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National Finance

Volume 487: debated on Tuesday 24 April 1951

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Civil Servants' Pensions

48.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer how many retired civil servants are now in receipt of pension which was fixed in relation to the cost of living as at December, 1945, or before; and what would be the cost of granting them a supplementary pension commensurate with the increased cost of living since that date.

The pensions of civil servants are based on salary at retirement and are not related to the cost of living. The number of current pensioners who retired before the end of 1945 and the cost of their pensions could not be ascertained without a disproportionate amount of labour.

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that since these pensions were fixed his Government have failed to control the cost of living and, owing to the rapid increase in the cost of living, these unfortunate people are suffering severely from having had their pensions fixed upon contributions made many years ago? Does he realise that they are suffering great hardship and that their case merits attention?

I could not agree that grave hardship is being suffered. It is true, of course, that the cost of living has gone up. Sometimes it goes up and sometimes it goes down. [HON. MEMBERS: "When does it go down?"] During the slump, when the Tory Party were in power. But the pensions are not fixed in accordance with the cost of living.

Money Prizes (Tax)

49.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether, under his regulations, peace prizes paid by foreign governments to individuals in this country are liable to United Kingdom Income Tax.

I would refer the hon. Member to the reply I gave to the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth, West (Brigadier Clarke), on 17th April.

Could we not give the Dean of Canterbury as a peace prize to the Soviet Union?

The hon. Member will not expect me to say anything about the tax affairs of individual taxpayers.

Officials (Inspection Powers)

50.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what was the total number of officials authorised to carry out inspections and investigations without search warrant in private business and residential premises at 1st April.

In March the figure was 19,448, of whom 5,959 were authorised to enter private houses used exclusively as such.

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that, according to the figures given to the House by his predecessor last July, this represents an increase of 15,000 officials in that period? How does he account for that?

Because the Inland Revenue have taken over valuation duties from the local authorities.

Can my right hon. Friend say what proportion of these people exercise these powers under authority which came into existence prior to 1945?

By far the greater part of them, although I cannot give the exact figure.

Are these people allowed to enter private houses without making an appointment and without the permission of the owner?

No, Sir. There is a Question on the Order Paper a little later which deals with that point.

59.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what arrangements he has made for rating valuation officers to work outside their ordinary hours of duty if they wish to inspect a house which either is unoccupied during those hours or is owned by a person who wishes to be present during the visit and is himself working elsewhere during such hours.

No fresh arrangements are necessary as there is a standing instruction to valuation officers to meet all reasonable requests as to dates and times of inspection. The hon. Member can rest assured that if a property is unoccupied during office hours the inspection will be carried out at some other convenient time.

Would the right hon. Gentleman agree that the innuendo in the valuation officer's letter to a householder which I sent him was that householders were made for the valuation officers and not the other way round?

I do not think that is really fair. The hon. Member and I have exchanged correspondence in this case, and I hope he will let the matter lie where it is now. The officer concerned has offered to meet the hon. Member's constituent and visit his house at a mutually convenient time.

Would the right hon. Gentleman make it perfectly clear to these officers that they must take every step to make arrangements and give notification of their arrival? If I give him an example of somebody who arrived at and entered into a house when it was unoccupied, and asked neighbours questions about that house, will he take action against that officer?

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us exactly the number of valuation officers now operating?

Cost Of Living

51.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what changes in policy he proposes to make to assist the old age pensioners out of work below the age of 70, married couples who pay no Income Tax, bachelors and spinsters with dependants, war disabled pensioners and persons living on superannuation or small savings to meet the increased cost of living.

Am I to understand from that reply that the right hon. Gentleman intends to do absolutely nothing for this class of people who are on static incomes? How does he expect them to be able to deal with the ever-increasing cost of living without any relief whatsoever?

There is no difficulty in finding candidates for increased payments from the State. It is more difficult to find opportunities for cutting down expenditure, in which I hope I shall have the benefit of the assistance of the House.

Will the right hon. Gentleman give his reasons for his differentiation between some sections of the community and others?

Hotel And Tourist Industry

52.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what sums were allocated to the hotel and tourist industry in this country out of Marshall Aid during each of the years in which we were receiving such assistance.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that during that period some millions of money was spent on Marshall Aid in Austria, France, Greece and Italy? In view of the fact that the right hon. Gentleman has given only about £200,000 to the tourist industry, will he bear in mind that this industry has been very much deprived of money in these years, whereas in enemy countries the industry was receiving this money?

I think the hon. Member must be referring to the use of the counterpart funds which, in our case were used for the retirement of debts. None was available, therefore, for payments to industries.

Typewriters (Customs Charge)

54.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make a statement on the Customs charge of £7 made on a typewriter sent by an American friend to Mr. A. Bishop, 19, Freeston, Street, Cleethorpes, who is totally blind and whose income is limited to a non-contributory pension and to a National Assistance allowance; and if he will have this charge reconsidered.

Customs duty of £3 10s. on this typewriter was correctly charged and has been paid, but following representation by the Lindsey Blind Society further inquiries are being made to ascertain whether special hardship arises in this particular case which would justify waiving the charge.

While I am obliged to the Chancellor for having given way in this case, may I ask him whether in all cases brought forward by a responsible society for the blind similar generous treatment will be given?

I want to make it plain that there is no question of my giving way. I have undertaken to look into the matter again at the request of this society and in similar circumstances I will always do the same.

Anglo-Argentine Agreement

55.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what is the reason for the inability of the Government to reach agreement with the Argentine Government.

65.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he is now in a position to make a statement on the progress of trade negotiations with the Argentine.

Agreement has now been reached and I would ask the hon. Members to await the statement which I hope to make after Questions.

Income Tax (Schedule A Assessments)

56.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if, in view of the hardship caused to a purchaser of a house which he had formerly rented in the area of the Bucklow, East Division on discovering that the Commissioners will not permit the Schedule A assessment to revert to the lower rate applicable to owner occupancy, he will give appropriate publicity to the divergent treatment accorded to these assessments solely by these particular Commissioners.

I feel sure the hon. Member's Questions, and my answers, have already given this matter appropriate publicity.

I would not say not enough publicity. I am sure we can rely on the hon. Member to take further steps in the matter if he thinks it really necessary.

57.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer how much additional revenue has accrued annually for the last five years to the Treasury through the refusal of the Commissioners of Income Tax for the Division of Bucklow, East, to permit the reversion of the Schedule A assessments in their district to the lower rate applicable to owner-occupancy where appropriate, contrary to the general practice in the rest of the country.

Here is a little more publicity now. Will the right hon. Gentleman take the necessary steps to make the money available, as he has no right to the money he has extorted from my constituents?

I cannot take steps to make it available because I do not know what the assessment would otherwise have been.

Bank Notes (Increased Circulation)

58.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he is aware that the amount of bank notes in circulation in 1928 was 137,000,000, in 1938 it had increased to 504,000,000 and in 1950 was 1,357,000,000; and if he will make an inquiry into the reasons for these in creases with a view to effecting a stricter control over the circulation of bank notes.

Yes, Sir, but I do not think any inquiry is called for. The increase in the note circulation almost certainly reflects changes in the economic situation and, in particular, the rise in money incomes.

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that one of the main reasons for this enormous increase in the bank note circulation is the fact that certain traders have adopted the pernicious practice of making payments in cash instead of by cheque, and that the black marketeers trade in this way with the object of defrauding the Inland Revenue? Will he consider, if he agrees, the advisability of calling in the present bank notes in circulation in exchange for notes of another issue?

I am naturally concerned to prevent any form of tax evasion, but I doubt whether this particular form—this alleged form—really requires such a big step as calling in the whole of the note circulation.

Customs And Excise Officers (Salaries)

60.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he anticipates that negotiations will be commenced in connection with the request made by the Customs and Excise Federation on the 19th December, 1950, for revision of the salaries of officers of Customs and Excise.

An offer for salary revision has been communicated to the Customs and Excise Federation within the last few days, and discussions on the terms of the offer can proceed as soon as the Federation wishes.

Is it not a fact that this matter has been a grievance for some time past, and is it not also a fact that it will be a matter of great delight to these people that the matter is now being looked into?

I do not know that there has been any unusual delay in this, but a large number of similar claims have had to be dealt with at the same time.

Would the right hon. Gentleman look at the case of the Water-guard and give it special attention, in view of the fact that these men have to perform extra duty, as aircraft are taking off and arriving at all times of the night?

I am not sure whether that is covered by this particular claim. I will investigate.

Income Tax (Agricultural Machinery)

62.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if the withdrawal of the initial allowance for Income Tax purposes will apply to agricultural machinery and equipment.

47.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether the suspension of the initial allowance for industrial equipment applies to agriculture.

The Chancellor will remember saying, in regard to the withdrawal of the allowance from the shipbuilding industry, that there was a case for looking at the matter again. Is there not a strong case for looking at the matter from the point of view of agriculture, in view of the present importance of our food supplies?

No, Sir, I could not agree that there is any close analogy between those two cases.

I am not quite sure. Perhaps the hon. Member will let me have notice of that question.

Does the right hon. Gentleman's reply mean that the initial allowances for Income Tax purposes are also withdrawn from commercial vehicles used for agricultural purposes?

Yes, they are withdrawn from the beginning of the fiscal year 1952–53 from all industry and agriculture.

If the Chancellor does not feel able to look at the matter now, will he look at it again at the time of next year's price review?

Building Societies (Income Tax And Surtax)

63.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether there will be any change in the method of assessing Surtax on interest received from deposits and shares in building societies in the fiscal year 1951–52.

64.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what will be the composite rate of Income Tax chargeable to building societies in the fiscal year 1951–52.

The composite rate for 1951–52 has not yet been determined. The appropriate rate will be discussed with the Building Societies Association in due course.

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind the importance of getting the rate settled as early as possible in the year, because on some previous occasions the rate has only been agreed as late as December and it makes it very difficult for undertakings if they do not know the tax liability until such a late stage?

Ministerial Cars (Mileage Cost)

66.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if, in view of the additional cost of petrol and tyres, he now proposes to increase the cost per mile for the use of Ministerial cars for private purposes.

Does the Chancellor appreciate that through this very low charge he is now making for Ministerial cars, he is reducing his own cost of living and that of other Members on the Government Front Bench, while for everybody else the cost of living is going up?

Old Age Pensioners

67.

asked the Chancellor if he can now make any further statement concerning the relief of many of the old age pensioners from the burdens which even under the recent Budget will still be borne by them.

70.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what would be the cost of extending the suggested 4s. old age pension increase so as to apply to men over 65 and women over 60 years of age.

I would refer my hon. Friend to the reply which my right hon. Friend the Minister of National Insurance gave to the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Llewellyn) on 19th April.

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that the man between 65 and 70 who is unable to work is having a very rough time indeed today? Will he not consider whether something should be done for these people?

Perhaps my hon. Friend would agree that these matters can be more appropriately discussed in Thursday's debate.

Pensions (Increase) Act

68.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether, in view of the hardship suffered by Service widows and widows and dependants of other Crown servants, especially those getting on in years, under the present high cost of living, he will consider some amendment of the Pensions (Increase) Act of 1947.

As I stated in reply to a Question by the hon. and learned Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Hutchinson) on 30th January, it is only justifiable in the most exceptional circumstances to amend pensions fixed by reference to retiring salaries or to rank. I regret that I cannot see my way in the present situation to propose further amendment of the Pensions (Increase) Acts.

As the right hon. Gentleman has heard of many instances today in Questions of cases of hardship amongst the fixed income groups, will he not consider some sort of inquiry?

Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether he is aware that the cost of living is rising to all those people on static incomes? Will he give an answer to that, please? Is he aware of it?

Overseas Visitors (Purchase Tax)

69.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he will consider issuing coupons, under the Purchase Tax coupons scheme, on a more generous scale as a basic allowance, and not related to the amount of money a visitor to this country may change.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the present system causes a good deal of inconvenience to visitors coming to the country, as many of them bring travellers' cheques and do not visit a bank, and therefore are not aware of this system?

I have no evidence to that effect, but if the hon. Member will let me have it, I will look into it.

Does the right hon. Gentleman's answer mean that he has considered and turned down the various suggestions put forward by bodies such as the Dollar Exports Board? Or are they still under consideration?

I have not yet made any statement on the matter. Perhaps the hon. and gallant Member will await the statement.

Poland (Sterling)

71.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer for what reasons His Majesty's Government have permitted Poland to continue to use sterling within the transferable account area.

I am not satisfied that we should alter the arrangements made under the Anglo-Polish Payments Agreement.

Why is the right hon. Gentleman extending this privilege to Poland when Poland is refusing to pay the initial instalments on its debts to this country? Surely it is not logical to give with one hand and not to press for payment with the other?

There is no question of extending this privilege. The arrangements were made under the Anglo-Polish Payments Agreement of 1948. We are not at present aware of the reason why the Polish Government did not pay the sums mentioned by the hon. and gallant Member, and we are looking into that.

Is it not a fact that the availability to Poland of the use of transferable sterling has recently been extended another six months after she repudiated her debts to this country?