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Volume 148: debated on Tuesday 8 November 1921

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State Expenditure


asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether, with a view to lessening the burden to the tax- payer during the present trade and business depression, he will consider the desirability of spreading the total expenditure on unemployment, voted in the Supplementary Estimates during this Session, over a period of five to ten years, raising a special short-term loan for this purpose?

No, Sir. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer thinks it is essential that we should meet current expenditure out of current revenue.

Income Tax Summonses


asked the Financial Secretary to the Treasury whether his attention has been drawn to the large number of people who are out of employment and are being summoned for the non-payment of Income Tax; and whether, in view of the great distress that exists throughout the country and the inability to pay the tax through unemployment, he will issue instructions that every latitude be given before summonses are issued, and so prevent this additional cost to the taxpayer?

The hon. Member is, I think, under a misapprehension. The number of cases in which persons, who are in fact unemployed, are summoned for the non-payment of Income Tax, is relatively very small. Such cases, when they do arise, are due to the difficulty experienced by the local officials in ascertaining the individual taxpayer's circumstances and to his failure to intimate the fact of his unemployment. Under standing instructions, taxpayers who are known to be out of employment, and, in consequence, unable to pay arrears of Income Tax due from them, are not summoned.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that many have been summoned, and that the cost of the summons has been added to the Income Tax? That is the position.

I think, if the hon. Gentleman will look at the answer I have just given, he will see that the circumstances are explained, and he will find that it is probably not the fault of the Inland Revenue.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that in the Ogmore Division a number of men have been proceeded against who were out of employment last March and have not resumed work; that the local Revenue officials were fully cognisant of the local circumstances; and will he take steps to prevent a repetition of that kind of thing?

I have already stated that to the best of my information and belief, where it is known that the men are out of work, they are not summoned. If the hon. Member knows of cases in which he believes that that rule has been broken, I shall be very glad if he will draw my attention to them.

Farm Labour, Kincardineshire


asked the Minister of Labour whether he is aware that at the Stonehaven (Kincardineshire) Employment Exchange men are being compelled to accept employment with farmers for a wage of 6d. an hour or lose their unemployment benefit; that a number of men who refused to take the work have had their benefit stopped; and whether, in view of the fact that 6d. an hour is only about half the standard rate for general labourers, he will have inquiries made into this matter without delay?

I am making inquiry, and will communicate the result to my hon. Friend.

National Expenditure (Treasury Circular)


asked the Financial Secretary to the Treasury whether he is now in a position to make a statement as to the results of the Treasury Circular of 13th May last and the reductions promised in reply?

I beg to refer to my reply to the hon. Member for the Harrow Division (Mr. Mosley) on the 1st instant.

Does that mean the House of Commons will have no statement whatever about the results of this Circular?

If the hon. and gallant Gentleman refers to the reply, he will see that I have referred to the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer that he hopes to deal with these matters on the Consolidated Fund Bill.

Cotton Trade (Capital)


asked the President of the Board of Trade the approximate amount of capital engaged in the cotton industry in this country in August, 1914, and at the present time, the price. of American and Egyptian cotton on 30th July, 1914, and 30th July, 1920, and the rate of wages prevailing in the industry on 30th July, 1914, and 30th July, 1920, respectively?

I regret that I am not in a position to furnish the information asked for in the first part of the question. The official quotations for middling American cotton and Fully Good Fair Egyptian, Sakellaridis, were, on 30th July, 1914, 6 86d. and 10·10d. per lb. respectively, and on 30th July, 1920, 26'15d. and 67d. per lb. respectively. It is not possible to give statistical information regarding wages in the form suggested in the question, owing to the great variety of rates involved, but I am informed that the increase in wages during the period specified has been estimated at somewhat over 170 per cent.

Hms "Bittern"


asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty, with reference to the question to him of 14th April last regarding the judgment in the action at the instance of the Admiralty and others against the owners of the ss. "Clan Sutherland," and the reply thereto, whether, seeing that no steps were taken by the Admiralty to rebut the charges of looting against the crew of H.M.S. "Bittern," although evidence was available, and in order to satisfy the desire of the relatives of members of the crew of the "Bittern" who lost their lives when the "Bittern" was sunk on 4th April, 1918, who resent the imputation of guilt which attaches to the memory of those men, the Admiralty will now institute a special inquiry into the charge of looting against the crew of the "Bittern," with a view of removing from the crew as a whole the stigma which, on account of the judgment referred to, attaches to each member of the crew, whether innocent or guilty?

The answer is in the negative. I repeat that the service records of "Bittern's" crew were not in any way affected by the allegations which were made at the trial.

Service Institutes


asked the Financial Secretary to the War Office whether he is aware that the Navy, Army, and Air Force institutes import all their stores into Iraq free of duty, and sell them to the troops in competition with British firms which have to pay import duty; if so, whether he will state on what grounds this preferential subsidy is given to the Navy, Army, and Air Force institutes; and whether it is intended to give a similar preferential subsidy to the Navy, Army, and Air Force institutes in England?

As the Noble Lord is aware, the Navy, Army and Air Force institutes provide the troops in Iraq and elsewhere with the institute amenities which are essential to their well-being. To enable the same amenities to be provided throughout Iraq as are provided at home and in other theatres, Navy, Army and Air Force institute stores are admitted free of duty on the condition that sales in institutes are restricted to members of the actual garrison. The conditions of sales in Army institutes and of trading carried out by local firms are so dissimilar as to render comparison impossible. The reply to the latter part of the Noble Lord's question is in the negative.

Is not this a clear case of trading being State subsidised at the expense of the taxpayer?

Motor Traffic (Identification Licences)


asked the Home Secretary whether he is aware that the Staffordshire police have in recent weeks prosecuted many of the largest motor manufacturers in the country for alleged offences in relation to the use of general identification licences; and whether, having regard to the heavy expense incurred in defending these summonses, many of which have been dismissed, and the unjustifiable waste of money which would be involved by any attempt to comply with the view of the regulations taken by the Staffordshire police, he will give such instructions as will at once stop this interference with a large industry?

I have made inquiries and I find that the Staffordshire police, having been asked by the Ministry of Transport to take steps to stop the improper use of general identification marks, have prosecuted in a number of cases where there was primâa facie evidence of a breach of the regulations. There have been a few dismissals, but it would not be reasonable to expect the police to be able to obtain a conviction in every case. I do not find any ground for intervention on my part.

Why is it necessary for the Staffordshire police to be asked to take special action?

Members' Speeches (Time Ecorders)

I desire to ask you, Mr. Speaker, in view of the fact that the First Commissioner of Works has expressed his willingness to place time recorders for speeches on each side of the House so as not to interfere with the architectural lines of the Chamber, provided that the scheme commands the approval of the House, whether you, Sir, will indicate the best course to be pursued? [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!" and "Hear, hear!"]

Judging from the attitude of the House at the moment, and from communications that I have received, it is clear that there are two opinions on this matter. The proper procedure, then, will be for the hon. and gallant Member to raise the question on the Houses of Parliament Vote when it comes up next Session. There will then be an opportunity of obtaining an expression of the opinion of the House. Without that I am sure neither the First Commissioner nor myself would be prepared to take action. I think the hon. and gallant Member had better follow the course I suggest.

May I ask the Leader of the House whether he will be good enough to bring on the Houses of Parliament Vote at an earlier period next Session? [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"]