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National Finance

Volume 465: debated on Tuesday 17 May 1949

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Canadian Foodstuffs (Payment)

38.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer on what grounds the Canadian Government have refused to accept sterling in payment for food supplied to this country.

On the purely technical point, I am not aware that the Canadian authorities have refused to accept initial payment in sterling for our food purchases. In present circumstances, however, as sales by Canada to the United Kingdom and the rest of the sterling area greatly exceed sales to Canada by the United Kingdom and the rest of the sterling area, the excess of the sterling area's purchases over its sales has in effect to be paid for in dollars.

May I ask my hon. Friend two questions arising out of that reply: first, are we to understand that no representations have been made by the Government suggesting to the Canadian Government that they should accept sterling; and second, is he aware that there are a large number of people in this country who manufacture goods which could quite easily be sent to Canada but that Canada prefers to buy from America?

—and as our purchases from Canada exceed Canada's purchases from us, it is inevitable that the excess has to be paid for in dollars.

Has my hon. Friend considered the extraordinary state of affairs that Canada is the only part of the British Empire which refuses to accept sterling, and what does he propose to do about it? Sooner or later they will have to send their food to America.

The answer is that Canada is in the American continent. That is no responsibility of this Government.

In view of the very grave situation and the light-hearted way in which my hon. Friend deals with this matter I propose to raise the whole question on the Adjournment.

Purchase Tax

39.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will give an estimate of the loss to Purchase Tax revenue which would result if the present turnover, exempt from purchase tax of £500, was raised to £1,000 or to £1,500.

It is impossible to make a reliable estimate. The loss would probably not exceed one or two million pounds. But there are, of course, other considerations.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the purchasing power of the £ has been whittled away for five years, and will he reconsider the adjustment of this matter? It is now impossible to make a bare living at the original figure, and will he consider raising it?

I do not think that this estimate would be affected very much one way or the other by any changes in the value of the £ in the last few years.

40.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he has considered a resolution passed by the Methil Co-operative Society and sent to him by the hon. Member for West Fife, condemning the increase of food prices arising from the Budget, and protesting against the failure to withdraw the Purchase Tax from household goods and every day necessities; and what reply he has made.

This Society wrote to my right hon. and learned Friend on 22nd April, and also to the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher), who forwarded their letter. I have already replied to the hon. Member, and I am sending him a copy of the reply which was sent to the Society on behalf of my right hon. and learned Friend.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that it was not a favourable reply that he sent to me and that I am raising this matter here in the hope of getting a favourable reply? Would he not consider this resolution in view of the fact that it expresses the desire of very many people in this country, and would he not revert to the policy of soaking the rich? There is still a lot of soaking to be done before they are down to their last soak.

46.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer why the 100 per cent. Purchase Tax has now been added to engraved glassware which is not a luxury article.

The tax on glassware of cut glass includes glassware decorated by any form of cutting. It would not be practicable to exclude such examples of cut glass as might not be regarded as luxury articles.

Is my hon. Friend aware that this Tax was not paid on engraved glass at the beginning, probably due to pressure from cut glass manufacturers? Is he further aware that it is quite fantastic to pay a tax of half-a-crown on a tumbler, which probably cost twopence? When will he allow us to have a bit of decoration without paying a ridiculous tax?

This House has laid down the rate of tax and, unfortunately, in practice it has proved impossible to distinguish between one form of cut glass and another.

Food Prices

41.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he has considered a resolution from the workers of John Langs, Johnstone, and endorsed by the Paisley District Committee of the Amalgamated Engineering Union, protesting against the increases in food prices arising out of the recent Budget, a copy of which has been sent to him; and if he will now reconsider his attitude to this question.

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he would seriously consider reversing these answers and give a "Yes" to the propositions of the workers?

Double Taxation (Eire)

42.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether citizens of Eire working in this country pay the same Pay As You Earn as British subjects.

Yes, Sir, subject to the provisions of the Double Taxation Agreement made between this country and Eire in 1926 and confirmed by Section 23 of the Finance Act, 1926, under which a person resident in one country only may claim exemption from tax in the other.

Capital Issues Committee

43.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what directions he has given to the Capital Issues Committee concerning proposals that provide for reducing costs.

Specific reference was made to such projects in a memorandum addressed to the committee on 4th April. The terms of the memorandum were given in the reply which my right hon. and learned Friend gave to my hon. Friend, the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benson) on 14th April.

Sterling Balances

44.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what is the total in each year from 1945, and in 1949 to the latest convenient date, of sums withdrawn from sterling balances by other countries in agreement with His Majesty's Government.

As these sums are very large, and as they constitute a charge upon our productivity and result in exports for which we receive no return, can the hon. Gentleman say what action the Government are taking to cut down these releases to ensure that everything we make brings some return by way of imports to this country?

As the hon. and gallant Gentleman is aware, we have made and are making a number of agreements for the special purpose of limiting these releases.

Customs Search, Dover

45.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer why Mr. F. Vanderzypen, a Belgian visiting the British Industries Fair, was separated from his British-born manager when the Ostend boat arrived at Dover on 2nd May, put into a room, required to undress and bodily searched; whether any money, valuables or dutiable goods were found upon him; whether any apology was offered to him for the indignity and inconvenience he had undergone; and whether he is aware that this procedure must discourage foreign purchasers from visiting the British Industries Fair.

Separation of British from non-British passengers is a routine process which expedites immigration control of passengers. Mr. Vanderzypen was searched by the Customs on suspicions which happily proved to be unfounded. The inconvenience caused him is much regretted and Mr. Vanderzypen was so informed at the time. As regards the last part of the Question, I am afraid that it would be impossible to grant immunity from Customs examination to business visitors to this country.

Has the right hon. Gentleman inquired as to what were the grounds of suspicion upon which the Customs officers acted?

Has the right hon. Gentleman satisfied himself that there was any sufficient reason to justify the action taken by the Customs officers?

The Customs officials have the right to search anyone on suspicion and that is a right which they exercise with great circumspection. We must leave it at that.

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment at the earliest opportunity.

Regional Petroleum Boards (Staffs)

47.

asked the Financial Secretary to the Treasury if his attention has been called to the increasing numbers of middle-aged persons who are being discharged from employment under regional petroleum boards in consequence of redundancy caused by measures of decontrol; and if he will see that other State Departments do not confine their advertisements on offers of employment to young persons only, but engage older ones who satisfy the requirements of competency, availability, and experience, as in the cases of those displaced.

The staff of the Petroleum Board were not Government servants. In selecting applicants for submission to vacancies for temporary staff in Government Departments, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour and National Service has special regard to the claims of older persons.

Paye (Agricultural Workers)

48.

asked the Financial Secretary to the Treasury whether he is aware of the unfairness of existing regulations for Pay As You Earn, whereby an unmarried agricultural worker in group 35 who lives in, may receive £4 8s. free of tax, but that, if he lives out and has to pay for his board and lodgings, though in the same group he may only get £2 18s. free of tax; and whether he will take steps to end this anomaly.

The liability to Income Tax in these cases is governed not by the P.A.Y.E. regulations, but by the general Income Tax law. Apart from the provisions of Part IV of the Finance Act, 1948, charging benefits in kind provided for directors and highly paid employees, the general rule is that where an employer undertakes to provide free board and lodging or other benefits which cannot be converted into cash, the value is not income for taxation purposes.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in the case of the agricultural worker I have quoted, who lives out and pays his own board and lodging, that board and lodging money is subject to tax, but, if the employer pays the board and lodging, it is not subject to tax?

Coi Exhibition (Attendance)

49.

asked the Economic Secretary to the Treasury what was the approximate number of people who visited the exhibition "On Our Way" in Oxford Street organised by the Central Office of Information.

During its six weeks' run, the exhibition was visited by approximately 150,000 people.

Is the hon. Member aware that the figures he has given work out at about 3s. 6d. per head of the public who attended and does he consider this taxpayers' money well spent?

Subject to the mental arithmetic of the hon. Member, which I think is not quite correct, he should not suppose that the effect of the exhibition was confined to people who went there and he might like to know that, as a result, a number of speeches, lectures and film shows were arranged to propagate the exhibition.