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National Finance

Volume 437: debated on Thursday 8 May 1947

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Sterling Balances (Egypt)

50.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will now make a statement regarding the recent visit paid to Cairo by British financial experts; and if the negotiations which took place were secret.

I would refer the hon. and gallant Member to the communique issued on 3rd March, to which at present I have nothing to add.

Will the right hon. Gentleman now make every effort to convince the people in Egypt that the scaling down of debts is in their interest as well as ours? I ask him to bear in mind that at the moment our publicity in the Middle East is so bad that our case is not getting over.

I think the speech of my right hon. Friend a night or two ago probably will help to rectify the point Mentioned by the hon. and gallant Gentleman.

Can the Minister say, in view of the many authoritative statements that have been made in Egypt, why he is unwilling to make a statement of the policy of H.M. Government?

It is not a question of being unwilling. The answer I gave was that at the moment there was nothing to add to the statement made on 3rd March.

If the machinery for putting over the very strong statement made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer is inadequate, will the Financial Secretary see that that machinery is improved so that the people of Egypt do realise the determination of this country not to be done down for the debt incurred in saving Egypt?

Is it not a case that previous Governments generally had the support of the British Press in putting over their case, and now the position is that most of the Press of this country is hostile to the present Government?

The Financial Secretary said that he cannot add to the official communique, but will he not say something in view of the Egyptian demands for the transfer of the Suez Canal and Anglo-Egyptian oilfield shares?

The Question dealt with a recent visit to Cairo by British financial experts and the negotiations which took place there. I have replied to that Question.

Paye Payments

51.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he is aware that under the 1947/48 system of Pay As You Earn, in which a number of codes are grouped together, the result in some cases is a sharp rise in the amount of tax deducted per week whereby those earning a 'smaller salary now pay as much per week as those earning considerably more; and if he will take steps to remedy this state of affairs.

My right hon. Friend cannot agree that the P.A.Y.E. tables have the result suggested by the hon. Member; but, if he will be good enough to furnish me with particulars of the cases he has in mind, I will look into the matter.

Civil Servants, Armed Forces (Pay)

54.

asked the Financial Secretary to the Treasury what decision has now been reached about making up the pay of young civil servants called up to the Forces.

The question of making up the pay of young civil servants called up to the Forces is at present under consideration. I hope it will be possible to make an announcement shortly.

It has been under consideration for a very long time. Some time ago I asked a similar Question and had exactly the same reply.

I think that is possible, but we hope that an announcement can be made shortly. These things take time.

Post-War Credits (Ex-Servicemen)

55.

asked the Financial Secretary to the Treasury why ex-Servicemen are being required to sacrifice their postwar credits in order to liquidate arrears of income tax, due to wrong assessments of Service pay by the Income Tax Commissioners.

Ex-Servicemen are treated in the same way as other tax-payers in that any arrear is set off against the Postwar Credit for the year 1945–46. I am looking into the case about which my how. Friend wrote to me a day or two ago.

May I ask my right hon. Friend whether, when the mistakes are mistakes of his own Department, made when these men were out of the country and so unable to put them right at the time, it would not be more generous, as well as more just, to spread these repayments over a long period so that the men should not feel the great loss which is incurred?

That is exactly what we do. These payments are spread over a period by arrangement, and I can assure my hon. Friend that in those cases we are spreading the amount due over quite a considerable period.

Will my right hon. Friend consider giving more publicity to the fact that it is possible for people to appeal against notices of assessment within 21 days of their having been made?

Would the Financial Secretary consider in a case—one of which I have brought to his notice—where the sum is greater than the repayments, forgiving the balance, because it is hard on a man, who really did not know what was happening, if he is docked of his postwar credit? Could not that be a full settlement?

In some cases, as the hon. Gentleman knows, that does happen, but each case must be taken on its merits. One cannot lay down any general rule and forgive people simply because they happen to be in arrears.

If the facts in this question are correct, is it not the case that a real debt is being satisfied by setting against it a future benefit, so that this must be to the great advantage of the men concerned?

So far as postwar credits for 1945–46 are concerned, my right hon. Friend made an announcement during October to the effect that the Inland Revenue was to be instructed to set off what might be due against tax arrears, and the House agreed.

Does my right hon. Friend feel that it is fair to refer to future benefit as if this were a benefit which might never accrue? Is it not the fact that these men regard this as a nest egg, and think this is a method of getting out of repayment of postwar credits?

The individual concerned can pay or have it set off. I cannot see that there is anything wrong in that. He can either pay now and have the nest egg, or go without the nest egg and have it set off.

Cannot these men who owe this money make a statement to the Chancellor on the same lines as the statement the Chancellor made the other day on Egypt?