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New Clause—(Repeal Or Reduction Of Duties On Legal Professions)

Volume 440: debated on Wednesday 16 July 1947

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

(1) The following headings in the First Schedule to the Stamp Act, 1891, shall cease to have effect, namely—

  • (a) Admission in England of any person to the degree of barrister-at-law;
  • (b) Admission in Scotland of any person as an advocate;
  • (c) Admission of any person to be a member of either of the four Inns of Court in England;
  • (d) Admission of any person as a solicitor of the Supreme Court in England;
  • (e) Admission in Scotland of any person as a law agent (both paragraphs);
  • (f) Faculty, Licence, Commission or Dispensation for admitting or authorising any person to act as a notary public;
  • and no stamp duty shall be payable on the admission of any person as a solicitor under Section thirty-five of the Solicitors Act, 1932, or, in Scotland, Section one of the Colonial Solicitors Act, 1900.

    (2) The duty chargeable under either of the headings "Articles of Clerkship" in the said First Schedule shall in all cases be two shillings and sixpence and accordingly for those headings there shall be substituted the following heading:—



    "Articles of Clerkship whereby any person becomes bound to serve as a clerk in order to his admission as a solicitor of the Supreme Court in England or as a solicitor in Scotland26

    (3) The duty chargeable under the heading "Certificate to be taken out yearly" in the said First Schedule shall be one twentieth of the amount chargeable immediately before the coming into force of this Subsection.—[ The Solicitor-General.]

    Brought up, and read the First time.

    4.30 p.m.

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

    This new Clause abolishes a number of duties on admission to the various learned professions. First, it abolishes the tax upon admission to the degree of barrister in England or advocate in Scotland—that is, £50. Then it abolishes the duty on admission to either of the four Inns of Court in England. That is a phrase taken from the Stamp Act, 1891. I do not know what "either of the four Inns of Court" meant then, but that is the phrase used in that Act. It abolishes the duty on admission of any person as a solicitor of the Supreme Court in England, and as a law agent in Scotland. It also abolishes the duty for authorising a person to act as a notary public. Subsection (2) reduces to a nominal amount the duty payable on articles of clerkship for the purpose of becoming a solicitor in England or in Scotland. Subsection (3) reduces to one-twentieth the duty payable on a practising certificate taken out yearly by a solicitor.

    This particular matter has been a bone of contention for a great many years. Indeed, in 1850 and 1853, Bills were introduced in the House with the object of reducing these various duties. They are, in effect, simply a tax upon admission to the learned professions, which in no sense can be said to serve any useful social purpose. The suggestion that they should be removed originated from a number of my hon. Friends, and received support from both sides of the House during the Committee stage. This new Clause is designed to give effect to those proposals.

    We ought not to allow this occasion to pass without first congratulating the Chancellor on succeeding in doing what Mr. Gladstone set out to do in 1870, but was never able to achieve, because the tax which we are repealing at the moment originates, in its present form—although in part from the Stamp Act, 1891r—from the Stamp Act, 1870. As my hon. and learned Friend has said, there was considerable difficulty in getting it through the House, and it was only got through because Mr. Gladstone assured everyone that the only purpose of collecting these duties together was to discover what they were and how they could be repealed. The Chancellor of that day said this:

    "He looked on this Bill not as a settlement but only as a beginning—as laying the foundation for future labours in the field."
    There have been other labourers in the field, and I think we ought to pay the very greatest tribute to the party opposite. In 1937 they began the repeal, and indeed did remove the very heavy duty which weighed on the backs of the aristocracy; the very heavy charges which were payable by Stamp Duty when one was raised from one rank to another in the nobility were removed by the party opposite. But I cannot help feeling that were Mr. Gladstone alive today he would have put the encouragement on learning, and the opening of the learned professions to all classes, before the relief of indigent peers.

    However, be that as it may, it is perhaps worth while looking for a moment at the history of the tax, because it is probably one of the oldest taxes at present in force. It was introduced by King William III. His Government copied the tax from Holland, where it had obtained for some time before. I am indeed sorry that none of the hon. Members who represent Northern Ireland are with us today, because I am sure they would impress upon the House the very grave danger of departing from any principles laid down by that Government of that particular monarch. All I can say in their favour is the general view they have expressed, that it is never necessary to go beyond 1690; and as the Stamp Act of King William dates from 1694, perhaps under those circumstances repeal would be permissible. It was made permanent by Mr. Robert Harley, later the Earl of Oxford, who is very rightly regarded as the founder of the Tory Party as we now know it. He introduced as a permanent Measure, the Stamp Taxes of which these Stamp Duties we are discussing form part, to pay interest on the founding of the National Debt which would secure the stock of the South Sea Company. In passing, we ought to pay that tribute to this prototype of Conservative finance. It was, of course, subsequently applied by the party opposite, in the well-known Stamp Act of 1765, to our American Colonies. If I may say so, it does seem to the that we ought again to pay tribute for this outstanding contribution to Anglo-American relations.

    In 1785, when the matter was discussed—the last occasion on which the House gave serious consideration to these Stamp Duties, Sir E. Astley observed that:

    "He rose because his tax upon dogs had been alluded to. He owned he should be indeed well pleased to see both dogs and attorneys subject to duty. He coupled them thus together because he thought them both articles of luxury."
    Now let me come to the Stamp Act, 1815, because it is there that the taxes obtained their permanent form. There was some discussion on this subject, and since the hon. and gallant Member for Holdnerness (Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite) saw fit to make a reference to the newspapers during the Debate on the new Clause on industrial and provident societies, perhaps you would not think me out of Order—

    I would think the hon. Member was out of Order. He has already gone extremely wide in his historical references. I ask him now to keep strictly to the proposed new Clause.

    Surely, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, on an occasion when the House is getting rid of a number of taxes of very long standing, might it not be possible for a little indulgence to be shown, in order to pay tribute to past Members?

    The hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) will appreciate that I am not altogether out of sympathy with him, but in accordance with my strict duty I must rule that he certainly went too wide, and that he must now confine himself to the particular new Clause before the House.

    The difficulty I see is that with regard to the tax imposed on news- papers, to which a contribution was made on the freedom of the Press by the Party opposite—

    I do not think that that arises. The hon. Member should go on with his own speech.

    If I may, f should like to read from the original copy of HANSARD the comment made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on that occasion and perhaps it will show how difficult it is to discover the exact facts of this tax. All HANSARD says is:

    "After a few words from the Chancellor of the Exchequer which were inaudible in the Gallery, a division took place—For the Amendment, 16; Against it, 53; Majority, 17. The Resolution was then agreed to."
    This is unlikely to occur in present circumstances and inevitably whatever comparison may be made between the Chancellor of that time and the Chancellor today at least in this matter the balance will be made in favour of my right hon. Friend. The Chancellor today is heard not only throughout this Chamber but very often outside it. On a recent occasion he did address one or two words to the proprietors of football fields about the passing to their patrons of the full effect of tax reductions. Similarly, I hope the Chancellor will advise that the full effect of this relaxation of taxation is passed on by the learned societies to the affected students

    I am sorry that the learned Solicitor-General in his opening speech did not deal with the period until this Clause becomes effective. There is an Amendment on the Paper, though I do not know whether it will be called, which raises the question of retrospection, but only in respect of the duty on articles of indenture. As I understand it, the Clause was so drafted that, in fact, the Bill will only go back from the date on which this Finance Bill becomes law, and I would ask the Solicitor-General and the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether they would not consider giving sonic measure of retrospection. There will no doubt be a considerable number of young men and women who have already paid, or will be already due to pay, the amount of this duty between the end of the war and the period when this Clause comes into effect. It seems a little hard that they should be excluded from this benefit. I think it is probably true to say that with negligible exceptions, no duty has been paid from the end of the war back to somewhere about 1939. That does, therefore, create a very convenient resting place, and if the Government could see their way to extend the effect of this backwards, if not as far as was suggested by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing), at least to the end of the war it would be a very great advantage to a deserving number of the community.

    I intend now to call the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman). I ought to inform him that his Amendment has been ruled out of Order.

    I am much obliged to you. I understand that my Amendment could not in any case have been called until this Clause has been read a Second time, but I am grateful for the information in regard to it. I should like now to say a word or two about the reasons which prompted me to put it down in the hope that I might be able to persuade my right hon. Friend to consider it between now and the date when this Bill becomes law. I should like to say first how much we are indebted to my right hon. Friend for the breadth and generosity with which he has carried out the undertaking which he gave on the Committee stage. On that occasion I had down an Amendment limited to the one solitary point of the £80 Stamp Duty on articles of clerkship. I confess that when I put that Amendment down, I was not unaware that a similar case could be made out for a great many other things, but I thought it was perhaps prudent to begin with the case which was most glaringly indefensible, and which was in a sense different from any other tax of the kind in that other taxes are on admission into a profession, while this tax was on an apprentice beginning to qualify for admission at a later stage to that profession. That seemed to me to be a case hopelessly indefensible and that it would be the weakest part of the wall which if once breached might enable me to get other matters of a similar nature taken up. I thank my right hon. Friend for accepting the principle of that Amend- ment and I ask him to consider that there are other similar cases. I think we are all very grateful now that my right hon. Friend has found it possible to put down this Clause which applies the principle, I think, to all the other cases so far as I know to which the principle does really apply. It is a pleasure to find a thin done, not in a grudging and halting way, but broadly and generously, giving full scope to the principle behind it, and applying that principle wherever it is fair to apply it I think it right to say to my right hon. Friend how much we appreciate that and how grateful we are for it.

    Gratitude was once defined as "a lively sense of favours to come." Therefore, put down this Amendment because it seemed to me in two small particulars that the case was still not fully met. If the Amendment that I had put down had been called, and accepted, it would have cost the Chancellor very little, indeed an almost insignificant amount. I can quite appreciate that we cannot make reliefs of taxation of this kind retrospective beyond limits. My Amendment was really a very modest one. I asked my right hon. Friend to make retrospective two classes of case. The first one was this—there is the difficulty which has just been cited about the date on which this is due to come into operation. If my right hon. Friend had happened to think of this first it would presumably have been a Budget Resolution moved on Budget Day. In that case, it would have been law as from that date. My right hon. Friend said when accepting the Amendment in the Committee stage that he was surprised that it had not been moved earlier. Be could have moved it earlier. He could have moved it on Budget Day, and if he had done so it would have been retrospective from then.

    Why not make that the date now? That was done in the case of Purchase Tax on various kinds of domestic and electrical appliances. I readily admit that that was purely a purchase tax and not a Revenue tax but it was made retrospective to the beginning of the financial year. It would be very hard indeed to take £80 now from a boy who has paid his Stamp Duty since the very date on which the Chancellor said he was going to let other people off paying. At least, he should make it retrospective to the date on which he could no longer, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, support this imposition. Surely, having said that in the House of Commons, having committed the Government to putting down a Clause to abolish it, he cannot with a clear conscience accept the £80 from that day onwards, and if anybody has paid it, he ought to give it back. It is not unfair to say that the most equitable date on which to draw the line is Budget Day this year, the beginning of this financial year.

    The other case is rather different but, I should have thought, not easy to resist. When people who served in the Forces during the war came out, all of them had gratuities of some kind, and some of them had educational grants. They had to prove a number of things before they received an educational grant. They had to satisfy the appropriate Government Department that they were really embarked upon this career before, but as a result many people received rather modest but useful educational grants. Anyone who received a grant of that kind and decided to enter any other profession except the profession of solicitor, was entitled to use every penny of his grant for his support in the meantime while he qualified himself, and until he was able to earn his living in the profession of his choice. If, however, he was a solicitor, the Government promptly took back out of his educational grant £80.

    I am not contending that there ought to be a special privileged class in this community of ex Service men. Almost everybody in this last war belonged to that category in one sense or another, and one cannot make a separate class of them or give them special privileges. They must share, like everybody else, in such benefits as the community is able to distribute on a nondiscriminatory basis, and I am not pleading specially for ex-Service men. If, however, we have a class of ex-Service men to whom we give an educational grant, then we ought not to discriminate among them so as to make the grant £80 less if they choose one profession rather than another. I do not know whether it is the Treasury who ought to give it back or the Ministry of Labour, but somehow or other the money ought to be refunded. The discrimination, which nobody supports, ought not to be applied in this case. That was the effect of my Amendment had it been called—

    —in the first place, to make the remission of the tax effective as from the beginning of the Financial Year, 1947, for everybody, and, secondly, in the case of ex-Service people who have been given an educational grant, then the £80 ought to be returned to such people if they have paid it since the 30th June. 1945.

    I do not easily see what objection in principle there is to either of those two claims. I find it difficult also to see what difficulty there is in practice. Stamp Duty is easily detectable. The man has only to produce his articles with the £80 stamp impressed on them to show clearly on what date it was paid. That would cover all the cases in the first class without further inquiry. In the second class, all he has to do is to show the document—there must have been some letter or certificate issued to him by the appropriate Department—showing that he was then in possession of an educational grant.

    May I suggest that the Law Society has all this information on its files, and could distribute the money equitably to the persons who paid it?

    I am obliged to my hon. Friend for his admirable suggestion, and if there were any difficulty, I am sure it could be overcome in that way. Finally, I can quite understand.hat there is nothing the Treasury like less than giving money back which has once been paid to them, and I can understand they will sea all kinds of difficulties in performing the operation. Nevertheless, those difficulties ought to be overcome. I am sure that if my right hon. Friend had let the Department decide whether these remissions should ever be made, the Clause might never have been on the Order Paper at all. It is there now because my right hon. Friend thought that it was right it should be there, and was determined that, where justice could be done, it should be done. I think I have made out the case, and I am sure it is not beyond the ingenuity of my right hon. Friend to find a feasible way of giving effect to it The final argument in its favour, which ought to weigh even with every official in the Treasury, is that the amount of money involved is so small that they would never know they had lost it.

    I want briefly first to thank the right hon. Gentleman for putting this Clause down. At one moment I thought he had the rather novel idea that this should form a sort of treasure hunt and that if, between now and another stage, we had been able to think of the other clues he had in mind, we were to get a prize. However, I am glad to say that he changed that and he has now done what, I agree, is the wise and generous thing; he has covered all the cases which have come to his knowledge, and all of us are grateful to him for that. I thought really it was a little ungenerous of the hon. Member for Horn-church (Mr. Bing) to speak against this Clause.

    I would add my plea to that of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) and that of my hon. Friend the Member for South Hendon (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth) with regard to the date on which this comes into operation. I, like all of us, take what we can get and, indeed, anyone with the Christian name that I bear naturally asks for more. I should like the Chancellor to go as far as the Amendment of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne would have asked had it been called but, if that is not possible, I would beg him to think seriously about being able to go back, as he has done in other cases in this Finance Bill, either to the date of the Budget Resolution or at least to the date when he made the announcement in this House that he was prepared to accept this Clause. I have a letter here from a constituent who says that he read with great interest and appreciation the statement of the Chancellor because he thought it meant that his son, who was just about to be articled, would be saved £80. To his great disappointment, when he inquired on the 2nd July about this, he was told that his son would still have to pay £80. I am not a solicitor and I do not know whether it is possible to delay the stamping of those articles and, therefore, simply by delaying the matter take advantage of the date included in the Bill. I appeal to the Chancellor to see whether it is not possible at any rate to antedate this concession to the Budget Resolutions. He has done it in the case of electrical cookers and he has antedated it even further back than that in the case of motor registration fees. It would not establish any terrible precedent and it would be relieving a certain amount of hardship if he could do that.

    5.0 p.m.

    I would like to thank the Chancellor of the Exchequer for his very generous treatment of this matter. The House will remember that I supported the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) when this remission was first mooted The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne has put up a very powerful argument which has been supported by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley), and there is very little more that I need say except with reference to those gentlemen who have been admitted since 5th April and who would also like to have their admission fees of £25 apiece remitted if the Chancellor of the Exchequer would agree. A number of those who have been admitted since that date are ex-Service men. They came out of the Army in 1946, have studied during this period, have passed the final examination and have been admitted. A large number of us have had letters from these people. They have had to spend part of their gratuities in order to pay the £25. It will be a great disappointment if this is not conceded, and I therefore ask the Chancellor to antedate to the 5th April this year the concession which he has so generously made.

    I would like to carry the argument of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) to what I think lie will agree is its logical conclusion. Two points seem to be raised by his arguments. First, the Stamp Duties in general are to be washed out; and, second, solicitors have up to now been in a uniquely unfavourable position, in so far as other people make payments when they become qualified, but solicitors have had to make their payments when they begin to qualify. That being so, the logic of the argument is surely that this concession should not be given merely to ex-Service men or ex-Service women in receipt 01 any educational grant, but that anybody who is in course of qualifying but has not yet qualified should be allowed to have that amount refunded. The only argument against it might be on the grounds that it would cost too much money I feel that it would not cost a vast amount of money, and I should be grateful if we could be told what would be the cost of the full concession.

    I listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) and felt that in giving us so much interesting information about the past history of this matter he rather overlooked the present. We are all very grateful to the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the remission of these taxes. The need for getting rid of them is long overdue. Many efforts have been made in this House—quite a number of them came very near to success—to get rid of these duties and especially the Stamp Duty on the annual certificate which a solicitor has to have in order to entitle him to practise. I referred to the matter of the present for this reason. It is true that we are all very grateful to the Chancellor for these concessions, but hon. Members on all sides of the House share in this victory. The initiation of it came from my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman). With his usual industry and alertness he seized on this point about the articles of clerkship to a solicitor. It was undoubtedly an extravagant sum to ask an articled clerk to pay when one considers that practically every other instrument of apprenticeship required a stamp of 2S. 6d. only.

    There was great disparity between the articled clerk to a solicitor and every other case, in which, as I say, the stamp on the instrument of apprenticeship costs 2s. 6d., with the exception of admission to one of the Inns of Court. In the case of a solicitor's articled clerk, £80 had to be paid and in the case of a Bar student £50 had to be paid. Chat is how this question of remitting these duties started. It must also be said that it was due to the persistence of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the West Derby Division of Liverpool (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) that the matter became ventilated in the way it did. That caused the Chancellor to say that there might be what he called "comparable cases" and that if anyone had put forward a Motion on similar lines in respect of all or any of those cases he would have considered them in the same light. It is perfectly true that in the case of an articled clerk it was an educational tax, just as in the case of admission to one of the Inns of Court it is also an educational tax. Obviously, that is a form of tax which is quite unacceptable in these days.

    It was due to that, that some of us approached the Chancellor of the Exchequer on this matter. In the course of those discussions the list for remission expanded. The original idea was that it should apply only to Stamp Duties of an educational character. Then it extended, until now, so far as the legal professions are concerned, it has also swept in all the vocational Stamp Duties. That was the right thing to do because it is quite wrong to select one section of the community, and one section of the professional community, and to impose on them a discriminatory tax of this character. One disparity in tins connection was outstanding, namely, was that whereas a solicitor paid on admission a Stamp Duty of £25, a member of the Bar paid on admission to the degree of barrister £50 and, to keep the variation going, a notary public paid £30. That was a form of disuniforrnity on these various admissions which became absurd.

    I think it was due in the first place to the persistent way the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley) had raised the matter. It was due also—if I may say so modestly—partly to a discussion I had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the matter got expanded. I am sure the Chancellor of the Exchequer would agree that I take only partial credit. Following upon that, my hon. Friends also talked to him and—not forgetting the effort made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bristol—the cumulative effect of that was to impress upon the Chancellor that this was a class of Stamp Duties which ought to be got rid of Thai is much more important than hoary past history about this subject. It is perfectly true that so far as the annual certificate is concerned, that was imposed after the American War of Independence. There seems to have been a competition at that time as to whether a tax should be imposed on retail shops or whether this particular tax on solicitors should be introduced, and the retail shops won. Since then there have been repeated efforts in this House to get rid of the tax. On ten occasions, I believe, they have nearly succeeded, and today for the first time they have definitely succeeded. I am perfectly certain that every member of the legal profession is deeply grateful to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, whether it be an articled clerk, a student going into one of the Inns of Court, a practising barrister either in England or Scotland, or an advocate or a Writer to the Signet or anyone occupying that position who has felt himself aggrieved because of this discriminatory tax which has been imposed upon him. They will all convey their thanks to the Chancellor of the Exchequer for at last getting rid of this long injustice.

    I should like to stress the plea for ex-Servicemen which has been made by many hon. Members this afternoon. There is one particular point I want to bring to the attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in a letter which I have received from the Sheffield and District Law Students' Society. They stress the fact that many of these ex-Servicemen are older persons and have other financial commitments. They are not in the same position as others coming in at the age of 18, and since some of them are married men, possibly with children, it would be a great assistance if the Chancellor could consider something on these lines.

    I have not the Parliamentary experience of my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) or the legal knowledge of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Turner-Samuels) so that I do not know how one can support an Amendment which has been ruled out of Order and has not been moved. However, in support of the point made by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne—with regard to which hon. Members have stated that they have received numbers of letters—I feel that if I cite an example it will strengthen the argument. A young man in a local authority office who, by his competence and skill, had risen to the position of senior clerkship is to be articled to his town clerk. The question of the £80 Stamp Duty is a con- siderable item to him. He noticed that in February of this year the point was raised in this House by a Question, and that my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury—as is customary on Questions of this kind—said at that time that no forecast could be made of the Budget and referred the questioner to the Budget. I think that people outside this House may be excused if they are not fully conversant with its procedure, and what happened was that this man waited until Budget Day, noticed that Stamp Duties were referred to but that this particular one was not mentioned, thought that the matter had been finally settled, and paid his Stamp Duty. If this retrospective action can be conceded as has been suggested, this is one only of very many similar cases of hardship which might be rectified.

    I wish to make two brief observations concerning Subsection (la) of the new Clause which provides for the admission in England of any person to the degree of barrister-at-law. This is a matter which has exercised the General Council of the Bar for a very considerable period, and I am in a position to say that they very much welcome the initiative which the Chancellor has taken in this matter and are grateful that at last this duty is being repealed. I am afraid that it has, perhaps, come as somewhat of a surprise to my politically benighted fellow-members of the Bar that a Socialist Chancellor of the Exchequer should be so forthcoming and generous, but perhaps it is appreciated all the more on that account.

    5.15 p.m.

    The second observation I wish to make is an entirely personal one. This remission will have the advantage, perhaps, of enabling rather more poor people to find their way to the Bar than would otherwise have been possible, and that is entirely to the good. But, unfortunately, as I think, people become members of the Bar who never intend to practise there at all, and it is about the only profession of which one can become a member without serving an apprenticeship. As hon. Members know perfectly well, all that has to be done is that a certain number of examinations have to be passed which are certainly below the standards of solicitors' examinations, and a certain number of dinners have to be eaten—neither operation a very difficult one. The result is that we may now have people coming to the Bar not in order to practise but in search of a comparatively cheap qualification for other purposes. Personally, I do not think that that is desirable and I hope that those who are concerned with these matters will pay some attention to that aspect of this problem.

    First, I should like to thank hon. Members in various parts of the House for the kind things they have said about the new Clause which my hon. and learned Friend moved on my behalf and which proposes either the complete removal or the reduction to a nominal figure of the series of charges therein set out. It is quite right in principle and, as I said on an earlier occasion, I am rather surprised that it has been so long before this has been done. Of course, one thing always leads to another and when my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) first put down the Amendment, he did not say anything about making it retrospective. These thoughts followed, no doubt in logical sequence, and the more one gives the more one is pressed. That we know, and it is quite legitimate, but just occasionally one has to grow rigid. I am not sure that I need do so this afternoon, but sometimes I must, because otherwise it is such an easy game. You make an original proposal, somebody makes a proposal to improve it, you accept it, and that is not the end of the matter. Afterthoughts of further perfections occur and the process is unending like Achilles and the tortoise. At some stage one must stand.

    I think, if I may be allowed to put it quantitatively—I am now on the retrospective proposal—that there is very little in this. I cannot imagine that the cautious person who reads his HANSARD, or the parent who does so, will fail to know that this is in the wind. There will have been very few of them between Budget Day and now—half a dozen in one profession and perhaps three or four in another. I regard it as what the lawyers call de minintis. [Interruption.] If my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne argues back too hard, I shall perhaps grow rigid, whereas now I am open to be convinced. In my view, as I have said, I think there is extremely little in it. I ought just to mention to the House that the Bowles Act does not help here. I went into this very carefully, when I wa3 originally intending to make some propositions regarding Stamp Duties in my Budget proposals and found that that Act does not apply to the Stamp Duties. It would not have been possible to do this on the Budget Resolution. We have had the Budget Resolution. It would not have been operative as from the acceptance of the Budget Resolution because the Stamp Act is not covered by the provisions of the Bowles Act. That is why we put in 1st August as the operative date. We thought that would be the date by which we could expect the Finance Bill to have been passed into law.

    I cannot accept the proposition that tax remissions shall, more often than not, be made retrospective. That would lead us into a muddle and it would discourage other Chancellors of the Exchequer from making tax reductions in marginal cases. When the balance might easily go one way or the other, a Chancellor of the Exchequer would be inclined to say, "It might be all right, but I shall be expected to make the thing retrospective. That would cost more money. The whole thing is hardly worth the candle. Let's leave it where it is. "That is a warning of a position into which we ought to try not to get. When one does want to re duce a tax, one cannot make it retrospective to such a degree as to give up revenue which has already been netted, particularly if it has been netted in a previous financial year.

    Therefore, if I do anything retrospective my action must be regarded as quite exceptional, and I hope the House will take it as being so. My action must not be made too retrospective. The reason there has been a certain amount of deliberate delay in making observations on the matter is that consultations have been taking place with my expert advisers as to how, at this late hour, something of this sort could be done. It is a very late hour. The Finance Bill is very nearly out of our hands. The only way in which the thing could be done would be for me to propose a manuscript Amendment. I am prepared to do that, if the House is willing to carry the concession back to Budget day. It must be as simple; that. I cannot complicate it by considering classes of beneficiaries who may have paid something before Budget day, even if they be ex-Service men. I cannot be pushed indefinitely far back. That would make the whole thing too complicated. It may be difficult to get the return back from the Law Society —although no doubt they have their records. I am prepared, in the light of the proposals which have been made in the discussion, to make the concession retrospective to Budget day, or to a date just before Budget day. I am advised that can be done, if it is in Order for me to do so, by moving at the right moment a manuscript Amendment, which I have in my hand. I ask your guidance, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, when it would he in order for me to do so.

    Question put, and agreed to

    Clause read a Second time

    With regard to the question of a manuscript Amendment, I ought to tell the House that Mr. Speaker is very chary about accepting manuscript Amendments at short notice. In this case, however, I am willing to yield to what I gather is the general wish of the House, and I am prepared, in the circumstances, to accept the proposed manuscript Amendment. A second question arises, which I should mention. The proposal is to refund certain money. If those moneys were in the hands of the Treasury it would require a Resolution in order to authorise the payment out of that money. If, however, the Chancellor of the Exchequer assures me, as I understand is the case, that the moneys are now with the Inland Revenue and have not yet reached the Exchequer, it would be in Order for him to move the manuscript Amendment.

    I beg to move, as an Amendment to the proposed Clause, at the end, to add:

    "(4) This Section shall be deemed to have come into operation on the sixth day of April nineteen hundred and forty seven and where it is shown to the satisfaction of the Corninissioners that any Stamp Duty has on or after that date become payable and been paid at the rates in force apart from the provisions of this Section, the Commissioners shall repay to the person who paid that duty the difference between the duty which was paid and the duty (if any) payable by virtue of this Section."
    I am very much obliged to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, for what you have ruled. I think it is the commonsense and practical way of dealing with this matter. The fact is, as you have stated, that moneys do not reach the Treasury at quite such short intervals as this, and that the moneys in question will still be with the Commissioners, I have no doubt. My advisers, working at high pressure, have produced the form of words which I have moved. They know the tricks. I hope I may be allowed to pay my tribute to those Benches which are not part of the House, where persons sit ready to assist Ministers at such short notice.

    I am sure that the whole House is grateful to the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the extremely accommodating way in which he has dealt with the appeal made to him from all sides of the House. As has been stated earlier, this is a matter which has engaged the attention of Members on both sides. The Chancellor has met in the most admirable and speedy way the difficulty which has been pointed out to him. I hope that the terms of the Amendment will do the trick eventually. If, on further consideration, it is not sufficient, there will he an opportunity in another place for any rectificatioc to be made.

    I was going to put to the Chancellor of the Exchequer another point when he go up to move the Amendment. I was disappointed that he did not deal with the question of the duty of Lao for the Lambeth Degrees. I am not asking for anything to be done about it this year, but I am asking him to consider the matter before next year and to see whether that particular case—a very small one, falling upon a very small class of the community, clergymen—can be considered

    I wish to thank my right hon. Friend for the way in, which he has responded to the arguments put to him from all sides of the House. I wish also to pay a tribute to the officials who have enabled him to translate his goodwill into the Amendment which he has loved. We all appreciate very much indeed how difficult it is for the Chancellor to make a concession. In all the circumstances, I thank him very much indeed for having met the view of the House.

    Amendment to the proposed Clause agreed to.

    Clause, as amended, added to the Bill.