been taken from us, and the only Welsh television now being received in Wales is at the very awkward time of 1 p.m. to 1.45 p.m. on a Sunday. We are very much concerned, because during that period we are having our dinner or luncheon. This is a real injustice. We also suffer from a tremendous amount of poor sound reception which occurs in those regions of Wales where the language is at its strongest. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."]
The Rev. LI. Williams
When I refer to the language being at its strongest, I refer to its strongest vantage point from the standpoint of those who love the country.
With reference to sound reception—I shall anticipate you, Sir Gordon, before you rule me out of order, the extra £1 on the licence, as was stated by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Short) and accepted by the Chair, covers both television and sound. I think your predecessor in the Chair admitted that that 1528 came into the scope of this discussion. There are areas in Wales where it is almost impossible to hear Welsh programmes distinctly at all.
The Rev. LI Williams
That is typical of the cloddish English mentality that Welsh people have to put up with. Sometimes I marvel at the strangeness of the English sense of humour. I do not think it is particularly funny to other people. It might account for the approach to small nations sometimes being particularly unpopular. We have had a sample of the reason for that unpopularity abroad.
In the evening, we have perpetual interference from some station which I believe is in East Germany, and we have a mixture of Welsh and German. German is a proper language to understand and listen to, as is Welsh, but a mixture of both is not particularly pleasant or helpful. If constituencies in the North-East harbour a sense of grievance, and it is obvious that they do, that grievance is mainly based on the fact that hitherto they have not received I.T.A. programmes.
I do not know that we in Wales are particularly concerned about that, but we believe that the Welsh form of entertainment is something worth preserving. We believe we are being deprived because of the unwillingness of the authorities— and we fear the future unwillingness of the authorities, despite this extra £1— to make it possible for us in the Principality to have more hours of television and sound broadcasting, and a more varied type of programme.
If I were allowed to decide for myself, my opposition to the extra 11 is so strong that I would force the matter to a Division, but in some cases, perhaps, we are not allowed to decide these things for ourselves.
The Rev. LI. Williams
I have always accepted the guidance of those who know best in these things I am trying to show that my opposition is not "phoney." This is not a debating point I feel deeply that Wales has not had a fair crack of the 1529 whip. It is gross injustice to impose an extra £1 charge on television viewers and wireless listeners in Wales. The Financial Secretary is a Welshman; the Economic Secretary represents Flint, West; the Assistant Postmaster-General represents a part of Liverpool, a city with more Welsh people in it than in any large town in North Wales; and the Chancellor of the Exchequer also represents a Welsh division. Surely between them they can do something about the principality in this matter.
§ Mr. Collins
As the debate has proceeded we have heard expressed a unity of interest between Scotland, the North-East of England and Wales which is likely to prove invincible. I support the pleas which have been uttered that people should not be compelled to pay for something which they do not get. My hon. Friends have put an unanswerable case.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ross-endale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) referred to one of the most important and significant things, certainly in the long-term, with regard to the Clause. It is the fact that the tax of £1 is an Excise Duty imposed on a licence. I wonder whether the Economic Secretary can quote any precedents. I cannot immediately think of any. There are no such precedents in the case of dog or gun licences.
I should like to know whether the Government's proposal creates a precedent. If so, it is a very dangerous one, particularly for the future of broadcasting and television. The most dangerous aspect is that, however much we may say that the licence fee is £3 and the Excise duty £1, the attitude of people will be that it costs them £4 for their television and wireless licence, and in return for the extra £1 they will expect something in the way of better or more varied programmes. However, it seems to me that not a penny of the extra revenue will go to the B.B.C.
In fact, the imposition may well serve as a barrier to the further improvement and expansion of the television programme. If the demand by the public results in decisions to expand the service, more revenue will be needed. What is the next step? If more revenue is needed then the cost of the licence will probably rise to £5. The Government should do all they can to make it clear that the B.B.C. will not get any more revenue as a result 1530 of the tax. Indeed, in so far as the addition may, at least temporarily, curtail the demand for licences, the B.B.C's revenue may actually fall.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) pointed out, for the next few years the B.B.C.'s income is to be 87½ per cent, of the net licence revenue; that is, the revenue from the £3 licence after deducting the 8½ to 10 per cent, which the Post Office will take for management, and after deducting the further 12½ per cent. which the Treasury will take. Therefore, the expansion which we all want to see can be paid for only out of an increased licensed revenue. Here the B.B.C. is at a disadvantage with commercial television, which is independent of the Treasury, although subsidised, and which has no limit to its income except what the advertisers are prepared to pay.
The B.B.C. is quite rightly regarded as a public service. It is expected to carry the considerable cost of developments and of what, for want of a better term, I would call public service programmes. First, there is the completion, of which we have heard so much tonight, of the coverage of the present television service. That will be extremely costly. Secondly, there is the extension of facilities for the provision of television programmes in London and the regions, the introduction and development of V.H.F. broadcasting, and the development of the full scope, variety and quality of programmes in sound and television.
In October, the B.B.C. will start a school television programme which, by 1958, will mean five programmes a week at a cost of well over £100,000. I think that that is a very necessary public service, but it is on a totally different basis from commercial television, where school programmes are being put on in order to get extra advertising in the evenings. Again, in October, the B.B.C. will be doing a televised agricultural programme. That is a very useful public service, but it bites very deep into the B.B.C.'s budget. In addition, there is the very high cost of Eurovision. All this is in the face of at least £500,000 extra cost of salaries and wages resulting from competition with commercial television, and an additional £600,000 arising from the necessity to increase television hours up to some 55 a week.
1531 That means that the B.B.C., which is not badly off at present, will be in a position of extreme difficulty. Expansion is to be stopped, there is to be great difficulty about finding the money for programmes which the public very rightly demand, and for services in various parts of the country which have been men-tioned in this debate, and which the public will expect. But, whatever we may say here, the public will believe that they are paying the extra £1 for television and are not getting anything for it.
That is why I say that this is an extremely dangerous precedent. It will place a halting hand on the development of television and broadcasting, and I think that it is a very stupid thing to do. We all know, for example, what has happened to the Road Fund. The Chancellor's predecessors have regularly raided this Fund, which was originally provided for roads, and now we have not any good roads. If television follows that example, I am afraid that we shall not have any good programmes.
I should like the Economic Secretary, if he is to reply, to say whether he has considered this aspect of the matter, and what his attitude is likely to be if some of the forecasts I have made are justified, as I think they will be, in the next twelve months or so. The B.B.C. has a capital programme of some £5 million a year, and it plans for five years ahead. Well, within the next five years, a decision will have to be taken as to whether there is to be a second television programme. Where is the money to come from for that; for it will, indeed, need more money? Will that mean another £1 on the licence? Will the public have to pay again? As regards colour television opinions vary, but it seems absolutely certain that it will come as a possibility for the public—I know we have already seen a demonstration of it here—within the next five or six years.
The step which the Chancellor has taken in imposing an Excise duty on a licence is a wrong way of going about it. If he had to have extra revenue in this way. he should have gone about it so as not to put this artificial barrier in the way of the development of sound and television broadcasting in this country. People have a right to expect that they will be permitted to enjoy these great 1532 discoveries and not be frustrated by artificial tax barriers.
The whole Committee was shocked by the Chancellor's dusty answer to the pleas which were made from this side for relief for handicapped and old people. He said, first, that the cost would be negligible, and then rode off on the excuse, which convinced no one, that the matter would be difficult to arrange, adding an insult to the whole people that, if relief were given to the elderly, everyone's television licence would be in the name of his grandmother.
Unless we get a more satisfactory answer from the Government, we shall signify the displeasure with which we have received what has already been offered to us in the proper manner in the Division Lobby.
§ Mr. Willey
On a point of order, Sir Charles. May I have your guidance? For some time now, we have been discussing television in the absence of both the Postmaster-General and the Assistant Postmaster-General. Is there any way in which we can convey to the Postmaster-General and the Assistant Postmaster-General that we do not wish to continue the discussion without their being present with us?
§ Mr. H. Wilson
Further to that point of order. It is quite unusual, I think, for the House of Commons, on a Finance Bill, to be debating any industry when the Minister responsible is not present. The point has often come up in connection, for instance, with the cotton industry; the President of the Board of Trade has always been most courteous in attending whenever he could. As it has turned out, the debate we have had on this particular Clause has, to a large extent, related to the quality and service of television broadcasting, and, although I am sure that the Financial Secretary will pass matters on to the responsible Ministers—I see one of them arriving now— it is not really good enough, if I may say so, for things merely to be passed on in that way. I welcome the arrival of the Assistant Postmaster-General, and I shall not now find it necessary, Sir Charles, to ask you to accept a Motion to report Progress.
§ Mr. Powell
I ought to put on record that, during the whole of this debate except for a minute or two, one or other of the Post Office Ministers has been present on the Front Bench; they have been here for a very much greater part of the debate than has the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson).
§ The Chairman
To start with, there was really not a point of order, and, if there had been, it rectified itself, I thought.
§ 10.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Powell
Some six weeks ago, in the Budget debate, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) said:I think we are bound to say to the right hon. Gentleman"—that is to say, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer—that we do not see anything very unfair in the proposed impost on television."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th April, 1957; Vol. 387, c. 1151.]He did go on to reserve his position in regard to old-aage pensioners, bedridden people, and so on: but on the principle he stated on behalf of the party opposite that he saw nothing very unfair in the proposed impost on television. That has not been the point of view which has been heard from the opposite side of the Committee in the course of this debate. It is true that the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) made a valiant attempt to get his right hon. Friend out of the difficulty; but the fact is that this is not the first occasion when a right hon. Gentleman opposite has found himself deserted by his troops when he recognised the Tightness of what was being done by the Government.
The fairness of this measure was clearly set out by my right hon. Friend in the Budget debate where he pointed out that television had cometo be a powerful competitor with other entertainments …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th April, 1957; Vol. 568, c. 989.]and particularly with the cinema, and that it could not be regarded as fair that of two forms of entertainment so closely comparable and competitive as the 1534 cinema and television one should bear a quite substantial duty and the other none at all.
It has been suggested several times in the debate that the new duty will be unfair to the B.B.C., in that it will be viewed as an increase of the licence fee to £4; in other words, an increase of what the viewer is paying to the B.B.C.
§ Mr. Hale
I do not want to delay the Committee—I do not want to make a speech—but the hon. Gentleman really has quoted the Chancellor somewhat incorrectly. What the Chancellor said was that some forms of entertainment are expanding and that as they expand they affect the profit of the other types. He then justified this tax by saying that, because one was expanding and the other was not, he was going to transfer the tax. Apparently, the theory was that people would sell their television sets because, of course, unless they sold their television sets they would have £1 a year less to spend on the cinema.
§ Mr. Powell
The hon. Gentleman first quoted a different point from my right hon. Friend's speech, and then he inserted an argument of his own. I was referring to my right hon. Friend's statement in column 989 of the OFFICIAL REPORT about the competitive position of these two entertainments and the unfairness of the situation in which one was subject to a duty and the other was not.
Reverting to the point of unfairness to the B.B.C., great care will be taken to keep absolutely distinct these two payments and to cause it to appear upon the face of the piece of paper which the viewer will receive that the sound and television licence fee remains as heretofore at £3 and that there is a quite separate duty of £1 imposed upon that payment. In fact, the figure "£4" will not appear in the document at all.
A good deal of the debate has been directed to the argument that, because in some areas there is bad reception of sound broadcasting and because in other areas there is an absence at present of an alternative television programme— which I notice is described in the Amendment on the paper as an area… not yet covered by commercial television1535 —therefore there ought to be some proportionate or corresponding reduction in the duty. In the first place, it would, of course, be quite impossible in collecting a duty to vary the amount according to the reception which might be expected by the person taking out the licence. One would have to endeavour to draw boundaries of regions in which different degrees of reception were obtained, in which different programmes were audible and, of course, there would be the greatest indignation and unfairness caused by the attempt to do so. But apart from this technical absurdity in the suggestion, the licence fee itself, on which the duty is imposed, is not related and never has been related either to the quality of the reception or to the programmes that are received, and it is clearly right that on a fee which is the same in all circumstances the same duty should be imposed.
After all, in levying the Entertainments Duty on admissions to the cinema one charges the same duty on a seat of the same price, whether the film is a good one or a bad one, or whether the seat is in such a position that the film can hardly be seen at all. Therefore, there is no case whatever for connecting with the amount of the duty the reception in different parts of the country or the programmes which are available in different regions.
§ Mr. Ainsley
Would the hon. Gentleman not agree that it is the responsibility of the Postmaster-General to see that where people who live in outlying districts have suitable television sets they should be provided with coverage in that area?
§ Mr. Powell
That is certainly a question for the Postmaster-General. What I have just been saying is the answer to the question asked by the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) in relation to subsections (4), (5) and (6). Under the Wireless Telegraphy Acts— and I shall refer to these three subsections of Clause 2 in order—the Postmaster-General has the right, for special reasons, to issue a licence normally issued for a year for a shorter or longer period than a year instead; he has the right, upon the surrender of an unexpired licence, to issue another licence in lieu of it; and he has the right—and this refers to the 1536 third of the three subsections—to accept the surrender of an unexpired licence and to make some reduction on it.
Those being the powers of the Postmaster-General in relation to these licences, it is clearly necessary that in levying the duty one should provide that where he exercises those powers the duty is equitably varied accordingly. What the circumstances are in which the licence fee is varied, or the issue of the licence is varied, is entirely a matter for the Postmaster-General. What I am concerned with is to ensure that where he uses his powers to vary the fee or conditions or character of the licence, the duty is equitably adjusted accordingly.
A substantial point has been made by hon. Members opposite of the criticism that to levy a duty on a television licence is in a sense to put a tax upon education in view of the educational character of many television programmes. Indeed, the hon. Member for Durham, North-West (Mr. Ainsley) went so far as to say that he regarded television as an element in the social services. That is in a sense true, but it applies equally to the competitive and comparable entertainment of the cinema. Indeed, forty-eight hours ago we were saying in this Chamber that it was difficult to deny to a great many cinema entertainments an educational character, and we were asserting that the cinema in many parts of the country performed a social function. But it has always been accepted by both sides of the Committee that admissions to the cinema were a proper subject for taxation, and the Party opposite, in the last year of its office, increased the duty on admission to the cinema by the; same amount as that by which it has now been reduced.
Therefore, whatever hon. Members opposite have said in the debate, it is generally recognised, outside as well as inside the Committee, that television viewing forms a suitable subject for the imposition of duty; that this duty, which will amount to approximately 4½d. a week, is one which will not, in fact, cause anywhere any appreciable hardship, and that it is a duty which can very properly replace the revenue remitted on sport and the theatre.
§ Mr. H. Wilson
I do not intend to detain the Committee long, but a number 1537 of substantial points have been raised in the latter stages of the debate on which, I think, something ought to be said from this bench. First of all, there has been some disposition during the debate to relate this tax to the growth of commercial television. I am bound to say that I am a little doubtful about this. I expressed the view earlier today that those who have to watch commercial television should, perhaps, be compensated for it rather than taxed for it.
There is a point about commercial television that the Committee ought to bear in mind which has a bearing on the arguments used. It is that the whole country, in fact, is paying for commercial television on a considerable scale, because, of course, the cost of some of this fantastic advertising is entering into the cost of the advertised goods which we buy. Therefore, there is some support for the argument that this is making the viewer pay twice or three times over.
It has been pointed out that the viewer is paying by his licence and by the payment of Purchase Tax. As my hon. Friend pointed out in considerable detail, the viewer is also paying on the cost of the goods which are advertised on television and he is now asked to pay on this.
I said during the Budget debate—and the Financial Secretary quoted me quite correctly—that I did not see anything very unfair in this tax though, of course, I reserved the position of old-age pensioners, bedridden persons and others who have been the subjects of debate earlier today.
I wish to deal in particular with three points that have been raised. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn), in his very persuasive and amusing speech, made a great deal of the question of Purchase Tax. A very heavy rate of Purchase Tax is involved when a television set is bought, and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Coat-bridge and Airdrie (Mrs. Mann) demonstrated with the very graphic figures which she gave, there is, of course, a further element of Purchase Tax whenever a substantial repair becomes necessary. The argument as far as that is concerned is, of course, in favour of a reduction of Purchase Tax rather than an argument on the Motion "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."
1538 While I would not even dream of getting out of order by talking about subsequent Amendments, perhaps I may point out for the benefit of my hon. Friend that the Opposition have already tabled an official Amendment on that Purchase Tax group which includes television sets.
Having said that, two substantial points remain. Both points have been made many times both in this debate and in debates on earlier Amendments dealt with by the Committee. The first is one on which all of us on this side of the Committee feel extremely strongly. It is the question of old-age pensioners, disabled persons, bedridden persons, the deaf and dumb and the particular interest of blind persons even in television.
We have voted on that question today. We gave the Government notice the day after the Chancellor announced his Budget that we were going to pursue the point. It is a matter of regret to all on this side of the Committee that the vote today went the way it did, and I must inform the Committee that we shall pursue the matter further at later stages of the Bill. We strongly urged this afternoon that there should be a special exemption for the groups that featured in the various Amendments moved by my hon. Friend and which, unfortunately, were voted on without success.
The second substantial point which has been made by hon. Members from many parts of the country is that there are certain areas which do not get either very good reception or very good programmes, or the substantial point that certain areas have no alternative programme. It has been suggested by hon. Members on behalf of the North-East Coast, Scotland and Wales—and to some extent other areas are affected, too—that it is unfair to impose a tax on those areas when they are not getting adequate service in return for the licence fee which they already pay.
I think the whole Committee will understand the feelings of my hon. Friends who have made this point, which is a substantial point. It was a matter of regret to hon. Members in all parts of the Committee, Sir Charles, that you did not feel able to select for debate the Amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member 1539 for Coatbridge and Airdrie, because that was specifically directed to this point. There was an Amendment down in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Durham (Mr. Grey) and others, although unfortunately that was confined to two geographical counties and the boroughs within those counties and it would not have satisfied my hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie or hon. Members from Welsh constituencies; whereas the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie would have dealt specifically with the grievance which has been raised on behalf of all these areas during the debate on this Question.
I cannot ask you your reason for not selecting that Amendment, Sir Charles, and if I asked you would not reply, because it is always understood that no reply need or can be given to such a question.
§ The Chairman
I should not, of course, give the reason, but if hon. Members put down Amendments after I have had my conference, it makes it very difficult for me to deal with them.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
I accept that without hesitation, Sir Charles, but, with great respect, we have our Parliamentary rights if we have a grievance. There is a logical step to take in respect of that grievance.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
If I did that it could not take effect until next week. There is action which we could take tonight without implicating you at all, Sir Charles. If the grievances are legitimate, we have our Parliamentary rights to take them to the logical conclusion. Is not that so?
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
I accept that, and I have proved over a long period that I accept Rulings, but there are two Division Lobbies.
§ Mr. Wilson
It is not often that I find myself in disagreement with my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent. 1540 South (Mr. Ellis Smith), but if the step which he has in mind for dealing with the fact that you did not select the Amendment, Sir Charles, is to propose that you do leave the Chair forthwith, I should be glad to join him in it, as I am sure you would, because we remember the previous experience when you were moved out of the Chair on a Finance Bill, with disastrous results for the Bill. Nothing would give greater satisfaction to the Committee than that you should be moved out of the Chair and that the Bill should fall.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
On a point of order. We could use our Parliamentary rights to ask your permission, Sir Charles, to move, That the Question be now put.
§ Mr. Wilson
The Question would have been put but for the points of order of my hon. Friend. I was saying—and I say to my hon. Friend in order that he can decide how to exercise his Parliamentary rights—that it was a matter of regret to many of us that the Amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie was not selected. I had reason to think, and you have confirmed, Sir Charles, that that was because it had been put on the Order Paper rather late.
However, as I have already said, it will certainly be the desire of the Opposition to press the point further in the appropriate way, and the appropriate way is to ensure that my hon. Friend's Amendment is tabled again on Report, when we shall press very strongly that it be selected on that occasion and when it will have been tabled in plenty of time.
That, I suggest, is the way to deal with the very strong grievance of my hon. Friends from the North-East Coast, Wales, Scotland and elsewhere. Not having had an opportunity to deal with the specific problem today, I hope that we shall have an opportunity to deal with it on Report. If that is done, I think that there is no case for now dividing the Committee on this Motion.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.