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National Finance

Volume 463: debated on Tuesday 29 March 1949

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Postal Packets (Monetary Contents)

42.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer how many postal packets for overseas addresses have been intercepted which consisted of cloth registered envelopes containing money or postal orders not being deliberately concealed; and in how many cases were the monetary contents wholly or partly confiscated.

I regret that separate information relating to interceptions of currency in cloth registered envelopes is not available.

Does the Minister realise that where such money is exported in cloth registered envelopes, there is no attempt at concealment, and that his arbitrarily imposed fine of confiscation is wholly inappropriate to the trivial nature of the offence?

Sometimes the best way of concealing a thing is to take the obvious way of doing it.

Purchase Tax

43.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will take alleviating action to allow mixtures of substances scheduled under Head II or Head III of the Purchase Tax (No. 5) Order, 1948, and substances which are the subject of monographs in the British Pharmacopoeia and the British Pharmaceutical Codex to be sold free of Purchase Tax.

The Purchase Tax (No. 5) Order, 1948, covers substances of a character rather different from the others mentioned. It is, therefore, difficult to see where acceptance of this proposal would lead us. Perhaps the hon. Member would let me have particulars of the mixtures he has in mind, and say what they are used for.

45.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer why aluminium hydroxide has been exempted from Purchase Tax under Purchase Tax (No. 5) Order, 1948, and can be sold free of such tax even under a brand name and when made up for oral administration, whilst other antacids, equally approved by medical opinion, such as magnesium trisilicate and magnesium hydroxide, are subject to Purchase Tax when sold under such conditions; and what is the machinery by which anomalies of this kind can be reconsidered.

The trade organisation most concerned has already been informed that magnesium trisilicate and magnesium hydroxide will be considered when the next Treasury Order exempting medicines is being prepared.

49.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he is aware that food-shops in Salford and other towns are compelled to have a sufficient supply of hot water available under Section 13 of the Food and Drugs Act, 1938; and if he will therefore remove the Purchase Tax from the geysers required to provide hot water.

Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman at least allow suitable exemption where hot water heaters have been properly modified?

The hon. Member will still not expect me to anticipate my Budget Statement.

Customs And Excise (Legal Judgment)

44.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he has considered the observations of Mr. Justice Vaisey on 16th March in Sebel Products Limited v. Commissioners of Customs and Excise; and if he will indicate his future policy with regard to the retention by the Crown of tax paid under mistake of law.

I would refer the hon. Member to the reply given by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Ivor Thomas) on Monday, 21st March.

As the Prime Minister then said that the matter was under consideration, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman say when a decision is likely to be reached; and will he agree that, in view of the increasing complications of the law, this is a matter of increasing importance?

I am afraid I cannot say when a conclusion will be reached; I can only say that the matter is still under consideration.

Is it not a fact that a mistake in law was first made by the Commissioners of Customs and Excise and that the firm only assented to it under protest, and is this not a thoroughly discreditable piece of work of which the right hon. and learned Gentleman would not be guilty in his private life?

I do not think it is at all a discreditable piece of work. I think it arose out of a desire to arrive at an accurate conclusion in the matter.

Economic Survey (Misprint)

46.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether his attention has been drawn to the fact that in column 3, table 22, on page 37 of the Economic Survey for 1949, the items do not in fact add up to the total given; whether it is the items which are wrong or the total which is inaccurate; and, as the difference is £900 million, what steps are being taken to make the actual figures known.

Yes, Sir. The figure of 2,890 in column 3 of Table 22 should read 1,990. A correction was issued in the "Board of Trade Journal" dated 19th March; and a corrigendum slip has now been printed and is available in the Vote Office today. The Press were informed of the misprint at the time of publication.

Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman say whether this misprint was discovered by the Treasury or by the public? Would it not have been better for these items to have been set out separately instead of being lumped together, as they are in this book?

No. On the last part of the question, we thought it was more convenient, on the whole, to do it in the form in which it has been done. Obviously the misprint was discovered by the Treasury because the Press were informed at the time of publication.

Public Appointments (Selection)

47.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether the recent letter from the Treasury to the Bank of England asking for the names of persons in the City willing to be considered for appointments in socialised industries was sent with his approval.

53.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he authorised the letter which was sent recently by the Treasury to various institutions in the City, asking for names to be given of any young men who might be willing to serve on Royal Commissions, committees or public boards; what is the list of institutions to which this letter was sent; what methods of selection are used to decide what are suitable institutions to which to send such letters or to ensure the suitability of the names submitted; how many replies have been received; and what is the number of names put forward.

The request to which these Questions refer was one for names of persons thought suitable (not of persons willing to be considered) for important public work of all kinds, including service on advisory committees and the like, and had no particular reference to socialised industries. The arrangements for improving His Majesty's Government's lists of such persons—of which this request was a part—are necessarily of an informal and confidential nature, but I can assure the House that they have my entire approval.

Will the Chancellor say whether he expects that this appeal, which was circulated through the City by the Bank of England, will be successful in rescuing these organisations, which certainly included the socialised industries, from their difficulties about directing and advisory staff?

There is no question about it being successful for any such purpose. It has long been the custom to keep a list of such persons at the Treasury and from time to time it is necessary to renew it.

In view of the overwhelming importance to the Government of men being chosen for public posts entirely on merit and suitability for the job which is vacant at the time, would the Chancellor give consideration to the adoption of some selection procedure which is clearly recognised and which is most likely to throw up the most suitable man when the occasion demands?

The way in which people are selected for different posts differs according to the post. The responsible Minister is responsible for the selection.

Fire Service Fees, Scotland (Tax)

48.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he is aware that part-time retained firemen in Scotland are being taxed retrospectively on fees earned during the lifetime of the National Fire Service; and if he will waive the accrued tax in these cases.

If the hon. Member will let me have particulars of the cases he has in mind I will make inquiries, but I cannot waive tax that is properly payable.

While thanking the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his reply, may I ask him if he is aware that these were sums of money paid to the men which they earned while actually firefighting? On those grounds alone would he reconsider the matter?

If the hon. Member will let me have the particulars of any case which he has in mind I will make inquiries.

Canada (Trade)

51.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he will now consider modifying his fiscal policy so as to ensure that Canada is not shut out from the sterling market areas, with special regard to the difficulties which exist at the present time.

We are making a sustained effort to increase our trade with Canada precisely in order that we may have the means to pay for Canadian goods which we greatly desire to import. In this connection it is hoped that the limited concessions recently made by the British West Indies the Bahamas and Bermuda in regard to hard currency imports will have proved of benefit to Canada.

Is the Chancellor aware of increasing Canadian anxiety about the trade position? Why is it that the contract formerly placed with Canada for timber, bacon, apples and newsprint has been given to Iron Curtain countries?

I think I appreciate the object of the hon. Member's supplementary question. The reason why we cannot buy all the things we should like from Canada is because we have not got the dollars.

Confiscated Food (Disposal)

57.

asked the Financial Secretary to the Treasury how many parcels of meat have been confiscated by officials of the customs at sea and airports since 1st January, 1949; what was their total weight; and what happens to them.

I assume the hon. Member is referring to fresh meat. Imports of this from the Continent are prohibited under the Diseases of Animals Act, 1894, in the interests of animal health, and parcels seized in the Customs are destroyed. I regret that the statistical information asked for is not readily available.

May I ask the Financial Secretary why he assumes anything at all? I asked a straight Question. May I also ask him, in view of the disastrous results of the policy of the Minister of Food, whether it is in any way an encouragement to our generous friends overseas that these food parcels should be confiscated?

59.

asked the Financial Secretary to the Treasury if he is aware that, on 17th March, 1949, Miss Winifred Rowley, of Vicars Moore Lane, Winchmore Hill, Middlesex, brought with her from France a 20-1b. cured ham, wrapped in cellophane paper and that, on arrival at the Customs sheds at Victoria Station, she declared the ham and a Customs officer, without unwrapping the paper, threw it into a large dustbin to join pounds of other food; and if he will make a statement as to the reason for this procedure.

The importation from the Continent of all uncooked meat and of cured meat unaccompanied by an official certificate is prohibited under the Diseases of Animals Act, 1894. Miss Rowley's ham was seized under this prohibition and destroyed under instructions issued by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. Since the date of this incident, the Ministry have agreed that a certificate may be dispensed with for small private importations of fully-cured bacon or ham.

Is the Financial Secretary aware that cured and smoked ham are immune? In view of the change of policy may I ask him whether Miss Rowley will be reimbursed? Is he further aware that if I had my way I should put the Ministry of Food into the dustbin?

Is the Financial Secretary aware that the farming industry trusts that he will continue to destroy meat from the Continent, where foot-and-mouth disease is rife?

Is it not the case that Miss Rowley made a mistake by bringing in this ham in a red wrapper?