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New Clause—(Adjustment Of Stamp Duties)

Volume 462: debated on Monday 7 March 1949

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Where upon the grant continuance renewal or assignment of a tenancy stamp duty has been paid upon a rent or other consideration which is reduced or otherwise affected by any determination of the Tribunal under this Act there shall be repaid to the person by whom such stamp duty was paid upon a claim being made by him for the purpose such sum as represents the difference between the stamp duty so paid and the stamp duty which would have been payable at the date of the instrument upon which the stamp duty was paid as aforesaid if the rent or other consideration for such grant continuance renewal or assignment had been in accordance with the determination of the tribunal less such part of such difference as represents the proportion which the period during which the rent or other consideration stated in the instrument was payable by the person by whom the stamp duty was paid bears to the period beginning with the said grant continuance renewal or assignment and ending with the date which would be the relevant date for the purposes of Section two of this Act.—[Lieut.-Colonel Elliot.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

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

I hope that the House having swallowed the camel will not strain at the gnat. This is merely a suggestion that where the State has profited by this instruction which the State subsequently declared to be illegal, the State should not thereby profit from a transaction that the State has decided is wrong. Of course, there are other people concerned in it. There is the worthy profession of solicitors. They also have drawn fees from this transaction which has subsequently been declared to be illegal, but as they had nothing to do with declaring it illegal, it might seemed a little harsh that they should be subsequently prosecuted and their costs taxed or reduced by an adequate proportion of whatever the tribunal decides. As for the State, I do not think the State has any possible line of retreat from this. The State allowed the transaction; the State profited by the transaction; the State now breaks the transaction: the State therefore, it seems to me, is not entitled to receive moneys on behalf of this transaction.

4.0 p.m.

I am afraid I must resist this new Clause. It is quite easy to exaggerate its value. A very small amount of money is involved.

Yes, but I am not merely resisting it on account of that. If the demand itself were just, I should not resist it, but this is not the Bill in which to state whether or not exemptions from Stamp Duty should take place. That should really be done in the Finance Act, not here. There are very few instances indeed—I think it is only where Stamp Duty has been wrongly paid, or where there has been a misdirection or something of that sort—on which exemption takes place, and I think it would be an improper use of this vehicle to exempt people from Stamp Duty in it.

I have tried to find out what would be the kind of value of the Stamp Duty which would be paid here. I think it is £1 for every £200, and £2 for every £100 rent. That would be the maximum charge. So we are really talking about very, very small chips indeed. I should not have thought that we ought to use the weighty instrument of an entirely new Clause for the purpose of stating that, when the tribunal comes to assess what should be paid by way of reduced rent in respect of a rental equivalent on a premium they should take into consideration that proportion of the Stamp Duty which has in fact expired. I think that would be a very small matter indeed, and I must resist this proposed new Clause.

Perhaps I might speak again with the leave of the House. The Minister's defence was about as fine a piece of wire-drawing as I have ever seen him indulge in. I can imagine the shreds into which we would have been torn had the Minister been on the other side, or if this had been something in which some of his prot"g"s were particularly concerned. We would have been told: "£1 or £2 to hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, with their castles, their pineries and their vineries, their staghounds and fox hunting"——

Even so, we would have been told that the smaller the fraction, the less it would have appeared in the Minister's diminuendo glass. The right hon. Gentleman would have brought it down to these trivial sums, and then said:"It is important to the small man or woman who is my particular client. What is only 10s. to hon. and right hon. Members opposite is an enormous sum to people in my class of life, to people amongst whom I was brought up." The Minister could plead with great eloquence on either side, and the fact that on this occasion he was not able to put up a better case shows that he feels very unconvinced on the matter. I should have thought, especially when he says this is not the place in which to give Stamp Duty exemption, that the place where injustice is committed and the occasion upon which it is being committed are, surely, the place in which and the occasion upon which the injustice should be remedied. The place where it is being caused is the place where it should be dealt with, and that is in this Bill. We are admittedly exacting the return of sums—

The right hon. and gallant Gentleman appears to be forgetting all the while that we are assuming that the tribunal has decided that an unreasonable premium has been charged. He pretends that someone who has paid Stamp Duty on an unreasonable act ought to have a portion of that Stamp Duty taken into account in determining what he ought to pay back. That is a most extraordinary conception of justice: someone has taken a sum of money he ought not to have taken, and when we try to estimate what he should have taken, we ought to reduce the Stamp Duty by the extent to which he has been able to get away with what he ought never to have charged. That is a most astonishing argument. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman, in trying to devise an Amendment to put down, has taxed his ingenuity to such an extent as to overrun his virtue.

I knew that if we, so to speak, dragged our coat up and down the Floor of the House long enough the Minister would not be able to refrain from treading upon it.

Well, I hope to prove not, because I observe what the Minister concealed from the House—and he must have concealed it intentionally, because he ought to know it by this time. He was talking about what was a perfectly legal transaction at the time it was done. What the Minister says is that people who were permitted by the State, and indeed encouraged by the State, to enter into this transaction should have divined on their own instance, that it was unreasonable and wrong. It is the Minister who is now seeking to make this transaction illegal. The transaction was perfectly legal and perfectly right at the time, and it is an astonishing doctrine for a Minister of the Crown to say that a transaction into which it was immoral for two private citizens to enter, and in respect of which the State drew revenue, should be quashed as regards the two private citizens but the State should still continue to draw revenue from it. There is no limit to the extent of the remarkable doctrine which the Minister is now commending to the House.

The right hon. Gentleman twits us with the fact that we have exercised our ingenuity in drafting an Amendment to put down. Indeed, that is not so. We have Amendments of great substance upon the Order Paper. I admit that this Amendment deals with small sums. The fact that it also deals with justice or injustice, naturally does not weigh with the Minister. However, we shall get on to the more substantial points, and it is for the very reason that we want to get on to the more substantial points that I do not wish to delay the House further by discussing this matter. We are not merely absolutely unconvinced by the Minister's arguments—we generally are by his arguments—but we are also absolutely unimpressed at his way of presenting them. That is not always so, because on many occasions upon which the Minister's arguments are very thin indeed he presents them with such sound, vigour and fury that we desire that he, like the lion in "A Midsummer Night's Dream," should roar again. On this occasion we do not ask him to roar again, but rather that he should as speedily as possible pass away from what has been an unsatisfactory exhibition.

May a still smaller voice be heard to follow the roarings of the lion, to suggest to hon. Gentlemen opposite the interesting and, I think, complete parallel to what they are attempting to do? A lease is granted lawfully; Stamp Duty is paid on it; the house is then used for immoral purposes, and the lease is voided. Is it seriously suggested that the Stamp Duty should be returnable?

Question put, and negatived.