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New Clause—(Deduction In Respect Of Daughter Acting As Housekeper To Widower)

Volume 155: debated on Wednesday 21 June 1922

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

If the claimant proves that he is a widower and that a daughter over sixteen years of age gives her full time to the duties of housekeeper, he shall, subject to the other provisions of Section nineteen, Sub-section (1), of the Finance Act, 1920, be entitled to a deduction of ninety pounds in respect of that daughter.—[Mr. Holmes.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

The object of the Clause is to provide that where a man is a widower and finds himself compelled to arrange for a daughter to become housekeeper to the family, he shall still be able to have the same allowance as if he were a married man. It is not an infrequent case, and it creates a great amount of feeling where a daughter who has been earning money and bringing it into the home is taken away front her work and brought into the home to act as housekeeper. The man finds that not merely does he lose the daughter's contribution to the family purse, but that his allowance, from the Income Tax point of view, is only £135 instead of £225 a year. This is the third year I have had the privilege of moving this new Clause on the Finance Bill. I have looked up last year's Debate, and I find that the only reason, apparently, which the Financial Secretary to the Treasury could put forward then against this, apart possibly from the money point of view, which must be very small, was this. He said:
"What reason of solid substance is there for giving this to a widower, rather than to a bachelor?"
The reason of solid substance is that the bachelor has not got a daughter. I am sure that will appeal to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will tell us he is prepared at last, after long pondering over this matter, to agree to this concession.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer is a man with very delicate feelings. Apart from kindly levity, I should like to say a word in answer to a comment upon the last Amendment that was made by the Noble Lord the Member for Hitchin (Lord R. Cecil). He asked me why, in dealing with the general question, I did not explain the principle upon which the code under the 1920 Act was founded. Possibly I did not do so because I was a little tired at the time. The answer is that the Code under the 1920 Act is taken, with infinitesimal variations, from the Report of the Royal Commission on Income Tax. They considered a Code, and they advised, having heard a great deal of evidence, what, on the whole, were the cases in which allowances should be granted, and where a line should be drawn. I cannot remember whether or not the Section of the Act to which the last Amendment referred was included in that Code or was an addition to it, but that is really the basic principle, so far as you can say that in this matter there is a principle at all. I agree with the Noble Lord that it is very difficult to see a real principle in the list of exceptional allowances which are granted by the Code. I am afraid that again, with real sympathy for the particular case that has been mentioned in the Amendment now before the Committee—because it is obviously a case that is entitled to the kind 0 sympathy one can give in dealing with taxation—we cannot go beyond the Code of the 1920 Act, based upon the Report of the Royal Commission.

I support the Amendment. We are now dealing with what I consider is a really important Clause, which concerns the family. We have been dealing previously with great financial interests and in some cases both the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Solicitor-General have either given way openly or promised to look into the questions raised between now and the Report stage. Those cases are of far less importance than this. From the purely working-class standpoint it does not matter much to us now, because wages are so low, but there are people who pay this lower Income Tax to whom it is a very important matter. The Government seem to assume that if the mother is dead and the children are over 16 years of age, there is no necessity for keeping the home together. They seem to assume that the father should go into lodgings and that the children should be sent into lodgings. Is that a fair and reasonable assumption? There may be two or three sons at home, working. The home ought to he kept together. Even if the children are married they like somewhere to go. I fail to see why in a case of this sort the whole amount of £225 should not be allowed, as in the case of a married man. One cannot sit in this House without feeling that we are up against class legislation. Those hon. Members who have been promised that their cases should be looked into went into the I obby against us last time, and I suppose they will be against us this time.

This subject is one on which there is some considerable local feeling. A man does feel that if he is definitely dispensing with the small earnings that his daughter might make, in order to keep her at home and keep the home together for his younger children, he shall be entitled to some little remission of Income Tax. Being a widower, and things being very difficult for him, he has, nevertheless, kept his daughter at home to make and keep a home for the younger children, and he feels that he ought to have some consideration. The case is strong. I realise that the Government have to harden their hearts and turn it down, and I suppose we shall have to wait until some little sentiment and consideration gets into the mind of the Government of the day in regard to this very important matter.

I hope we shall have a different statement from the Chancellor of the Exchequer than we have had from the Solicitor-General. The Solicitor- General said the Government had a lot of sympathy for some of the new Clauses. In this case we are not asking for sympathy so much as justice. We claim that this concession ought to be granted on the ground of equity and justice. One small number of people involved in this new Clause are bearing their full share of the taxation of the country. They have contributed more than their fair share to the service of the community, and all that they ask in return is that they shall be treated in the same way as other sections of the community.

11.0 p.m.

It is one of these matters that have caused an amount of feeling far beyond the sum of money involved. In 1919 I had the privilege of moving an Amendment similar to this, and the relief was granted for a year, but it was withdrawn the following year, for what reason I do not know. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer cannot see his way to accept this Clause now, he should at least give to it the same consideration that he has already given to Amendments moved from the other side. If between this and the Report stage he will make full inquiry, he will find that the position is as I have described. The proposal is simply a matter of justice. If all such proposals from this side are to be turned down, then we can come to no other conclusion than that questions which we have been discussing for the last three nights are dealt with from the point of view of class legislation. I hope that. that impression is not going to be created, but that impression will he formed if the appeals which we make continue to meet with treatment such as that which they have been receiving. We should have some statement from the Chancellor of the Exchequer that he will consider this small measure of justice.

I readily rise in response to the appeal of my right hon. Friend. I am sure that he would not deliberately take the view that I have treated any one section of the Committee differently from any other in these matters of finance. It is always my object to put my views without fear or favour. I would suggest to my right hon. Friend that the matters to which he has referred, which were brought forward by other hon. Members, related to questions which were entirely novel in connection with our finance, as to which the point of view that might be taken was subject to correction by other suggestions that might be made. The question now before the Committee is not a novel one, and while I am ready to agree to give this matter further consideration, I should like to remind the right hon. Gentleman exactly where we stand. It is true that in the year 1919, in response to a suggestion of my right hon. Friend, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer did include in his Finance Bill of that year a proposal similar to that which is now on the Paper. But in the year 1920 the Royal Commission on the Income Tax reported. That document is really a compendium of the point of view of a very skilled Committee, which investigated almost every possible case which could be brought before it. The Report is a mosiac, where all the parts fit into each other. If you begin to alter the allowances which are given in one case or another, you necessarily alter the balance of the whole fabric. Therefore, it is right that we should, for some period at least, allow the scheme of the Royal Commission to operate, so that we may then form our view as to whether any better system can be devised. It would be a very bad principle to take away particular pieces of that mosaic, because you would undoubtedly upset the relation of all the various interests to each other and make the system lop-sided. One of the things that the Royal Commission suggested was adopted in the Finance Act of 1920. The Report stated:

"We have been asked to recommend allowances for expenses arising out of illness or disability, such as the travelling expenses of attendants of disabled persons; or to give compassionate rebate to persons who are compelled to maintain and pay personal attendants; or special relief to disabled persons in view of their decreased earning capacity. These claims, while differing in degree, all arise out of the personal or domestic circumstances of the taxpayer, and although we are conscious that in particular cases the operation of the general rule may result in individual hardship, we feel that we cannot advise any general relaxation of the principles on which the tax is levied."
That really is a statement of the general system upon which the Royal Commission reported. They realised that, whatever scheme you adopt, you have cases of individual hardship. That, of necessity, follows. Nevertheless, unless you are going to act, not on a system of principle, but on a sporadic scheme of trying to suit every possible case, which in the end would prove impracticable, you must adhere to the principle which you lay down at the start. In connection with the case now before the Committee, it is different from what the previous Chancellor of the Exchequer agreed to. They said that only in circumstances in which an attendant was required to look after children should a widower be entitled to an allowance, and they recommended in such circumstances that he should be entitled to an allowance of £45 in respect of a daughter who remained in the house to look after young children. The result of the Amendment would be this: that a widower who has a daughter kept at home in order to look after young children has an allowance of only £45 in respect of that daughter, and that a widower with no children of youthful age, keeping a daughter at home in order to look after him, perhaps, or himself and grown-up sons, would be entitled to an allowance of £90.

At the present time, an allowance is granted in respect of a widower who keeps a daughter at home in order to look after the children. The Amendment would allow a widower who had no young children at all to keep a daughter at home in order to look after himself. In the case of the widower who keeps a daughter to look after young children an allowance of £45 is given. According to the Amendment, if he keeps a daughter at home, to look after himself only, he is to have an allowance of £90. In any case, the suggestion made is that there should be some change upon a deliberate report of the Royal Commission, arrived at after due consideration of all the circumstances and with the knowledge that the House of Commons had not very long previously considered that it would be appropriate to give this allowance. The Royal Commission took a different view from that taken by the House on that occasion. We have followed the views of the Royal Commission in setting down the cases in which allowances should be granted. I say deliberately to the Committee, if we begin to make changes in individual instances we cannot allow the principles upon which they proceeded to remain in force as regards other cases. Further, this would mean an enormous addition to the costs of the country. This particular alteration would involve an increase of £140,000 in the expenses of the year. As the Committee knows, there are many other Amendments of a similar nature on the Paper, and if this Amendment is to be granted, they are equally justified. There is no discrimination to be drawn between them, and if all these Amendments were to be passed it would involve the country in an increased expenditure of something between £20,000,000 and £25,000,000.

I thank my hon. Friend. It would mean a decrease in revenue to that amount. That will give the Committee some indication of the effect which would be produced by beginning co cut in upon the well-designed and well conceived system which was issued to the country by a Royal Commission embracing Members of all parties. That Commission considered seriously the formation of a general scheme which would be satisfactory in itself and, at the same time, have its various parts properly related. In these circumstances, beg the Committee not to ask me to accede to the Amendment.

I merely desire to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether we can hope, from what he said recently, that he will consider between now and the Report stage the possibility of introducing an Amendment which will make the allowance of £45 in the case of the widower covered by this new Clause?

I have not refused to consider it. I have promised I will consider it, but I thought it right that I should put before the Committee the views which at present very strongly impress my mind.

This is the first time I have risen in these Budget Debates, but I feel so keenly on this matter that want to make one or two observations. One has had to deal with widowers who have had daughters and who have complained very bitterly that they have had no allowances in these days. It seems to me rather inconsistent on the part of my right hon. Friend, because, if the daughter is under 16 years of age, the father is able to get some allowance for her, but as soon as she has turned 16 years of age there is no allowance at all for her. Therefore the father would be in a better position so long as the girl remained under 16. One is rather surprised to hear the right hon. Gentleman speak so glowingly in favour of a Royal Commission. One remembers other Royal Commissions that have reported, and I happen to have been one on several occasions who met the right hon. Gentleman, along with the Prime Minister, at Downing Street on some of these Royal Commissions, but they were not prepared on those occasions to put into operation the recommendations of the Royal Commission, because it did not suit their purpose at the time, but on this occasion it seems to suit their purpose, and I am strongly of the opinion that this is a case, although he has not told us that he is willing to consider this matter favourably, where something ought to be done. If nothing is done in the case, I shall certainly come to the conclusion that it is class legislation pure and simple.

If I am right in my reading of the proposed Clause the provision would extend to cases of quite wealthy people who have their daughters at home and who would call them housekeepers, and who could very easily substailtiate the claim, and I think it is well for the Committee to have this fact in view, that there would be quite a number of these cases, because hitherto the Debate has rested almost entirely upon the hardship of the cases of a certain number of very poor people. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer is proposing to consider any provisions such as that proposed, I think, at any rate, he ought to have a limit, so that the concession, if made, should be given to meet the hard cases only and not to apply indiscriminately to all ranks of society.

I may have come to this House with a certain bias. I have frequently heard and read the phrase "class legislation," and having had the experience of the last few days, one cannot but be impressed that there has been a certain amount of truth in the statements I have heard and read, that you do come across this bias in favour of a class. We may be charged with the same bias, that we are in favour of the class we come from. Naturally we stand for that class. We belong to the class that feels acutely these injustices which are being heaped upon them. Last night we were discussing the advisability of the remission of taxation for those who are well able to bear the burden of taxation. Pleasure grounds must be exempted from taxation. The poor people, who find it hard to maintain a home together, plead for a little consideration, but we are told of the danger of taking one of the pebbles out of the mosaic, and so upsetting the beauty of the whole scheme. I would have preferred a more open discussion on this to voting without giving voice. We would have liked a little more practical sympathy for some of the hardest cases. We ask for more sympathetic consideration in the true sense of the word for the proposals made on this side. We did hope the Chancellor of the Exchequer would have given a promise that this should have the favourable consideration it deserves.

I hope my hon. Friend who moved this new Clause will not push the matter to a Division. [HON. MEMBERS: "Divide!"] The Chancellor of the Exchequer has already promised that he will give consideration to this question on the Report stage. He has undoubtedly gone into the matter on a very wide basis since be made the promise, and I think if, between, now and Report, he goes into it even from the point of view of the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Income Tax, he will find that there is a great deal to be said for the case of the parties included in this new Clause. If be is prepared to go into this question between now and the Report stage, I am prepared to discuss it with him from that point of view, if he will give me the opportunity. Consequently, I hope that the hon. Member in charge of the new Clause will leave the matter open till the Report stage.

If the Chancellor of the Exchequer is going to review this matter between now and the Report stage, I shall gladly ask leave for the proposed Clause to be withdrawn. But he started by saying that though he would give the matter reconsideration he could not do anything. If the right hon. Gentleman will say that he will reconsider it I will ask leave to withdraw.

I gave the Committee reasons for my attitude, and said I was impressed by the case made. I am still impressed. I shall be glad to reconsider the matter and to talk it over with the right hon. Gentleman as he suggested.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.