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New Clause—(Cesser Of Charge Of Pur Chase Tax In Respect Of Motor Cars For Use By Registered Medical Practitioners And By Veterinary Surgeons)

Volume 416: debated on Thursday 29 November 1945

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In the third column of the Seventh Schedule to the Finance (No. 2) Act, 1940, immediately after the entry relating to ambulances, invalid carriages and perambulators, there shall be inserted the words.—

" motor cars for use by registered medical practitioners or by veterinary surgeons in their professional duties."— [ Major Tufton Beamish.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

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

I hope that all sides of the Committee will agree that this is a simple, clear, straightforward and—I hope hon. Members will agree to this—desirable proposal. I would like briefly to explain the history of how I came to put this Clause on the Paper. It is a short history which filled me with gloom and I would like to pass on a little of that gloom to hon. Members on both sides of the Committee. I wrote some three months ago to the Minister of Health, asking him to support me in this matter. After some throe orfour weeks 1 had a reply to the effect that I could not have his support and that, indeed. I had been misinformed. This answer went on to say that doctors were not being unfairly treated in this matter. I submit that that statement bears no relation to the facts. I wrote then to the Minister of War Transport, to whom this baby had been passed, and, after a further considerable delay, I was told that there were many administrative difficulties in the way of bringing in such an amendment. The next thing I did was to put down a question to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I asked him some time early in November whether he would arrange for medical practitioners to buy motor cars free of Purchase Tax for their professional duties. He replied:
"No, Sir. All motor cars sold in this country are subject to purchase tax regardless of user."
I asked him whether he could give the House any good reason why a doctor who required a car for use in his work should pay Purchase Tax, whereas a trader who required a van for the delivery of groceries did not have to pay this tax. The right hon. Gentleman, looking, I thought somewhat groggy, uncurled himself and said:
"A private car is clearly defined."
I would not argue with that statement, the right hon. Gentleman wenton:
"It would, administratively, be very difficult, and I would not advise the House to attempt it, to remit the tax on certain classes of user. Administratively it is very troublesome. "— [OFFICAL REPORT, 6th NOVEMBER,1945;Vol.415,C.1088]
I feel that these administrative difficulties are being very much exaggerated and I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman.that if he lacks the courage to face these difficulties he could re-read "Let us Face the Future," which provided him with such courage when he was bringing in the Measure to nationalise the Bank of England.

Next in this short history, I asked the same right hon. Gentleman:
"What administrative difficulties prevent the removal of the Purchase Tax on motor cars when used by qualified medical practitioners in their professional duties? "
He replied:
"This tax is charged at the wholesale stage when the ultimate purchaser is unknown."
What if it is? Surely it would not be insuperably difficult to remit the tax to those doctors if they had bought cars subject to Purchase Tax. The right hon. Gentleman went on:
"Nor could the use of a tax-free car be limited to professional duties."
I entirely agree. In fact, it is obvious that if doctors did buy these cars they would use them for pleasure.Doctors have little enough leisure, as I am sure hon. Members on both sides of the Committee will agree. Surely we could not grudge them, in all conscience, what little petrol is available to them if they did use their cars in their very small leisure hours.

Finally, the right hon. Gentleman, in his reply to me, said:
"If special exemption were given to doctors, others would claim it too, and no reasonable limit could be set to this concession. "— OFFICIAL REPORT, l0th November, 1945; Vol. 416, C. 228.]
Admittedly the right hon. Gentleman is on fairly good ground. It might fairly be argued that district nurses, midwives, or even Members of Parliament, should be allowed to buy cars free of Purchase Tax. In fact, I think they should. If that is desirable, the Government should bring that in too, but I am only concerned at the moment with doctors and vets. Admittedly we have to stop somewhere. We have stopped somewhere already, and I cannot see why we should not stop somewhere else. I cannot sec that that is a very valid argument, after all. I cannot see what would be the good of a grocer delivering a vanload of vegetables to, say, Mr. Snooks if when he arrived he found that Mr. Snooks had passed out in the night for lack of medical attention because the doctor who would have attended him felt unable to afford the very high Purchase Tax required for a new car. The same argument might be applied to vets.

I would like to make another rather important point. Doctors are being demobilised—I am afraid all too slowly from the Forces and they have a very great deal of work to do, much more work than they have ever had to do before. Let me give the Committee a.few figures. In the Army, 2.57 doctors are available for every L000 men. In the Air Force, there are 2.27 for every 1000 men. In civilian life there is only.74 of a doctor, whatever that may be, per L000. Put in more simple terms, it means that there is one doctor to approximately 1,30o or 1,40o in civilian life. That is proof, if proof were needed, that there is a great deal of ground to be covered and that a car is indispensable to a doctor.

How many people would be affected by the proposed new Clause? I would not hazard a guess, beyond saying that perhaps 200 or 300doctors might want to buy a new car, or 500, or even a thousand. The loss to the Treasury would be infinitesimal. We are not to be fobbed off here with any argument about balance or ceiling. Those might be sound arguments when applied to very big figures like those we have been talking of during the last few days. It might be argued that doctors who bought these cars might resell them at a considerable profit, as we know that there is a very big price for second-hand cars. That is not a valid argument at all, because I know that these cars can only be bought subject to very stringent conditions of resale. A further question might be, How are we to ensure that only practising doctors, "registered" as I have deliberately called them, would be allowed to buy these cars, if this taxrelief were afforded? It would be a perfectly simple thing to do, because we have county medical, comittees whose advice in these matters could always be taken. The same would apply to veterinary surgeons.

It will he no comfort to doctors or vets who wish to buy these cars to be told that relief may be afforded next April. They are coming out of the Forces now, and have been doing so for months past. If this is a desirable proposal I very much hope that the Chancellor will accept it. Administrative difficulties, if there are such—and there must be some—could surely be overcome. I hope, at any rate, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will tell us exactly what those difficulties really are, and, if this is a proposal which hon. Members on both sides of the Committee agree is desirable, that it will be accepted.

In conclusion, I would like to say that me "mandate" argument that we have heard all too often when Measures have come before us in the past, is getting very threadbare now. I am not suggesting that it is going to be produced now, over a very small matter like this, but that is not an argument against the introduction of a little badly-needed commonsense into the whole question of the Purchase Tax. Is this new Clause desirable? I hopehon. Members will agree that it is definitely desirable. Secondly, can we afford it? I think nobody will deny that we can easily afford it and that the loss to the Exchequer would be infinitesimal. Is it timely? That question has been asked about many of these things. It is certainly timely, if we are agreed that it is desirable. I do not think anyone would disagree with that point.

:I hope the Committee will agree to give a Second Reading to the Clause standing in my name.

:I would ask the Committee to reject the Clause because, as drafted, it is completely unworkable. The suggestion here is that motor cars, if used by registered medical practitioners or veterinary surgeons in their professional duties, should not be subject to Purchase Tax. That means quite definitely that if a doctor wants to go anywhere otherwise than on a professional visit he must either have two cars, or walk. No one is going to tell me that it is likely to appeal to a doctor that he must keep two cars, one for his professional duties not subject to tax and the other upon which he has paid Purchase Tax and which he uses for pleasure visits.

The trouble with the Purchase Tax is the same trouble which the Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer encountered who imposed this tax, and who refused claims of a similar kind in the years that followed. The same difficult exists today that existed then, namely that this tax is imposed at the wholesale stage, when it is quite impossible to know who is going to buy the car or who is going to use it. Therefore it would be entirely unworkable to adopt the suggestion made by the hon. and gallant Member although we quite realise that he wants to do a good turn to doctors, who deserve all the sympathy and help that we can give to them; but we cannot do it this way. I ask the Committee to reject the proposed new Clause.

Question put, and negatived.