Not amended ( in the Committee) and as amended ( in the Standing Committee), considered.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will remember that on Thursday a number of points of order were raised about the absence of facilities for hon. Members on both sides of the House to consider amendments that had then been tabled or were being tabled. You will also remember that the Leader of the House repeated a number of times his undertaking that all the material necessary for Members to consider the legislation would be made available in time. He repeated that time and time again in the hearing of many hon. Members.On Friday we had occasion to raise the matter yet again. I did so, as reported at column 989 of Fridays Official Report, because by then it was clear that there was no print available to hon. Members of the amendments that had been tabled throughout Thursday, up until the close of play on Thursday. Moreover, no print has since been made available of amendments tabled on Friday, by the Government or Opposition side, to Part III. All that hon. Members have today is an Order Paper containing amendments to Parts I, II and IV. There does not exist a marshalled list, or any comprehensive list, of those tabled to Part III. This is a serious state of affairs. It makes it impossible for proper consultation on that part of the Bill to take place. The Government Deputy Chief Whip was also drawn into the matter, to his misfortune, on Friday. To try to rescue something from the wreck, he told the House that he would ensure that every hon. Member who had served on the Standing Committee would be supplied with at least a copy of the Xeroxed amendments, out of order and unmarshalled, that were available to about 30 hon. Members on Friday. I understand that that undertaking has not been fulfilled either. Although efforts were no doubt made by the Government, some of my hon. Friends did not receive even that inadequate summary of the amendments on Friday, Saturday or Monday, either at their home address or at their constituency address. This is an intolerable state of affairs. I wish to find out from the Leader of the House, by raising this point of order, what excuses there are for this state of affairs and what remedy he proposes. We know that the printing was not taking place on Thursday. That is not sufficient excuse. Either the time table for the production of the amendments and for the consideration of the Bill was impossibly tight, or there may be some other reason for the failure to have these documents printed. The situation suggests that the social contract, of which we are told the capital transfer tax is an important part, is failing even to achieve its objective of securing continued activity by the Government's printers. The House is entitled not only to a remedy but to an apology from the Leader of the House.
At your suggestion, Mr. Speaker, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer put down a business motion for today. If the House is prepared to pass that motion, the undertaking I gave on Thursday will have been carried out.
Further to that point of order. Following the exchanges on Friday, the situation is even worse. My right hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) and I went to the Government Chief Whip's office on Friday to find out where we could go on Saturday to obtain the amendments. It would not be fair to say that we were barred entry, because every door was wide open, but there was no one present. They had all departed, and there was not even a sign to say that they had gone for a tea break. Constant attempts on Friday and Saturday to find out were without avail. Now the final selection is not received until 1.45 p.m., which is without precedent.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Could you clarify the rule on the starring of amendments? I am aware that you generously said that today you would suspend the normal practice of not calling starred amendments, but the rule needs clarification. I tabled three amendments which appear starred on today's Notice Paper—Nos. 326, 327 and 328. They appeared on the photostat copy of the list of amendments which the Vote Office released on Friday. Therefore, I was surprised to find that on today's list they appear starred.As I understand the rule, if amendments have already been released by the Vote Office, they should not appear starred on a subsequent list on a subsequent day. I also understand that this rule does not depend on whether the Notice Paper is printed, Roneoed, typed or copied by photostat, or whatever method is used for its presentation. Clarification is needed, because on another occasion the Chair might not waive the rule whereby starred amendments are not normally selected, and as a result of amendments being starred the second time they appear on a Notice Paper released by the Vote Office their selection by the Chair might be prejudiced. I should be grateful, Mr. Speaker, if you would say whether I am correct in believing that the form of reproduction of the Notice Paper should not be material to whether an amendment is starred on a subsequent Notice Paper.
I shall go into the point the hon. Gentleman has made. I have completely disregarded whether or not amendments are starred today. I have selected amendments on merit, irrespective of whether or not they are starred.
As anxiety has understandably been expressed about printing, and in so far as printing by Her Majesty's Stationery Office falls within the ambit of my ministerial responsibilities, it might be in order for me to make a statement on the printting situation as it has affected the Stationery Office over the weekend.It may be for the benefit of the House if I explain that 720 amendments have been tabled. The Notice Paper this morning contains 32 pages of marshalled amendments covering Clauses 1–18 and Schedules 1–3. Because of the complexity of the amendments and the time taken to select the relevant amendments for the marshalled list, the Stationery Office was not able to marshal more than 32 pages. Five hundred sets of the first 60 pages of the unmarshalled amendments were delivered to the House this morning. Copies of the remaining amendments, covering a further 60 pages, are now available in the Vote Office. Because of the complexity of the operation and the efforts devoted to producing a marshalled list of amendments for today's business, together with the volume of the amendments and the time-phasing of the tabling of amendments, this situation has produced a position where Her Majesty's Stationery Office was left with a task over the weekend beyond its capacity. I regret that copies of the final 60 pages were not available for the consideration of hon. Members this morning.
I think that the whole House will be grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his gallant attempt to take the blame in this difficult situation. No blame attaches to him. The trouble is that we are dealing with an intolerably complex operation and the Government simply have not been able to make arrangements in time for the House to consider this matter in an orderly fashion.I take it—the Leader of the House can confirm or deny—that the situation that we have now reached means that it will be quite impossible for any of Part III to be taken until Thursday.
In that case the right hon. Gentleman is saying that the amendments to this vital part of the Bill will not be available to the House in time, which is certainly in conformity with the very bad habit that the right hon. Gentleman is now forcing on the House.I put it to the Government once again that, in fairness to themselves and to Parliament, they should agree to withdraw the capital transfer tax and put it to a Select Committee so that it may be given reasonably mature consideration and not thrust down the throats of hon. Members in this unconsidered, inconsiderate, discourteous fashion. That would enable the right hon. Gentleman at least to salvage for himself and his Department some shreds of a reputation for doing things in a proper and civilised fashion.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wonder whether the views that the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) has just expressed to the House would have been different had he heard the statement by his right hon. and learned Friend the Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer on the radio this morning, when he said that the aim of the Opposition in this operation was to stop this tax from reaching the statute book—in other words, there was no question of giving it mature consideration at any stage. Would his attitude have been somewhat different if he had known that, after making a fuss about the non-availability of amendments on Thursday, the Opposition tabled 100 pages of new amendments, nearly half of which were tabled between 10 o'clock at night and 1.45 in the morning?
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The right hon. Gentleman must know perfectly well that if the Government bring this new tax from Committee to Report stage with very few days available for us to consider it, a substantial volume of amendments is bound to be tabled by the Opposition even in relation to the Government Amendments that we have actually seen. He should know perfectly plainly that when I said that we were determined to secure sufficient time for consideration of this tax, and, indeed, determined so far as we could to use all the legitimate parliamentary means available to us to prevent its reaching the statute book, that was a perfectly proper thing to say.It is a perfectly proper thing to say because it is absolutely lunatic, even by the conventions adopted by this Government, to suggest that proper consideration can be given to amendments of this fundamental importance within 24, 48 or even 72 hours of receiving them—or even within a week. This legislation is so complex that it requires consideration of a kind that can be given to it only if it is remitted to a Select Committee for proper consideration.
So far as these matters are matters for the Chair, I promised that I would do my best for hon. Members. In fact, the Vote Office put in a great deal of very hard work to try to facilitate production of the amendments. However, we are now in the field of argument, and that may arise on the motion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Order. We are clearly getting into the field of debate and there is about to be a debate on the motion that the Bill should be taken in the order proposed.
On a different point of order, Mr. Speaker. Surely the House should be protected against the suggestion that there is something objectionable to putting down amendments to the Finance Bill.
Order. That is not a point of order; it is comment.
On a point of order—
Is it a point of order for the Chair?
Yes, Mr. Speaker. When it was agreed that half the Finance Bill should be sent to Standing Committee, it was said that hon. Members would have a proper chance to consider it on Report if they had not been members of the Standing Committee. It is not good enough, therefore, to say that a substantial effort should be made to supply copies of amendments to those hon. Members who were members of the Standing Committee. There are other hon. Members who require them.
That is not a matter for the Chair.
I much prefer the House to get on.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker—
Is it the same point of order?
It is a different point of order. You will be aware that on Thursday the Leader of the House said:
"I have given more time to the Finance Bill than"—
Order. This is the same point of order. It is a matter of the time allowed. That is not a matter for the Chair.
It is not a point of Order.
The right hon. Gentleman said:
"I have given more time to the Finance Bill than has been given to any Finance Bill since 1909."—[Official Report, 27th February 1975; Vol. 887, c. 709.]
Order. The hon. Member must resume his seat. That is not a matter for the Chair. Those are comments. Those are matters germane to a debate or criticism, but they are nothing to do with the Chair.
I will not hear the hon. Member any more.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have looked at your provisional selection of amendments, which is displayed in the "No" Lobby. The motion to be moved by the Chancellor of the Exchequer states:
Your selection of amendments, Mr. Speaker, is headed"That the Finance Bill, as amended, be considered in the following order, namely, new Clauses not relating to capital transfer tax or estate duty, Amendments relating to Clauses 1 to 18 …".
Do I take it from that that all the new clauses are to be debated? The selection of amendments has been made, but all that we are told is that the new clauses will be taken before consideration of the amendments starts."To end of Clause 18".
This is a very simple one: none of the new clauses has been selected. To rub it in—they are all out of order.
This is a different point of order, Mr. Speaker. You have been kind enough to indicate your selection up to the end of Clause 18. There are amendments which have not been tabled to Clause 18 on the assumption that they did not need to be tabled until today because the House was originally programmed to debate new clauses today. May I have your assurance that such amendments, when they appear on the Notice Paper, will be considered by you as though they were not starred?
I have made it perfectly clear that in this situation I will consider manuscript amendments if need be.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. During the watches of the night in Committee the Financial Secretary in particular, and the Chief Secretary on occasions, was prone to say that he would take a particular problem away and consider it, without, of course, giving any undertaking about what he would bring back on Report. I have always understood—
Order. Will the hon. and learned Gentleman say how this affects the Chair?
I am coming to the main point in a moment but it is necessary to develop this. I have always understood it to be the convention of the Committee, the House or the Government in that situation for the Ministers concerned to write to the hon. Member who moved the amendment—
Order. This is an abuse of a point of order. Mr. Barnett.
May I raise a completely different point of order, Mr. Speaker? In your discretion you permitted the Minister of State to the Civil Service Department to make a statement a few moments ago. [Interruption.] Is it not the convention of the House that when a Minister makes a statement that statement should be subject to questioning by hon. Members?
No. This is entirely a matter for the Chair.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. [Interruption.] I would like you to consider the point that Clause 39 of the Bill is outside the Financial Resolutions and should not be included in it and, further, that it would be quite improper for the House to consider or debate it in any circumstances. The Financial Resolutions say that a capital transfer tax may be introduced but Clause 39 is not about a tax on capital; it is about a tax on the income arising from capital. It says—
Order. It is not down for debate today. I am trying to get on with today's business. The hon. Member can make his point to me later. If I get a suspicion that attempts are wrongly being made to delay the business on this Bill it may affect my mind on other decisions I may have to take. If the hon. Member has a point about Clause 39 he can perfectly well put it to me later, if he will. Let us get on with this other business today.
I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker. [Interruption.] I would like to give you notice that I will seek to argue at a later stage that Clause 39 is outwith the Financial Resolutions and should not be included in the Bill.
There are two points of order I wish to raise with you, Mr. Speaker. The first is that in this difficult situation when my right hon. and hon. Friends are trying to raise points of great importance to Parliament, there is a stream of interruptions from what I can only call the usual quarters which makes it difficult for the Opposition to put a reasonable point of view.The second point of order concerns the remark you have just made, that if you get a suspicion that the Opposition are trying to hold up business this would affect your mind. The point is that we are not trying to hold up business in any way. We are merely trying to point out the difficulties which the House is in as a result of having this stuff thrust at it at the last minute with the minimum of opportunity to consult all the outside interests or to represent our constituents adequately.
I certainly have not attempted to prevent the right hon. Gentleman saying that. What I am not prepared to do is to have the same thing said a hundred times.
May I apologise to the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson). In fairness to him, I believe he was trying to correct something I said the other day. I do not wish to mislead the House. I said that this was the longest time given to the Finance Bill since 1909. I have done some more researches this weekend and I have discovered that in 1965 five days plus a little time for Third Reading were given. If we add to the time that I have given the 163 hours spent in Committee it amounts to one of the longest periods ever given in this century to a Finance Bill.
That is not a matter of order. However long the Finance Bill has taken in the past, it is not a matter for me.
I beg to move,
It may surprise you, Mr. Speaker, to be told that this motion has been tabled to help the House. It was done in co-operation with some hon. Members on the Opposition benches to make it possible to discuss the non-capital-transfer-tax clauses before we get to the capital-transfer-tax parts of the Bill. It seems that, given the time we have debated the non-capital-transfer-tax clauses in Committee, both here and upstairs, it should be a comparatively simple matter to debate this part of the Bill pretty quickly, given the customary co-operation and good will we have learned to expect from the Opposition. I therefore think there will be ample time within the remainder of the five days allotted to Report to debate the Bill. It might be worth saying that if it is the intention of the House and of the Opposition to have a serious examination of the capital transfer tax, there will be, by the use of this motion, ample time so to do.That the Finance Bill, as amended, be considered in the following order, namely, new clauses not relating to capital transfer tax or estate duty, amendments relating to Clauses 1 to 18 and 50 to 56 and to Schedules 1 to 3 and 12, new clauses relating to capital transfer tax or estate duty, amendments relating to Clauses 19 to 49, new schedules, and amendments relating to Schedules 4 to 11.
Clearly it would be churlish of me not to express gratitude to the Chief Secretary for the motion which he has moved. Equally, I make it perfectly plain that as a means of concentrating proper or sufficient parliamentary consideration on the capital transfer tax it is simply not good enough. What the hon. Member is suggesting is a partial solution to the problem we have already spent some time discussing today, namely the non-availability of the amendments in any printed or digestible form.This motion cannot be an answer to the problem which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has created for the House and the country—the problem of presenting a tax half-digested, ill-considered, ill-explained, far too late for it properly to be considered before it is placed on the statute book. It is to that to which I address my remarks. Of course this motion will enable us to consider the various important points that still arise on Parts I, II and IV of the Bill. What is not clear at this stage is when the Government intend or expect us to get on to Part III of the Bill and the capital transfer tax. We were told several times in the statement by the Minister of State to the Civil Service Department that it had been quite impossible for the Stationery Office even to marshal and print the various amendments, Government and Opposition, within a weekend of working because of the complexity and number. That is the premise from which we have started. If it has taken that long and has caused that much difficulty even to marshal and print these amendments, how much more impossible will it be for us to consider and debate them? It will be quite impossible. The Leader of the House said that he hoped to have the Order Paper in a sufficient condition for us to consider these matters in due course. What does he mean by "in a sufficient condition" and "in due course"? He reiterated his undertaking given to the House on Thursday that these matters would be available in sufficient time to be considered. If I understand him correctly, all amendments so far tabled are now apparently available. I hope that that will be confirmed by the Chief Secretary. Even if they are available, those now on the Notice Paper cannot include any amendments tabled by any hon. Member to those Government amendments that were to be tabled on Friday which we shall presumably be seeing for the first time this afternoon. Even if they are available to that extent, it is impossible for any legislative assembly which has any pretence to consider matters seriously and with deliberation sensibly to consider the Bill between now and the end of the week. We shall certainly aim to make reasonable progress on Parts I, II and IV, but we want to know what the Lord President has in mind when he says that the amendments will be available for us to consider in sufficient time. 4.30 p.m. The real grievance remains unremedied. Not only will there be insufficient time to consider and debate the amendments. The fundamental point is that there is no time for us or for those in the country whom we seek to represent to consider the whole raft of fundamental Government amendments which have been tabled in the last two days. This goes to the heart of our parliamentary functions. It is impossible for us to do other than make a mockery or charade of parliamentary government in the fact of what the Government seek to do. The capital transfer tax, which we and many people outside regard as thoroughly destructive, has been introduced in such a way that no Government who seek to call themselves responsible should be prepared to drive ahead and get it on the statute book in the way that the Government have in mind. It is an impossible way to proceed. There is no need for them to do it. The Bill has been separated in Parts I, II and IV as one section, and Part III is to come later. The Government can sensibly and practically secure, by recommittal of the Bill or in other ways, that Part III and the capital transfer tax no longer remain part of the vehicle which they intend to get into its home port in time to comply with the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act. Let me examine the timetable which has been followed for the Bill. The Government announced their intention to introduce the legislation as long ago as March last year—almost 12 months ago. From then until August the entire Government machine, fired only by the initial inspiration of Transport House, devoted itself to the generation of a White Paper which was meant to clarify what the Government would do. From March until August the Government machine was able to produce the White Paper. Therefore, five months were occupied in that process of deliberation. In the White Paper the Government indicated a number of principles which they hoped to embody in the legislation and others which they intended to reconsider. For example, they said that they did not consider it appropriate to continue the specially favourable treatment accorded to woodlands; that they were considering the possibility of continuing relief for full-time working farmers and business men in respect of agricultural land and business assets; and that they were considering the question of dealing with the national heritage and works of art. They also set out aspirations in relation to gifts to charities and said that it was outside the scope of the White Paper to give a detailed account of the provisions which they proposed to introduce to govern the liabilities of trustees in respect of settled property. That shows that after five months of deliberation the Government and their advisers were still considering those important, fundamental matters. By the time that they had published the Finance Bill in November last year, after eight months deliberation, they still had not sufficiently resolved matters to be able to propose any solutions to those problems. Last week they brought forward amendments to deal with all those matters only so far as they think they can or should—to our mind, by no means adequately. If it has taken the Government, in making changes which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has described as the most important tax changes since the end of the war, almost 12 months to present us with inadequate solutions, how can any legislative assembly which describes itself as responsible, which claims to be the Mother of Parliaments and which sets an example for parliamentary procedure round the world, consider and debate these matters in the next few days? It is intolerable. Let us consider parallels. Take a modest case in the type of county court which considered the sort of litigation with which years ago no doubt Mr. Speaker was concerned in Birkenhead. Let us suppose that it was an action between a citizen and his neighbour about a boundary dispute or an alleged assault. If during the hearing of the case one side sought to amend its statement of the case, it is axiomatic that the court would grant an adjournment of weeks rather than days. We are not faced with that situation. We are the parliamentary representatives of hundreds of thousands of people whose businesses, farms and forestry plantations will be affected by the Bill, with millions of other people employed in such enterprises whose interests will be gravely threatened by this absurd legislative hotch-potch. This is not a debating point. It is not advanced in order to delay discussion. It goes to the fundamental merits of the Government's position. The Chief Secretary must learn, if he has not learned already, that he cannot escape from his responsibility for the mess that we are in by smirking, laughing and giggling. We have had quite enough of that, and the sooner he wipes the grin off his face the better it will be for him and the country. Every utterance by the Chief Secretary only underlines the extent—
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. What do the right hon. and learned Gentleman's remarks have to do with the motion? It is a simple motion. Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman in order in what he has said? He is merely wasting time.
The hon. and learned Gentleman should not make his own contribution to wasting time. The right hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe) is in order.
The situation is intolerable and it cannot be laughed away.The Government have failed, in the months that they have allowed themselves to get the matter right, to table amendments which satisfy their own limited aspirations. The position in relation to discretionary trusts is a measure of the absurdity of their situation. On the Notice Paper for Tuesday 25th February there is a splendid, shining, resplendent New Clause No. 5 in the name of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to deal with the position concerning certain trusts. On Wednesday, within 24 hours, under the same inauspicious parentage, New Clause No. 7 was tabled which apparently does the same as New Clause No. 5, but the Government have had to introduce into it a subsection (4). How can there be any credibility about parliamentary consideration when the Government amend their own amendments within 24 hours and only a few days before we debate them? One can give an almost infinite number of examples. On Thursday last week the Government tabled a long and complex series of amendments relating to the forestry industry. I have nothing but admiration for the parliamentary counsel who must be working night and day in an endeavour to produce the amendments. But he has the privilege of being an expert in this matter and of being able to devote the whole of his time to it. Other people have not seen the documents, and we are told—I understand it to be so—
My right hon. and learned Friend praised the parliamentary draftsman, but he has made an almighty mess of the clause, which does not make sense and is unworkable in terms of the forestry industry. The clause requires a Committee stage. Will my right hon. and learned Friend suggest the recommittal of the forestry new clause, which we cannot possibly deal with on Report?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. I praise the industry, assiduity and nicety of parliamentary counsel to the bounds of that well-known office. I know that the view of parliamentary counsel is that they would not contemplate clauses which have been subject to their most careful consideration reaching the statute book without the benefit of a Committee stage.Here we have a new schedule with a substantial series of amendments which, far from having a Committee stage, will receive virtually no consideration because we shall not be able to consult the people who will be affected by the amendments. As I understand, there has been no consultation at all between the Government and the forestry industry about these matters. That is another indictment about the way in which the matter is being handled. As I understand—and I do not pretend to understand it completely in view of the limited time I have had—I am sufficiently modest to make that point and I appreciate the Chief Secretary's further giggle about it—the Government in the new schedule propose to move from their original disastrous position to one in which on the disposition of every tree that is felled, and conceivably on every twig that is lopped off the forests, a further chargeable event shall take place. The country will be dominated from end to end by as many chargeable events as there are twigs upon the trees.
As I represent a constituency one of the boroughs of which has as its motto "By sea and forest enchanted" may I ask my right hon. and learned Friend to extract from the Chief Secretary whether there was any consultation with the Forestry Commission and other responsible bodies before the amendments were tabled?
I hope that my hon. Friend will have his own opportunity for making such an extraction and his own special methods of carrying out such a delicate surgical operation. I will leave him to undertake that, if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.The Government gave certain undertakings in Committee to make changes in relation to charities on public bodies and political parties. We know that they have made some in relation to charities. They were intending to table further amendments dealing with political and public bodies. It may be that in the document that is winging around the House, about which the Leader of the House told us a few moments ago, some such texts appear. I know not. The fact that on such a vital matter we are still uncertain shows that this is an impossible way of handling major tax changes. It is intolerable. It stretches the bounds of toleration of a legislative assembly positively to the limits and beyond those limits. The Government have a remedy in their own hands if they will accept the advice that has been given not just by hon. Members but by many commentators outside to take away Part III the capital transfer tax provisions, to consider it again and to bring it forward in a subsequent separate Bill or remit it for consideration by a Select Committee. 4.45 p.m. I want to quote from one of the many documents which seek to enshrine the parliamentary traditions of this place, a book called "The Procedure of the House of Commons" by Mr. Redlich, published in 1908. Volume III of that analysis says:
It may be that the rules of this place allow the Government to handle major tax changes of this kind in this way. If that be so, they may deserve re-examination. What is certainly not the case is that the conventions of this place by which we have all been bound, the entire tradition of our parliamentary government, allow us to be treated in the way in which the Government propose. I mentioned earlier the extent to which in the most modest case in the most modest court in this country we should expect to be given days if not weeks to consider a simple change in the way in which either party was presenting his case. That proposition is enshrined in what we have all come to regard in this House and outside as the rules of natural justice. Natural justice inside the House as well as outside it requires that people who are likely to be affected by administrative acts, decisions or proceedings should be given adequate notice of what is proposed. The rules of natural justice require that for very good reasons, so that the parties may be in a position to make representations on their own behalf. What opportunity has been given in a practical sense to the millions of people I have been speaking about to make representations of that kind? Absolutely none. They must also be given that consideration so that they may have a chance effectively to prepare their case. That chance also has been denied to them, and that is equally intolerable. We have substantial reasons behind us when we argue for a change in approach. The Government have only one solution, which is to withdraw Part III of the Bill and to accept the advice which was given to them by many commentators in the Press during the weekend. I hope that the Chief Secretary has seen—and I am sure he will not be able to rebut—the proposition contained in the leading article in this morning's Financial Times which says:"The political development of our own day has laid bare—in the first instance in England, and then in nearly all the constitutional states of Europe—the conventional foundation of parliamentary government. Parliamentary conventions appear above all in the forms of parliamentary action, in the limitations to party strategy imposed by the inviolable bounds of the rules and in the tacit agreement among all who take part in parliamentary life to handle these rules in a reasonable way."
We can all say "Hear, hear" to that. Mr. Patrick Hutber in yesterday's Sunday Telegraph summarises the point:"The method of putting forward this major tax reform has so far been an object lesson in how not to do it;"
I make no apology for saying that we agree with that. How could we understand this horrendous torrent of amendments? Mr. Hutber goes on to say:"It is not just that those affected will not have heard of them. It is not that outside experts will have no chance to make their contribution. It is not even that the Opposition may not have had a chance of understanding them."
"The likelihood, the overwhelming balance of probabilities, is that the Government will not understand the effect of its own amendments either.
He will not be smiling much longer—When I look at the Treasury's pantomime horse I feel sorrier for the front legs than the back. Mr. Joel Barnett makes some attempt to understand what it is he is talking about. But the back legs, 'Dr.' John Gilbert"—
That is also a valid comment. I quote finally from today's The Times, from Mr. Hugh Stephenson in the Business Section:"as arrogant as he is incompetent, will on his committee form plough doggedly through his departmental briefs barely understanding the parsing of the sentences, let alone the meaning."
All those comments and verdicts are valid. The answer is to abandon consideration of this part of the Bill. Let the Government recommit it for consideration in any of the alternative ways open to them. The Government do not need to have Part III of the Bill to comply with the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act. I have no doubt, given patience and hard work on both sides, that in the time available the Government will be able to have Parts I, II and IV. They do not need to have Part III nor should they have it. What is a glimmering of realisation in the Government's mind of the way in which this should be handled is apparent from an amendment on the Order Paper that reached us during the weekend. It is on page 441 as it then was, Amendment No. 92 to Clause 39 standing in the name of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in these words:"All this, however, pales in comparison with the autumn Finance Bill. The presenting symptoms of the chaos are the extreme complexity of the capital transfer tax and the fact that, despite the long Christmas break, the Bill has to be on the statute book by 14th March, to comply with the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act. As a result, scores of basic amendments to the Bill, proposed by the Government themselves, have not been published until after the Committee stage, where the detailed examination of the Bill is supposed to take place. These are partly in response to outside pressure and partly in the realisation that the original Bill was saying things that were never intended."
The Chief Secretary well knows that that amendment relates to a clause dealing with free loans. It is a clause which was criticised in Committee, in relation to which he acknowledged that many amendments were necessary and in relation to which very few, if any, amendments have been brought forward because the Government have not been able to solve their own problems. The Government are therefore seeking to solve their own problems by including this amendment saying, "O.K. chaps, let us call it a day for another 12 months." That clause will not begin to take effect until 6th April 1976. If the Government are able to take that course in relation to that important provision of this horrendous, abortive, unnecessary, unjust and destructive tax, they are able to take precisely the same course in relation to the whole subject of capital transfer tax. They should make plain to the House that they will not press ahead with consideration of Part III. Unless they do that their handling of this legislation will be a disgrace to parliamentary democracy and to their record."but no period beginning before 6th April 1976 shall be a chargeable period."
In supporting what my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe) said, I wish to point out to the Chief Secretary that he must understand the true position. He said that he was making this proposal to help the House. I have been a Member of this House for some time, and I have never heard such political arrogance. What the right hon. Gentleman is proposing is not to help the House. It is to get the Government off the hook. It is unworthy of the right hon. Gentleman to say that he is helping the House.I come next to the number of amendments which have been tabled. On Friday we had a brief debate about them, and subsequently it was agreed that certain hon. Members would be sent amendment papers over the weekend. It was said that those hon. Members who served on the Committee should have them. I wish to point out that I was a member of the Committee, though not necessarily of the Standing Committee. Every hon. Member was a member of the Committee on the Finance Bill, because the Committee stage started on the Floor of this House. Part of the Bill was sent upstairs. I hope that we are not creating a precedent whereby we have first-class and second-class Members. I take exception to the fact that because I was not a member of the Standing Committee I was precluded from getting the amendments over the weekend. I was a member of the Finance Bill Committee, as every other Member was. The Committee stage started on the Floor, and the Report stage is taken on the Floor. It is no good the Chief Secretary trying to pacify some hon. Members because they have spent time in Committee upstairs. He must satisfy all hon. Members—
The list to which the hon. Gentleman referred was supplied by his own party. If the Conservative Party believes that there are first-class and second-class Members of Parliament, that is not our fault.
I do not take that from the Patronage Secretary. He knows that the direct responsibility for supplying any papers to hon. Members of this House is that of the Government. The Government should not be deflected in their choice of those hon. Members to whom Notice Papers should be sent. They should have gone to every Member. I maintain that I am a member of the Finance Bill Committee. I cannot see why, just because I did not serve on the Standing Committee, I should be precluded from having these amendments.
Is my hon. Friend aware that some hon. Members who were here on Friday and who requested Notice Papers did not receive them over the weekend?
That is another administrative difficulty into which the Government have got themselves.I also support what my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East said about the duties of a Member of Parliament to his constituents. My right hon. and learned Friend logically and clearly described how long the Government have had to frame this legislation; yet here we are at the last moment with no one knowing exactly in what form the CTT may eventually be. What is more, I suggest that not one member of the Government, not one member of the Inland Revenue and not one member of the Treasury understands it. I am a member of the Select Committee which is considering the wealth tax. Recently we were discussing the product of the capital transfer tax, which is quite obviously analogous to the wealth tax. If the capital transfer tax is successful in fragmenting wealth, the product of the wealth tax will be that much less. The Select Committee examined witnesses from the Inland Revenue. I asked whether in their forecasts of the product of the capital transfer tax and that of the so-called wealth tax they had projected what the product might be to the Exchequer. They could not tell me. I can understand why. They do not understand the capital transfer tax. No one does. One day the Chief Secretary himself will be in opposition. He ought to remember that a Member of Parliament is the buffer between the executive and the general public. It does not matter who the general public may be—farmers, industrialists, widows, or whatever. The Member is the buffer between the executive and the general public. How can a Member of Parliament, not knowing what the tax is about, possibly say to his farmer, his forestry owner, his business man or any other constituent "I cannot explain what the capital transfer tax means"? We cannot know. How can we know? We have had the whole Government machine, with all its expertise in the Civil Service, thinking about these facts for the past 10 or 11 months. Even that has not come up with the answer. I put this to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as a serious point. How can a back bencher or an Opposition Front Bench spokesman get the expertise in two or three days to match that of two or three months from the Civil Service? It is monstrous that the Government have brought forward this legislation in this way. I mentioned the wealth tax allied with the capital transfer tax. The Inland Revenue's witnesses admitted that they could not tell me how much the product of the capital transfer tax would be and how much the product of the wealth tax would be. My comment to them was that they were groping in the dark, and they agreed. What an indictment of our taxation system that is. Here we have a very important tax. The Inland Revenue's representatives admit that they are groping in the dark. If they are groping in the dark, what about the poor backbench Member of this House? What is he to do? He is put in an impossible posiiton. I hope that the Chief Secretary will take to heart, and I trust that he will tell the Chancellor of the Exchequer—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where is he?"] He is trying to understand the CTT—
Is my hon. Friend aware that those Opposition Members who served on the Standing Committee understood a great deal more about this tax than the Inland Revenue? Our real worry is not that we do not understand the tax. Our worry is that the staff of the Inland Revenue have not a clue what they are doing and that, after the Committee stage, they have given up trying. That is the danger. We have to give them a little time in which to sort out their ideas and to get the legislation redrafted altogether.
If those in the Inland Revenue have given up trying, certainly we have not. I hope that the Chief Secretary will talk to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. With all his accountancy experience, he knows as well as I do that the tax is ill-thought up and that the Treasury, the Inland Revenue, the parliamentary draftsmen and the economists want to look at it again. There is no urgency about it. In bringing out the Bill in November with a tax which is more revolutionary than any that we have had in the past 50 or 60 years and in expecting this House, without proper amendment papers, to pass it, the Chief Secretary is treating us with tremendous disrespect.I hope that the Chief Secretary will take what I say in the spirit in which I say it. My advice to him is that it would be much better to take back Part III, if he wishes to do so to put it to a Select Committee, but not to rush it through in this way, and certainly not unless both sides of the House understand it.
My remarks will be brief, because most of the arguments on this matter have been deployed already.I begin by pouring a little oil on troubled water. It would be disingenuous of me not to thank the Chancellor of the Exchequer and his team for the courtesy with which they have received certain representations on this theme from me. I was not a member of the Standing Committee, but certainly from outside the Committee I have not found them to be arrogant. 5.0 p.m. The mere fact that there are to be so many changes, so many admendments, and so much correspondence is in itself a reason against rushing this legislation through in the way in which it is being done. Over the years, under every Finance Act certain innocent people have found themselves clobbered, not for any reason, not according to the intentions of the then Government or the House, but because we constantly attempt to rush through Finance Bills which neither we nor the Inland Revenue fully understand. I underline what has been said about the Inland Revenue. I have the greatest admiration and sympathy for its officials. Goodness knows how they keep informed even about the changes in VAT or income tax, far less about new taxes of this sort. I receive more correspondence about delays over taxes than on any other subject. This is the fault not of the Inland Revenue but of successive Governments and this House of Commons. When it was agreed that part of the Finance Bill should be sent upstairs to a Standing Committee many of us were concerned that we should not be able to carry out our fundamental duty as Members of Parliament and examine the Bill. But we were to some extent mollified by the assurance that there would be adequate time on Report to consider what the Committee had done. Further, we believed that we should have adequate time between Committee and Report to consult those who might be affected, and also our advisers. It is no good the House or the Government saying that they are caught up in a procedural difficulty about 14th March. We are masters of our own business. If the Government have got into this difficulty, it is they who are responsible for it, not the public. The public never asked for this tax, or anything like it, and it is no good telling the public that the Government are caught up in a net which is of the Government's own setting. It is important that ordinary Members of Parliament should have an opportunity to consider proposed taxes, to amend, and to discuss them with their constituents and explain to them what has happened. This is still a varied country, and hon. Members have different industries in their constituencies. We represent different trades, and we have to interpret taxation to those industries and trades in such situations. For instance, in the northern counties of Scotland there is a system of land holding which is unknown in the rest of the United Kingdom. I do not believe that the possible repercussions for that were taken into account in Standing Committee. There are areas in which forestry is of great importance. There are areas which pursue particular trades, and often Finance Acts have clobbered these trades without the House understanding that there was any danger of that happening. The reason is that there cannot be in Standing Committee Members who represent all the different trades and interests of this country. It is essential for the House to maintain the right of individual Members to take part in the Report stage of a Finance Bill and to have adequate time to consider it. I do not believe that anyone can say that is the present situation. It would be scandalous if any Bill were treated in this way, but when the effect of this Bill reaches the public and they realise how they were treated there will be a still further decline in the reputation of Parliament.
It shows the depths to which we have descended, when we have been considering Finance Bills in their complexity over the years, that the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) should even, as it were, have to defend the right and duty of hon. Members to examine a Finance Bill in detail. I should have thought that that was the first duty of a Member of the House, because the House of Commons established its power and position in Parliament by its control over supply.The whole question of taxation depends upon consent, and that means the consent not only of the House of Commons in Parliament but also of the people whom we represent. If we pass the Bill in this way it will mean that we shall be hurrying through consent on behalf of our constituents and those who will be affected in their businesses, in their farms and in their families by this ill thought out, malicious, envious, hateful legislation. I make no apology for those words. I do not think there has ever before been legislation so destructive of the family as an entity as this Bill will be. The capital transfer tax is designed to stop up, divert and pollute the stream of benevolence and natural love and affection and duty in the family. It is designed to destroy the family as an entity in society and the savings which it is the natural and human instinct of individuals to pass on from one generation to another. Part of the Bill has been considered in Standing Committee. I did not have the honour of serving on that Committee, but on behalf of my constituents I desire to play my part in our discussions on Report. Last week I went every day to the Vote Office and asked for such amendments as had been put down so that I might consider them. What there was available by Friday was a mere trifle compared with what I obtained at five minutes to 1 o'clock today. At that time I was given not only the 60 pages to which the Lord President of the Council so cavalierly referred when he made his statement this afternoon, but a further few pages numbered 64 to 67. I have not yet had the benefit—though some of my hon. Friends may have—of receiving pages 61 to 63. During the lunch hour, I endeavoured to look through the amendments. They are not numbered. They are in no conceivable order relating to the various clauses with which they are concerned. There is amendment piled upon amendment piled upon amendment. I am a practising member of the Bar, and I would say without any hesitation or fear of contradiction that to study these amendments, which were available at five minutes to 1 o'clock, would require the undiverted, uninterrupted labour and concentration of a skilled tax counsel for at least one month, and possibly a great deal longer. It is inconceivable that the House of Commons can be asked to deal with these matters at the end of the consideration on Report of the other parts of the Bill. That may take us tonight and tomorrow and possibly into Wednesday, leaving one day only for a consideration of this tax with its horrific effect upon the whole organisation of life and society and the family in Britain. I therefore add my voice to what has been said by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe) and others who have spoken this afternoon. There is only one course which the Government can properly take in this matter, and that is to withdraw Part III of the Bill altogether and to refer it to the Select Committee which is considering the wealth tax so that the two matters can be considered together. As my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Clark) said a few moments ago, there is a link between this tax and the proposed wealth tax. The Chancellor's avowed policy—and let no one blink at it—has been announced as clearly as Hitler announced his policy in "Mein Kampf". It is to destroy the middle class of this country, or as he said, to make the rich howl and the pips squeak. I have no doubt that what is sought by this legislation is to make it impossible for families to disperse wealth amongst their own members so that units of wealth may be available to pay a far larger proportion of the wealth tax when that tax is instituted. If that is so, the right hon. Gentleman should have said as much. However, the matter is as plain as a pikestaff. For those reasons I submit that this Part of the Bill should be referred to the Select Committee so that the two matters can be considered together. It is plainly politic that that should be so. Further, it is plainly just. I support my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East. Blinkered as they may be by malice, hatred and envy, I trust that the Government will see the light and do what is just and right.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe), asked how soon we should reach Part III of the Bill if we accepted the Chancellor's motion. I repeat that question because in Standing Committee, on scores of occasions, the Chief Secretary or the Financial Secretary said that they would be prepared to consider Opposition amendments. They indicated that there might be some value in them and that they were prepared to consider them. That proved to us that we were putting forward reasonable and constructive amendments on Part III in particular.It will be within the recollection of the Chief Secretary and the Financial Secretary that on two occasions I asked, bearing in mind the assurances which were given that amendments would be considered, whether we would be informed before Report whether the Government were doing anything about the amendments. I asked that we should be informed if the Government were not doing anything about them so that we might table our own amendments. That is a normal, common courtesy that has always been recognised between Committee Members and Ministers between Standing Committee and Report. It is an ordinary common courtesy if not a convention of the House. I suppose that the Government are so busy sorting out courtesies between Ministers that they are not prepared to give ordinary common courtesies to the House. The fact is that I have received no notification since Standing Committee on any of the assurances that I was given by the Chief Secretary and the Financial Secretary. To my mind the convention of the House has not been carried out. All I received by post this morning—I looked carefully at the envelope to see when it was posted and I found that it was posted on Saturday—were 134 foolscap pages of amendments. How on earth can anyone be expected to look through those pages to find out which amendments refer to the matters with which he is particularly concerned and to what extent the Government have met the amendments moved in Standing Committee? It makes me feel that if I and my colleagues serve again on a Standing Committee on a Finance Bill we shall never be so accommodating to the Government as we were on this occasion. On many occasions in Standing Committee we cut down the length of our debates because we received assurances from the Government not only that they would look at certain matters again but that they would let individual members of the Committee know what they thought so that they might take further action on Report. We have not been given that chance. There is no chance now to sort out our own amendments, let alone consult outside sources. Parliamentary government is not just using one's knowledge and experience; it involves consultation with those who know the subject well. Parliamentary government involves trying to understand various matters by discussing them with experts and making a proper contribution by amending Government legislation by tabling constructive amendments and new clauses. In this instance we have not had the opportunity to do so. The Government have broken the conventions and courtesies of the House.
The House is clearly in great difficulty. I do not recall an occasion before when in the middle of points of order a Minister responsible for the Civil Service has come to the House to announce the Government's position and to inform us of the breakdown of the Government's printing machine. I am still not clear about the latest position. Are we to understand that future amendments and all Government amendments are to produced in cyclostyle, or are we to have the proper printed form with the amendments conveniently marshalled and arranged? I hope that the Chief Secretary will tell the House the correct position. It is obviously unsatisfactory that we should be expected to consider amendments in this form when they are not even marshalled and are not even in order.The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) referred to the deeply unsatisfactory position which arises for those right hon. and hon. Members who have to consider the Bill in its present form as amended in Standing Committee. The right hon. Gentleman said that he had not received proper notice of the amendments to be considered at this stage and had not been able, on behalf of his constituents, to discuss amendments which had been debated in Standing Committee. That underlines the whole weakness of the present system. It was not so long ago, when I was first elected to the House, when the whole of a Finance Bill was discussed in Committee on the Floor of the House. Every right hon. and hon. Member then had the right to intervene at any stage of the Bill to make his point. With a measure such as the capital transfer tax I am sure that at least all my right hon. and hon. Friends would wish to make many interventions to try to improve such a disastrous measure. I recollect the arrangement and agreement that was made between both sides of the House, the idea being that a Standing Committee in considering a Finance Bill was to consider only those clauses which were of a marked technical nature and not of general interest to all right hon. and hon. Members. The capital transfer tax cannot conceivably be considered as a mere technicality which right hon. and hon. Members would not wish to consider fully. It imposes many new principles on the taxation edifice of our country and is a matter which is worthy of detailed consideration by all right hon. and hon. Members. The House is now placed in the position of looking anxiously to see what occurred in Standing Committee. It is now presented with a Bill as amended by Standing Committee, and it is led to understand that further amendments will be laid before the House in this highly unsatisfactory form. I do not know the printing position. No doubt the Chief Secretary will make further comment upon that. It is highly unsatisfactory that a Minister representing the Civil Service should have to make an intervention in this debate on such a matter, an intervention which apparently is not even to be questioned. It would have been much more appropriate if the Secretary of State for Employment had made the statement. As he is so concerned with the subject of economic literacy I would have thought that that was the least that he could do. It is clear that the House is in considerable difficulty in considering a vast wad of amendments. Let us consider the position. On several important points—particularly those concerning forestry, agriculture and the national heritage—the Government are now bringing forward further amendments to the capital transfer tax. We do not know whether they have completed their task, and I doubt very much whether they have done so. I know that in one instance concerning national heritage I received an undertaking from the Chief Secretary. I naturally looked with great care at the list of amendments which has so far been produced. The result is that I see no sign of that undertaking being carried out. I want to talk with my constituents and to consult those experts who are interested in the matter. I want to test their reaction to the Government amendments. Supposing that they are tabled tomorrow, Tuesday. I could consult various people tomorrow who advise me on these matters and the amendments would presumably come up for discussion, if that stage of the Bill is reached, by Thursday. But what an unsatisfactory position that is. There is no way in which right hon. and hon. Members can consider the proposals and be given proper time in which to do so. The position of charities and other public bodies is highly unsatisfactory. We cannot discuss the facts realistically and my right hon. and learned Friend is right to recommend its withdrawal and consideration at a later stage. The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland talked about the problems of a net from which it was impossible to escape. A net is only a lot of holes joined with string—and that is what this tax is.
I support the suggestion that the Government should remove from Report stage the consideration of Part III. Part I contains four clauses, Part II 14, and Part IV seven, but Part III, which we find particularly offensive, has no fewer than 31 clauses and eight schedules.My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe) was unkind to criticise the Chief Secretary for smiling. Children smile when they do not understand what is going on, so I do not find it surprising that he should smile as we discuss these matters, particularly the capital transfer tax: On the final day of the Committee debate, the Chief Secretary, in almost his final words, said:
So much progress was made that more amendments and new clauses have been tabled since Committee than with any other Finance Bill. We have also had the astonishing admission by the Leader of the House two hours ago that only hon. Members who serve on the Committee had been supplied over the weekend with details of some of the amendments. I understand that even that suggestion was more in the Lord President's mind than in reality. In any case, by what token do the Government assert that those who serve on the Committee are entitled to preferential treatment? Surely it is elementary that every hon. Member is entitled particularly in the preparation for a crucial Report stage, to be treated with the same courtesy. I must also refer to the time allowed for consideration of Government amendments. On 16th September 1967, in the Queen's Bench Division of the High Court, a judge was asked to rule about the period of five days which the then Secretary of State for Education, now in another place, had laid down as the time limit in which objections had to be laid before he amended the articles of Enfield Grammar School. The court held that five days was unreasonable and contrary to natural justice. The learned judge allowed four weeks. If natural justice required and a High Court judge asserted that four weeks was reasonable for objections to be lodged relating to the articles of Enfield Grammar School, how much more notice should there not be for us to consider, not a measure which affects a limited category, but something which will affect the whole nation for the future—or at least until this Government are replaced by one presided over by my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher)? In seeking to force the capital transfer tax provisions through the House on Report, the Government have given a derisory period of notice which means that my right hon. Friends and I cannot give these complicated provisions the consideration they deserve. But there is another factor—that of natural justice—which should compel the Government to withdraw Part III. I hope that the Government will do so. There is another matter which should affect hon. Members. On the Chancellor's own admission, the revenue from capital transfer tax during the financial year 1975–76 will be significantly lower than if estate duty had continued. Those of us who are concerned about the Government's borrowing requirement would on that ground welcome a continuation of estate duty. There is no urgency over capital transfer tax. On the contrary, as my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Clark) wisely and rightly said, its whole concept should be submitted forthwith by the Government to the Select Committee which is considering the wealth tax. This measure needs more careful consideration. The only way in which that can be achieved is to refer the whole of the concept of Part III to that Select Committee. Another consideration weighs with my hon. Friends. The Government are in enough hot water already. You will have read, Mr. Deputy Speaker, of the disagreements between the Secretary of State for Employment and his wiser right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science. Why should we heap more problems on this Government? We shall shortly be coming to the next Budget. The Cabinet has enough problems without adding to the Government's embarrassment by proceeding with this tax. One can only hope that in drafting the referendum Bill, the Government will be a little more careful—"It has been a historic Committee in which a magnificent tax has seen considerable progress."—[Official Report, Standing Committee A; 18th February, 1975, c. 2301.]
Order. Perhaps they will, but that has nothing to do with this debate.
Of course I defer to your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was only expressing the hope that the Government do not compound their own folly by drafting future Bills as negligently as they drafted this one.Finally, I want to spare the Government further embarrassment. That thought is uppermost in the minds of all of my right hon. and hon. Friends. We on the Opposition side of the House are not bullies. We do not wish to pile further humiliation on to the Government Front Bench. Why does not the Chief Secretary smile a bigger smile than usual and oblige not only us but many of his hon. Friends and the overwhelming majority of people by withdrawing this mean, miserable and ill-considered proposal for a capital transfer tax?
There was one remark made by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he introduced the Bill with which we on the Opposition side of the House could agree. It was possibly the only remark with which we could agree. It was that the capital transfer tax represented the single most important change in tax policy since the war.One consequence flows from that fact—that if a large number of important amendments to what is the most important single change in tax policy are introduced, they themselves constitute amendments of major importance. Parliament cannot do its job if we do not consider them diligently, thoroughly and carefully. That is the point on which we ought to be fastening today, the more so, perhaps, as this measure will not get the degree of revision in another place that another measure would. I believe that if any lawyer were to consider and give an opinion to his client upon a measure or a provision of this difficulty and complexity and should get it wrong after considering it for only the very brief time that is being allowed to us by the Government, he would have no answer to a claim for damages for professional negligence. How much more important is it that we, the legislature, who have a duty to form the law rather than simply to pass an opinion upon it, should take sufficient time at least for ourselves to understand what it is we are being asked to legislate upon? If the Government were to give way to the protests that have been made this afternoon, they would attract to themselves only respect. They would not lose anything. They would not forgo the opportunity to get their tax in the end. They would not run out of time. They would lose nothing of any consequence. But if they persist, if they are obdurate, not only will they bring themselves into contempt—they are at liberty to do that, and, indeed, welcome to do it—but, what is far more important, they will bring Parliament into contempt. That is something that is not only unjustifiable; it is unforgivable.
I agree with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Royal Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Mayhew) that the greatest danger of this type of legislation is that of bringing Parliament into contempt. There is not the slightest doubt that the legislation that we pass is far too complicated. It is too complicated for the citizen to comprehend and too complicated for Members of Parliament to understand. It is too complicated for Members on the Treasury Bench to understand. I do not believe that the Treasury Bench understands a word of the implications of their own amendments. That is the condemnation that deserves to be put upon the matter, and that these amendments should be put down by those who are trying to say that the simple taxpayers are consistently finding loopholes in their insane legislation is hyprocrisy itself.It is because you pass legislation which, in all English and sense—far less in law—is incomprehensible, and you put down amendments which you do not understand, which are ill-digested—which cannot be digested—that you are inviting the House to be in contempt of its duty and authority. Upon you, and you alone, the blame will fall and, I trust, fall hardly.
Order. Just for the record, I have not done this. Let the blame fall elsewhere.
I wonder whether the reason why the Opposition are so concerned about the need to consult their constituents and others contrasts so deeply with the way in which Labour Members do not seem to regard that as necessary may be because it is normal practice for the Opposition to consult their constituents whereas on the Government side of the House it may well be normal practice to receive instructions from sponsors such as trade unions.I intervened during the speech of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe) and invited the Chief Secretary to say whether he had consulted the Forestry Commission or others about the clauses and the amended clauses as they related to forestry. I can draw only my own conclusions from the Chief Secretary's silence. Because the manner in which this Finance Bill has been handled in such a shambles, a very large number of worthy amendments and new clauses will not be debated at all as a result of the Government's behaviour. The motion allows us to discuss
as the first of a number of items which are detailed. I wish to turn my attention to one particular new clause. Before doing so, however, I should like to say that the House, in being denied the opportunity to discuss New Clauses No. 13 and 14, in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler)—"new Clauses not relating to capital transfer tax or estate duty"
Order. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman was not present earlier when Mr. Speaker said that those new clauses were out of order.
I was indeed present, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have sat here throughout. The point I am making is that the reason that so many of these new clauses have had to be declared out of order is, I suspect, largely that insufficient time has been available to Members to take the necessary steps to ensure that they would be in order. If, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you are ruling that it is impossible for me to discuss any of the new clauses which have not been selected, I am delighted to be able to inform the House that most of my speech will remain unsaid. I should be grateful for your ruling on this matter.
My ruling on the matter is that no clause will be discussed in detail at this stage. We are discussing the order in which they shall be taken.
I appreciate your point, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I certainly do not wish to abuse that ruling. But I was seeking to refer to the words on the Order Paper in the Chancellor's motion, in which the first point is the reference to clauses not related to capital transfer tax or estate duty. There is nothing on the Order Paper to say that this shall be with reference only to those amendments selected. We are, therefore, in some difficulty. In order, therefore, not to abuse your ruling, I shall conclude my remarks almost before they have started—remarks of regret and shame for the way in which the Government are handling the House of Commons and, by their actions, preventing the raising of many issues which ought properly to be raised on the Finance Bill annually.That is the point at which I wish to conclude. Many of my hon. Friends will know that for me to subside in silence is not a usual occurrence. I do so with great regret.
I intervene briefly to support the plea which my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe) made to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and to the Chief Secretary.I had the privilege of serving on the Standing Committee. The brutal relish with which the Chancellor described the way in which he proposed to lay the lash on the broad backs which he is always singling out for such treatment and the personal attacks which he made on my right hon. Friend who represents Finchley with such distinction did not conceal from me, nor do I think it concealed from the House, the fact that the Chancellor had barely condescended to master the outlines of his own Bill. I suppose that was to be expected. This is what we have come to expect from the Chancellor, who always considers that an ounce of malice and prejudice will suffice in this kind of fiscal tight corner. It became a little disappointing and worrying to those of us who served on the Standing Committee that the Chief Secretary and the Financial Secretary did not in great measure understand the details of their own Bill. I sympathise with them greatly in their predicament. They have been considering other matters. However, it rested with them, if they felt that they could not get the measure of the new tax which they were proposing to introduce, at least to withdraw it for a period of leisurely consideration. This they did not choose to do. The result was a flurry of notes passed in the early hours of the morning from the Government advisers upstairs to the Chief Secretary and the Financial Secretary. I pay tribute to the dexterity with which the Chief Secretary and the Financial Secretary read out the briefs which they barely comprehended. Still, this is no way in which to pilot through Committee a highly complex piece of legislation. One of the consequences was—I speak from personal recollection of Schedule 5, to which I was privileged to move one or two amendments—that the Chief Secretary was time and again compelled to say that he would take the matter away for further consideration. In a sense, this was the generosity which the right hon. Gentleman habitually shows in such debates. In another sense, it was because, as I said, he barely understood the brief that had been thrust into his quivering hand and certainly had had no time to master the notes which had been passed down to him. As a consequence, between 20 and 30 amendments were withdrawn on the assurance that the Chief Secretary would take the matter away and consider whether there was a point of substance. I have always understood it to be a practice in the conduct of our business, when a Minister takes away a point and says that he will consider it before Report, that he writes to the Member who moved the amendment and who was concerned principally in the debate and informs him of what the fruits of his consideration might have been. I must tell the House that on Wednesday of last week I had still not received such a letter from the Chief Secretary. So I wrote to him. I believe that I put my case modestly. I appreciated the difficulties under which he was labouring. I asked him, in effect, what conclusions he had reached on these points which he had recognised to be points of substance. If they were not points of substance, presumably he would not have taken them away for further consideration. Today I received a reply. I do not complain of the politeness of the language. The reply is that the pressures are such that I shall have to thumb my own way through the Notice Paper to find all the amendments and that, because of the pressures under which Ministers have been labouring, the right hon. Gentleman cannot give me any consideration on these points. One understands the pressure under which the Financial Secretary and the right hon. Gentleman are labouring, but is this a satisfactory way for us to conduct our business? Let me tell the Government Front Bench through you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, what the practical consequences of this have been and will be. The Chancellor, with the sneer which comes too readily to his lips in financial debates, said that a great number of amendments had been tabled late on Thursday night. I tabled some of them. I take full responsibility for that. 5.45 p.m. I cannot have been the only hon. Gentleman who tabled amendments, but I tabled a great number of amendments. It took me a considerable time to work them out, with the assistance of expert eyes both inside and outside the House of Commons. Of those amendments, at least 20 were on points which we had considered in Standing Committee and which the Chief Secretary had said that he would take away and consider. Had the Chief Secretary given the close consideration to these matters which he should have given them, and had he and his hon. Friends allowed themselves reasonable time for the consideration of these admittedly abstruse matters, I might not have had to late table those 20 or 30 amendments. I make this point particularly to the Chair, because I hope that those amendments will be selected for debate, even though they were the subject of close-fought debates upstairs, because, as I have said, we had an assurance in Committee that they were worthy of consideration and that the right hon. Gentleman would take them away and consider them.
It will be within the recollection of the House that my hon. and learned Friend said that he had a letter from the Chief Secretary complaining of the enormous pressures under which Treasury Ministers have been suffering. Does not my hon. and learned Friend agree that this is a further reason why the whole of Part III should be scrapped so that the intolerable pressure to which Treasury Ministers are being subjected can be relieved, if I may coin a phrase, at a stroke?
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend. I am sure that he and I are actuated solely by concern for the good name of the House, for the profundity of our deliberations, and indeed for the sanity and good health of those on the Government Front Bench.
On the contrary, if Ministers are under such very great pressure is it not very much in the interests of the House that that should be so? Nothing concentrates a man's mind so much as the thought that he might soon be hanged. As quite clearly Ministers have not been concentrating upon this matter up to now, would it not be much better that they now started to think about it and in that way sought to advance our deliberations to a far greater degree than they have done?
Order. If we have too many more interruptions like that something will happen to me, I think. We are at the very beginning of our deliberations and they are likely to be extensive. I hope that hon. Members will try to keep to the point.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I hope that that is not a hint that you will curtail in any way a thorough examination of the Bill.
Order. I thought that the hon. Gentleman knew me better. I never give hints.
At an earlier stage in my brief intervention I expressed concern from the Government Front Bench. I hope, with profound respect to the Chair, that I am allowed to express concern for you, too, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Naturally I shall do all that I can to preserve not only your health but your kindly interest and continued benevolence towards us as our debates proceed on this complex Bill.I return to the difficulties under which we have been labouring. By working under extreme pressure and drawing on such support as we could from those who have had the time and application outside the House to study our debates in Standing Committee, I was able to table a modest few amendments late on Thursday night. Those amendments were tabled before I had even had the opportunity of seeing the last of the new clauses tabled in the names of the Chancellor and his right hon. and hon. Friends. I have not yet had an opportunity of tabling any amendments to the new clauses. They deserve very close consideration. As others of my right hon. and hon. Friends have pointed out, there is the new clause on forestry.
My hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right. This is the point. New Clause 15 has more than 50 signatories of members not only of the Conservative Party but also of the Liberal Party and the United Ulster Unionist Party. I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for raising this point and I hope that he will elaborate on it.
I will leave it to my hon. Friend to deal with that point, about which I know that he is greatly concerned. He has a greater expertise than myself in these matters, though I press close behind him on the trail of that scent.I refer to the capital transfer tax. The Bill as amended in Committee was not published and available for us to read until Monday of last week. This is a very grave indictment of the way in which the Government are attempting to manipulate our business. By the most remorseless application some of us were able to get down amendments to the Bill as amended in Committee by Thursday night. I think that the sneers of the Chancellor came very ill on that point. Fortunately, we did not have his interventions in Standing Committee, otherwise, our deliberations would have been further extended because I have never yet heard a practical point of significance in a tax debate from the Chancellor. He is concerned merely with party prejudice and personal attacks. With great good sense, he left our Standing Committee debates to the Chief Secretary whose unfailing courtesy, charm and good humour I am happy to acknowledge. I only wish that his courtesy and charm had been matched by a greater consideration of the underlying issues in this Bill. If I may coin a very inelegant phrase, Part III of the Bill is a dog's breakfast. In coining that phrase—and I am conscious that it may grate a little on the sensibilities of the House—I am aware that I am doing a disservice to dog owners and dogs. Any dog owner who served a breakfast of this kind to his dog would very soon have the RSPCA after him. It is time that we had a society for the protection of taxpayers. In view of the very intemperate and ill-judged amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Luton, West (Mr. Sedgemore)—whom I am sorry not to see on the Government benches at the moment because from time to time he graced our debates in Committee—it may be that such a society would enjoy royal patronage. I believe that the Government owe it to themselves, to the House and to the general body of taxpayers to withdraw this odious Bill for more detailed consideration than we could possibly give it—even with your benevolence and good humour, Mr. Deputy Speaker—in the five days that have been allotted to us.
I rise to speak briefly because I had not intended to intervene in this debate. In the one year and a few days that I have been in this House I have never seem such a shambles. I am reminded by the intervention of an hon. Member opposite about the printing dispute, of the situation which we faced last summer. I had the privilege of serving on the Standing Committee which considered the Rent Bill. At that time we had to deal with many amendments which had to appear in manuscript form and were then copied by photostat and marshalled. I have to tell the Chief Secretary that his hon. Friend on the Government Front Bench on that occasion took considerably more trouble than has been taken on this occasion to meet the needs of hon. Members in debating this Bill.I was not on the Standing Committee of this Finance Bill although I did table one or two modest amendments. However, at 7.20 a.m. this morning I received by special delivery the bundle of papers which I hold in my hand. I have had the privilege of working for an American firm, and therefore I know what a working breakfast is, but to deal with over 100 pages of amendments is, I am sure, beyond the powers of any hon. Member in the time allowed. May I also suggest to the Chief Secretary that no one who has come to this House from local government would dare to try to drive this sort of legislation through our local authorities. All of us know that our first duty is to our constituents and to consult those people who are interested in this matter. I have had more correspondence about Part III of the Bill than about any other Bill since I have been in this House. How does the Chief Secretary expect me or any other Member who has received this bundle of amendments on a Monday morning to be able to consult those whom we wish to serve and then debate those amendments on Monday afternoon? I hope that I shall hear from the Chief Secretary or from the Chancellor of the Exchequer how I am to go about this. I do not believe that it is possible either physically or mentally. There is only one honourable course open to the Government, and that is to take back Part III of the Bill. The Chief Secretary would lose nothing by so doing. Indeed, he might gain in stature because he would show that he had listened to all quarters of the House. I hope very much, now that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has joined him, that he will take this point seriously. If he values the consideration of the people, he should chop this Bill so that in the next few days we may deal with Parts I, II and IV, and he should take Part III back and consider it anew.
The hon. Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Clark) brought a wry smile to my lips when he alluded to the difficulties of the Conservative Party and the paucity of their resources in order to comprehend what is in the Bill. How much greater are the difficulties of the two minor parties who do not have anything like the resources of the Conservative or Labour Parties. In addition, neither the SNP nor Plaid Cymru were represented on the Standing Committee, and in view of the contempt which the Government are showing to the House and to those parties in particular, I do not intend to join in this filibuster. All I would say is that the Government are giving short shrift not only to the House but also to Scotland and Wales on this issue.
I remember very well, when I came into this House some years ago, the election of Mr. Speaker, who said that his duty was to protect the minority parties and the back benchers. It is quite evident today that Parliament has lost the respect of the country, because the ordinary Member of Parliament finds himself greatly frustrated when he comes to this House and discovers that it is well nigh impossible on many occasions to put the points on which his constituents continually lobby him. It is that sort of matter which I should like to discuss on the Floor of the House on Report.We back benchers have often listened to a dialogue between the two Front Benches. How many times have back benchers been frustrated as a result? Then when we come to important matters we find that because of the pressure of business in the House, Standing Committees have to deal with these issues and, as has been said by the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Crawford)—and I support him in his complaint—when the party to which he belongs is not even represented on the Standing Committee he has a legitimate grievance. We as United Unionists had one Member on the Committee, but it could very well have been that my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross) would not have been selected to serve on that Committee, and then the wisdom from Ulster would not have been available to the Committee. We would have been in exactly the same position as the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire. 6.0 p.m. It is essential that the voice of protest should be raised by back benchers. I repudiate any suggestion that there has been an arrangement come to among back benchers to take part in what amounts to a filibuster. I am speaking as a back bencher on an important parliamentary principle. We shall not be able to discuss many matters arising on the Bill simply because of time, and there are matters of great significance which demand careful thought and debate. The danger now is that we shall have not only undigested legislation but indigestible legislation set before us. The Government should listen to what is being said. The Chief Secretary, whose praises have been sung by all hon. Members—he always has what we in Ulster would call an ideal bedside manner—ought to listen to the humble plea of those who have points of vital importance to put before the House. When the Bill passes into law, it will affect every citizen. All of us have been snowed under by representations. I passed on those which I received to my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry so that he could speak of them in the Standing Committee—which, of course, he did—but there remain many matters which should be further discussed under your able guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I urge the Chief Secretary, therefore, to listen not to the scoring of political points but to the genuine concern expressed by hon. Members on behalf of the people they represent. We must have reasonable opportunity for debate. Of course, there are hon. Members who want to defeat the Bill. That is why they are here, and they are entitled to do their best to that end within our procedures. But the Chief Secretary must think again about the way this matter is being handled and do all he can to ensure that back benchers are able to express in this Chamber the representations which have been made to them by their constituents.
I suppose that we should be grateful to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Chief Secretary for putting the motion down. It is an attempt, they say, to bring some order out of chaos. But I cannot find it in me to be particularly grateful, since the moving of it does not get over the fact that the amendments were put down exceptionally late.It is all very well for the Leader of the House to talk about 165 hours in Committee. Many of us were not members of the Standing Committee, and in that sense we are not so lucky, being unable to understand these matters as readily, perhaps, as those who were on the Committee can understand them. I support my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe), therefore, in his plea that Part III be taken out and be considered at a later stage in more leisurely fashion. I support that plea especially because I represent a constituency with a myriad small businesses. It has within it an enormous number of owner-occupied shops, it has a lot of forest land, it has some farmers, and, what is more, it has a great number of buildings of historic interest. All these people and interests which go to make up my constituency are affected by Part III. Over the past four weeks, I have had a large number of letters from constituents about the Finance Bill, but since the amendments were published not one letter have I received because people have not had time to consult me, let alone time fully to understand what the Government amendments mean. The implications for my constituents are horrendous if Part III is retained, for the very nature of a great city such as the one I represent can be changed by the Government's proposed capital transfer tax. My constituency is part of our national heritage. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I am sure, it has been chosen as one of the two cities to represent the United Kingdom in European Architectural Heritage Year. No one wishes to see such a city demolished by taxation ill conceived, not properly understood and certainly not fully thought out. There is, moreover, the vital matter of employment as it will be affected by the implications of Part III. Since so much of my consituency is, so to speak, owner-occupied, as the small business men, farmers and so on are put out of business—"So what?", some may say—unemployment will rise, and that is not a responsibility which I am prepared to accept on behalf of my constituents. If the Government do not reconsider Part III, it will be their responsibility when unemployment is caused. I hope, therefore, that the Government will come to their senses and recognise that they can easily remedy this situation by setting aside Part III for consideration at the right time in the proper way.
This may well be one of the most important debates we have in considering the Bill on Report.
The hon. Gentleman's intervention merely encourages me to make a long speech.
Order. The last time I called the hon. Member, he spoke for 45 minutes, and I cannot forget it. I hope that he will not be tempted to do the same today.
I am not only tempted by the hon. Member for Luton, West, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but what you have said almost gives me a target at which I must aim.
Let us have peace on earth and good will. The hon. Gentleman, I know, will have meant that remark only in passing, and I hope that he will be as much to the point as usual.
Indeed, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I should never cast any aspersion on the Chair, and we are all delighted that you are in the Chair because you bring that nice light touch of good humour to our debates which is extremely helpful. It is important that we have that touch today because this is a serious debate, and, as I said a few moments ago, it is probably one of the most important debates that we shall have on the whole Bill.When the Chief Secretary moved the motion in such brief terms, he treated the House with gross contempt, for his proposal was that the House should consider during four days this week and on Monday of next week, without adequate preparation and without the material which all of us on both sides need, the most important and far-reaching piece of fiscal legislation to be produced since the war—and, arguably this century. The letter which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dover and Deal (Mr. Rees) quoted from a few minutes ago made a chill run down my spine. That the Government should at one and the same time feel themselves both beleaguered and obliged is a sad commentary on the way they are seeking to conduct the nation's affairs. I say "beleaguered" because the Financial Secretary—I believe that his was the signature to the letter; my hon. and learned Friend will correct me if I am wrong—was saying that the Government were under enormous pressure, such pressure that they could not afford to my hon. and learned Friend, a most courteous man, the normal courtesies which any hon. Member has a right to expect. I was tempted to interrupt in a somewhat vulgar way and say that if the Government cannot stand the heat they should get out of the kitchen. But there the Government were, saying that they could not withstand the pressures. But, then, if they, this beleaguered Government, cannot withstand the pressures, why do they feel obliged to rush through this most revolutionary of tax changes without adequate consideration? The gravamen of our charge is that the Government are not giving proper consideration to this far-reaching tax revolution. I shall refer briefly to some of the people who will be affected by the tax. For the record, it is worth pointing out that the Government benches have been almost empty for the whole of our debate. Labour Members have just as many constituents whose lives are likely to be transformed by the worst effects of this tax as have my hon. Friends and myself. I am sure that the hon. Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mr. Dempsey) will confirm that in Scotland there have been an enormous number of representations about the effects of the capital transfer tax. A ready solution is open to the Government and has been explained repeatedly by many hon. Members. It is that they should take back Part III of the Bill and then we shall facilitate the passage of Parts I, II and IV. We have reasoned amendments which we wish to put on those other parts, but they can be debated and those remaining parts of the Bill enacted. The level of Government revenue will be slightly higher if Part III is dropped, as was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow). If the Government have a proper regard for the feelings of hon. Members, they cannot ignore the pleas that have been made this afternoon not only from the Conservative Party but by the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) and by the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Crawford). They both indicated just how important it is from the point of view of the minority parties that this far-reaching tax revolution should have proper consideration. There are two ways in which the Minister can satisfy the House this afternoon. One is for him to say that the debate has been entirely one-sided, that all the arguments have been powerful and overwhelming and that he accepts them. That would be an act of not uncharacteristic generosity on his part. If he wished to confer with the Chancellor, however, who has not been present for much of the debate, there is a solution in Standing Orders. Standing Order No. 27 provides that he can move the Adjournment of the House at the end of the debate so that his discussions may be furthered. It is essential that the tax should not be debated without adequate preparation. There were many points of order last Thursday and Friday and again today and although some of them might have been technically out of order and were properly ruled so by the Chair, the fact remains that the amendments were not available in time. They were not available in a proper form or in sufficient numbers for all hon. Members to take them home at the weekend. The least hon. Members should expect is the opportunity to take these documents home and discuss them with the various bodies most affected and with the individuals who have made representations about them to see whether they meet the objections that have been raised. 6.15 p.m. In Committee many forceful pleas were made on behalf of agriculture, forestry, the national heritage and charities. In almost all cases they were put forward in a non-partisan spirit and they were received as such by the Chief Secretary and his colleagues. In almost every case they gave an undertaking to come back to the matter on Report. In some cases they have not done so, so far as one can see from studying the badly-assembled amendment paper. Where they have come back to the subjects raised they have tabled Amendments which are not readily understandable to many of the interests most closely affected. During the last few days hon. Members have received a vast number of documents from some of the representative bodies which are acutely worried at the direction which the CTT seems to be taking. One document was put out by the Country Landowners' Associations. Its president pointed out:
Lest the Minister should think this is special pleading on behalf of people who own thousands of rolling acres, let me read the fourth paragraph, which is the most significant. It says:"Having studied the debates in Standing Committee on the Finance Bill, I am writing to express my disappointment that apparently the Government still does not fully understand the serious impact Capital Transfer Tax will have on the future of agriculture".
There are thousands of tenant farmers—hill farmers in the North, fen farmers in the East and farmers in the Midlands where I come from—whose future is in jeopardly because of the tax. Surely the Government cannot intend these farmers—the backbone of British agriculture, men who have sunk their all into their farms and equipment and who have shown devotion and hard work of the highest order—to be dealt a death blow. That would appear to be the consequence of the Government's action. For further amplification of this point, one needs only to look at the documents sent out by the National Farmers' Union and the National Farmers' Union of Scotland. The NFU makes the point:"The point I particularly wish to deal with in this letter, which I am sending to all Members of Parliament, is the Government's refusal to extend to the tenanted half of the country's land the agricultural relief granted to owner-occupied land when transferred on death."
The document from the Scottish NFU takes up that point and raises several other significant factors on its own account. The fourth document is a letter from the Forestry Committee of Great Britain. I do not know whether it was sent to all hon. Members, but certainly a large number of us received it. It says:"The union continues to maintain, despite the modifications to the Bill which have been proposed, that there are very real dangers inherent in the Government's capital taxation package and in so far as these taxes are likely to compromise the production of food in the UK, the dangers will not be confined merely to agriculture but will affect the nation as a whole."
The letter was sent out last Wednesday and some of the Government's amendments on forestry have now been published. However, the point of the letter is as valid now as it was last Wednesday because we have not had an opportunity to discuss the Government's proposals with those whose lives and livelihoods are affected. I am not talking of the owners of vast estates making enormous and lucrative profits. These are figments of the imagination of Ministers on the Treasury Bench. I am thinking of the hundreds of forestry workers who lobbied the House six or eight weeks ago and who told us "Unless you do something to mitigate the effects of this tax we shall have to emigrate. The British forestry industry will be dead, and we shall have to leave the shores of this country." These people are still worried. They are still not confident that the Government's concessions go far enough, and, most important of all, they have not had an opportunity to discuss with hon. Members whether they do or do not. The hon. Member for Meriden (Mr. Tomlinson) laughs. He may think that this is funny and trivial, but I can assure him that for tens of thousands of ordinary workers in this country it is not trivial and not funny. To the ordinary agricultural and forestry worker it is a matter of vital concern."The Report Stage of the Finance Bill starts on Monday. As you know, the Government have promised to table an Amendment relating to Forestry, but this has not yet been published."
When he is reading out all these ghastly views, I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would also read out the views of the Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers on the proposals related to forestry, because it does not share his gloom and despondency.
The forestry workers strongly share these views, and have written to hon. Members in recent days along these lines. I had a letter some 10 days ago from Mr. Len Yull, who led the deputation to the House. In that letter he made this point.The hon. Gentleman prejudges the issue by saying "these ghastly views". We look across at the barren Government benches, the silent support and the silent majority backing up the iniquitous scheme of pillage and plunder proposed by the Chief Secretary. Somebody earlier referred to the smile on his face. Unless he accedes to the reasonable request made by many of my hon. Friends and myself I shall begin to think that it is the smile on the face of the tiger. The right hon. Gentleman has it within his power, after consultation with his colleagues and with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to bring a measure of relief and a feeling of confidence in the Government of this country. The right hon. Gentleman has only to say "We depart not one whit from our philosophy. We are still as determined as ever to bring in a capital transfer tax, but we take the point that there must be due and proper deliberation before that is brought in". All that the Opposition are saying is that this is a proper subject for a Select Committee. There is a Select Committee dealing with the question of the wealth tax. How sensible it would be for that Committee's terms of reference to be properly expanded and the capital transfer tax referred to it. Lest this be thought a silly point, it has been accepted by the right hon. Gentleman, because he has said that before some of the clauses affecting the national heritage are finally determined, the Government will wish to take into account the conclusions of the Select Committee on the wealth tax. If that point has been accepted by the Government, why can they not say "Let us put this tax to the Select Committee. Let the Select Committee, which is representative of all shades of opinion within the House, deliberate on this tax"? That is what we ask. We have a right to demand it, and the Government would be churlish in the extreme to refuse it. It cannot be said too often that this is the most revolutionary tax change of the century. If this tax is to be brought in, surely the Government are concerned about the efficiency with which it should be operated. Surely they do not wish to create a fiscal blunderbuss and blast everybody to high heaven.
Surely the Government are concerned about revenue. My hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow), with his vast knowledge of the subject, will immediately agree that the function of taxation is to raise revenue and not to change the structure of society—not to plunder, not to pillage, but to raise the necessary revenue.If the Government have decided that a capital transfer tax is a proper way to raise necessary revenue, fair enough, but let them give due thought and consideration before bringing that tax in. The House is not being given a proper opportunity this week. The motion, moved briefly by the right hon. Gentleman, brings no credit upon the Government or upon our parliamentary process. The many people who in a few weeks' time will have the benefit of hearing our deliberations broadcast, would be staggered, astounded and horrified in the extreme to think that Parliament was to devote at the most a day and a half or two days to the discussion of this tax. Whatever the Leader of the House says about the record time that this Bill may or may not have had in Committee, only a few Members had the right to debate it there. My hon. Friend the Member for Horsham and Crawley (Mr. Hordern) reminded us earlier that it used to be the practice for the Finance Bill to be taken on the Floor of the House. Would it were still so, because then we should all have the chance to subject to continual and detailed scrutiny the many enormities which the Government contemplate perpetrating upon the British people. That is not the practice, and the Bill having come downstairs, the right hon. Gentleman is now giving the House two days at the outside—according to the timetable that he has suggested—to discuss this revolutionary tax which affects constituents throughout the country, be they in Luton, Meriden, South-West Staffordshire, Shetland, Hereford, or anywhere else. People are affected by this tax, and their Members should have a right to talk about it. There should not be a gag upon Government supporters. They should be enabled to make their points either in favour of the tax or against it. They may make their points at party rallies, but they do not do so on the Floor of the House. I urge the right hon. Gentleman, for the last time, to earn himself a parliamentary accolade by accepting the force and the substance of our arguments and by deleting from this week's proceedings consideration of Part III of the Bill. Then the right hon. Gentleman will get his Bill, the country will be properly served, the Revenue will not be the poorer, the parliamentary tradition will be the richer, and the tax, when it is finally imposed, will have been thought out properly and understood properly. No one will be able to make the charge that the tax was steamrollered through, to the detriment of many thousands of the finest citizens of this country.
My hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Morrison) said that he was not lucky enough to be on the Standing Committee. I am not sure that the phrase "lucky enough" was correct, bearing in mind the gruelling sessions we had. From the look on the faces of several other members of the Standing Committee when he used that phrase, I think that they tend to share my view.Because I was on the Standing Committee, I wish to speak not to the capital transfer tax as a whole but to one or two practical points. For many hours I have been engaged in discussion and debate with the Chief Secretary, sometimes combatively, but, I am sure he would agree, often reasonably and constructively. I should like to put to him some of the practical consequences of the timetable he is enforcing on us, especially the chaos which occurred at the end of last week and over the weekend. I knew when we finished our deliberations on the Standing Committee at 9.15 a.m. on 19th February, after two all-night sittings, that we would face a tight timetable. I have been appalled at the way it has developed and especially at the events over the past weekend, which are not entirely the responsibility of the Chief Secretary, but which have put many of us in an intolerable situation. I had arranged meetings in my constituency to discuss the amendments to the tax last weekend. Tenant farmers came to my constituency meetings and surgeries without my knowing what amendments the Government would put forward to some of the details. Those amendments had not yet appeared. I know that some amendments had appeared earlier in the week, but I was aware that there were probably still others to come. 6.30 p.m. When I returned to London late on Saturday night, I found a copy of Friday's Hansard awaiting me, and I read the full text of the series of points of order that had been reported in Saturday's Press. I saw in column 996 that it had been said that members of the Finance Bill Committee were urgently—by special delivery—to receive copies of the amendments tabled up to that point at least. I live not very far from the House, but I am still awaiting those copies. It was not until today, when I arrived in the House after lunch, that I was able to take up this enormous wad. That pledge was not fulfilled. Nor were others that the Leader of the House made last Thursday, or we could have saved a great deal of time already. So we are forced into these debates without having had the chance even to study the amendments. I wish to spell out the difficulties of those of us who take a particular interest in the Bill and who, as the Chief Secretary knows, have been put in charge of debates on certain clauses and schedules and who have proposed many amendments. Perhaps I may remind him that, unlike Ministers, we do not have a staff to assist us in preparing amendments and preparing for debates. We have a few advisers, but they are part time and often difficult to get hold of, and it is frequently difficult to get hold of them at times when we are available. I trust that the right hon. Gentleman is not saying that we are wrong to have such advisers, because they have been proved invaluable time and again throughout Committee in improving the Bill. Also unlike the right hon. Gentleman's staff, the parliamentary draftsman, and the Treasury and Inland Revenue staff, as Members of Parliament we have other things to do. Thus, we find ourselves almost totally without assistance throughout this week. I shall have to attend the rest of the debates today because there are many amendments on which I wish to speak, as there will be later in the week. I shall therefore find it practically impossible even to study the amendments thrust upon us today, and certainly impossible to have the consultations necessary to draft amendments to some of the amendments. All Opposition Members will find it difficult to prepare our total case on many amendments that we have put down and that we hope to put down in the coming few days. In common with other hon. Members on the Standing Committee, I received a number of assurances from the Chief Secretary and the Financial Secretary on a number of amendments when they said that they would look at various matters that we had raised, and on those assurances we withdrew our amendments. I did my homework and I produced an enormous list of the areas where assurances were given. Perhaps I was not as assiduous as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dover and Deal (Mr. Rees), and did not put down my whole shaft of amendments by Thursday evening, but the reason was that so far the Government had not produced anything. I was not even in the position of seeing what the Government's reaction was to their assurances in Committee, and, like my hon. Friends, I have received no letters from Treasury Ministers on this subject. I now find myself having no time properly to do the work necessary to put down my amendments, and that is disgraceful. Above all, I do not have time to consult outside interests, and here I am thinking not of the very small number of highly skilled advisers that we have but of those outside interests who, over the weeks when the Bill was in Committee, were constantly in touch with many of us, putting points of view that we thought utterly legitimate and that we expressed in Standing Committee. Very few of those outside bodies, individuals, and so on, have yet had time to come back to me with their reactions to the Government's amendments, and I find it difficult to know how I shall be able to discuss these matters with them. My constituents, these outside bodies, individuals, accountants, and so on, have written to us from all over the country, and they must find it beyond belief that we are pressed into this situation in which we are plunged into debate after debate without having had time to talk on them. I agree that this adds to the disillusionment with Parliament among sensible and moderate people outside the House. As the consequences of some aspects of the tax are felt outside—we all recognise that that point has not yet arrived—people will not believe the way in which this timetable has been thrust upon us at this late stage in what is virtually a new Bill, in view of the number of Government amendments. The procedures over the past few weeks since the Bill was published in December have been an object lesson to me on how Government legislation should not be brought forward, particularly legislation of this complexity. I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe) that by far the best course would be to refer Part III to a Select Committee, or to take it back and reintroduce it in a later Finance Bill when we have time to deal with it adequately. I do not see why the totally indecent haste with which we are compelled to move this week is necessary for Part III, as I accept it to be necessary for some other provisions. If the Chief Secretary will not accept what I regard as this reasonable suggestion, which many people outside regard as reasonable, will he at the very least allow a break of one day in the middle of our debates this week—a break between Parts I, II and IV—so that we have time to study this shoal of amendments and engage in what will be admittedly compressed discussions with outside interests and put down amendments that we still know to be necessary, and so that at least some modest preparation may be made for the later stages of the Bill? I ask him to consider that sympathetically before we embark on Part III, so that those of us with particular interests in many aspects are allowed a decent interval in which to do our homework.
The debate began shortly after 4 o'clock, at which time the Opposition had planned to have about two hours of points of order and synthetic rage. Fortunately, Mr. Speaker, you intervened to stop that, and so we are now having a synthetic debate.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The hon. Member has made a statement that is completely and utterly untrue. No such arrangement has been made by any Opposition Member.
I am not sure how much I am really involved. Anyhow, Mr. Sedgemore.
You will be well aware, Mr. Speaker, of the farce that our proceedings generated on Thursday when there were so many points of order. Fortunately, today you intervened to stop it and we are all very grateful to you, and I am sure that at least my constituents will be grateful to you. Now we are to see the hours roll by while the Opposition undertake the same performance in another manner.There are 58,600 voters in Luton, West and I have had only one letter on capital transfer tax and I am sure that the other 58,599 voters in Luton, West are keen to see the Bill make progress and to see the Chancellor's motion voted on in the near or immediate future.
Has it occurred to the hon. Member that the reason he has not received any letters from his constituents about capital transfer tax is that his constituents realise that there would be no purpose whatever in writing to him?
I am sure that my constituents realise that I am one of those who sat for between 135 and 136 hours in the Finance Bill Committee, anxious to improve the Bill, and that if they had proposals to improve the Bill they would have brought them to me, but most of them believe it to be an excellent Bill, and their concern, if anything, is that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Chief Secretary and the Financial Secretary, brilliant and able people as they are, made far too many concessions on this tax.
One always hears the hon. Member's contributions with relish. Would he tell the House just how many letters he has received from his constituents supporting the Bill, either in principle or in detail?
If I were to answer that question honestly the figure would be an exact equivalent of the number of people who have proposed changes in the Bill. I am bound to say that my GMC has fully endorsed the contents of the Bill and its only concern is that there have been certain amendments which have possibly opened up certain loopholes in the Bill. There is a serious point here. We should warn the Government that not only constituents but back benchers will be angry if there is any attempt to give way over these issues.We are witnessing a fairly skilful and moderately articulate filibuster by the Opposition. We are witnessing a deliberate attempt to kill the Bill and possibly an attempt to create a constitutional crisis over the Finance Bill, something we suspected during the Committee. It may be thought that to say that the Opposition are seeking to create a constitutional crisis and to kill the Finance Bill is putting it too high. There were rumblings that this was to happen during the 135 hours we were in Committee. This is a serious matter. At that time we did not take it too seriously because it only concerned the "Clockwork Oranges" on the Conservative back benches. It would appear that the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) and the Shadow Chancellor are joining in this peculiar activity by the Conservative back benchers. The country will take note if they seek to create that constitutional crisis. Perhaps the House will take note and will take certain drastic steps, something which is not usual during Report of a Finance Bill. I apologise for not being present at the beginning of the debate but I was attending a meeting of the Public Expenditure Committee which is examining the White Paper, which, if anything, is more complex and obscure than the capital transfer tax. It seems that we are not actually debating the Chancellor's motion about the order in which these clauses should be taken. This seems to be another Second Reading debate on the merits or demerits of the capital transfer tax. I do not intend to fall into that trap because I know that you, Mr. Speaker, would rule me out very quickly.
Is it not a fact that the more time the House spends discussing this motion the less time it will have to discuss the capital transfer tax?
My hon. Friend expresses his point far more succinctly and adequately than I ever could. I hope that as the debate proceeds we shall not get, as we did in Committee, a lot of synthetic rage about farmers, worth £500,000, who have threadbare clothes and who never go on holiday. I hope that we are not going to hear about the plight of the Arab at the London Clinic or indeed about the plight of stallions who are supposed to breed fillies that can win the Derby.
The hon. Member is filibustering.
I hope that Opposition Members will keep to the point. As time goes by I am sure that they will come to love this tax—if only we can get it on to the statute book. The hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) said that he had come to love estate duty, a tax passed in 1894. To be fair, he said that was because he did not have to pay it.The Government are concerned that we should not have a repetition of the serious abuse of the procedures of this House that took place in Committee when we considered this tax.
I would ask the hon. Gentleman to consider what he is saying. I began to wonder at one point during the Committee whether he knew any other word than "filibuster". There were two occasions when he clearly accused us by this word. One was during the debate on charitable and public purposes, on which his right hon. and hon. Friends changed their minds last Friday, and the other was on the powers of the Inland Revenue under what was then Clause 15, on which they changed their minds at some other stage last week. To accuse us of filibustering when we have converted his right hon. Friends is rather stretching the argument.
I am sure the hon. Gentleman will realise that it is possible to make a serious point in a couple of sentences.
The Treasury, in Committee, did not need constant and tedious repetition to understand the points that Conservative Members were making. If people like myself, with little knowledge of tax law or the effect of taxation changes, could pick up the points almost immediately, I am sure that hon. Members like the Chief Secretary picked them up even before they were uttered. I suspect that most of them were in his brief, where he was told to say "Resist, but, if you must, say you will have another look at it".Talking of filibustering, may I ask what was the purpose of trying to get rid of a modest little measure to enable the Government to look at the books of multinational companies which were systematically fiddling their transfer prices, profits and general prices to the public? That was a classic example of an 8½ hour filibuster from 4 o'clock to 12.30 p.m. The hon. Member for Braintree (Mr. Newton) knows that this is so because he participated in it. I am sure that the Government hope that we do not get caught up in the sort of things that happened in Committee. We found that much of the discussion was taken up with the junketings for the Tory leadership challenge—
Order. That is getting a little wide of the motion.
Conservative Members have complained that their experts will not have sufficient time to look at the clauses in the Bill. The right hon. Member for Finchley produced the finest team of tax dodge experts that this House, or any other small room in the world, has seen gathered together. They sat sniggering as one Conservative after another proposed amendments to create loopholes for tax avoidance and tax evasion. Naturally the Labour Front Bench does not wish to encourage either. I am quite sure that these tax dodge experts will be able to look at these amendments and come back tomorrow with another thousand loopholes that they will seek to create.It is not the timing that these people object to. They object to the fact that we have left Committee with the Bill—despite the concessions unnecessarily given away by the Government—remaining intact. That concerns Conservative Members and that is what their fury is about. It is not about another thousand amendments. When the Bill becomes law in a few weeks' time its fundamental provisions will still stand intact. It will be carrying out a fundamental pledge in the Labour Party's manifesto and will be an important move in seeking to bring about the fundamental and irreversible shift in wealth and power that we have been after. It is humbug, cant and hypocrisy, as well as degrading, for Conservative Members to seek to support the privileged few as they not only run scared but degrade themselves by encouraging hon. Gentlemen to come to this House and carry on with their rantings and ravings.
If the hon. Member for Luton, West (Mr. Sedgemore) was accustomed to consulting his constituents he might understand why Conservative Members feel as angry as they do at the treatment which the Government have accorded us. We simply cannot do our job. A great many of our constituents are affected, whether in terms of their farms, businesses, pensions or employments by this measure and they deserve a hearing as well as the information on which to base their representations. The Government have denied them that. That is a point on which even Labour Members should want to express an opinion.It is a maxim in law that ignorance of the law is no defence. Have we not a duty to ensure that we do not legislate in ignorance? It is perfectly clear that ignorance characterises a great deal of what is said at present, partly through lack of understanding and partly through lack of information. Nothing brings this House into disrepute more than the passing of laws that are ill-considered and badly constructed. I make a final plea to the Chief Secretary. I imagine that he has not had much time to talk to the owners or management of businesses in his constituency. If he had, he might have found that there was legitimate concern about the employment prospects in his constituency, and other hon. Members opposite might share that concern if they thought about it. I had the chance last week to ask Mr. Scanlon whether he had been consulted about the capital transfer tax, whether he had studied its effects on employment, and whether, since so many of the family engineering companies which employ his members would have either to cut back on their investment or sell out, he thought it in the interests of his union that they should lose their jobs. The Chief Secretary will not be surprised to hear that he did not care to answer. It would be interesting to know to what extent the Treasury Bench has consulted the Department of Employment and has thought out the effects of this measure at a time when the employment figures give us great cause for concern. If he talks to the members of management, and particularly to people who own their businesses, he will find that, assaulted as they are by inflation, by taxes from every which way, by rates, and by the general lack of confidence, the CTT is for many of them the last straw, and that it strikes at the root of their businesses and their willingness to invest. I therefore join my hon. Friends in urging the Chief Secretary to think again about the capital transfer tax and to reconsider the motion.
I shall not unduly take up the time of the House in re-emphasising and echoing the points made so well by my hon. Friends about the devastating effects that the capital transfer tax will have on family businesses and farms and the intolerable position in which they have been put as a result of not having sufficient time to consider the Government's amendments on the tax and the Government's new clauses and the vast amount of legislation being put before the House.Unlike the hon. Member for Luton, West (Mr. Sedgemore), I have been inundated by telegrams from family businesses and small firms in Leicester and the Leicester area in which family and small businesses are particularly prevalent. Up to now it has been a prosperous area, and the unemployment cycle has been far less damaging because employment has been maintained in the small businesses whereas it has not been maintained in the big businesses in the West Midlands. The East Midlands has a far better labour and industrial relations record, which is not unconnected with the fact that there there are more small and family businesses and a better spirit in industry than there are in the industry of the neighbouring West Midlands. People have been showering me with telegrams and they have sent many letters to me. They are terrified, with good reason, of the devastating effects which the tax will have on their businesses. They wonder what is the point of carrying on. We were told on Friday of a promise by the Government that at least Members who served on the Committee would receive over the weekend copies of the Government amendments so that we could deal with them. I was a member of the Committee, but I received no copies of the amendments by special delivery or by post either at my home in the constituency or at my London home. It has, therefore, been impossible for me to table the amendments that I wished to table. It is clear that we need, not only more time between Committee and Report, but more time on Report than the five days which the Government have allotted. The Leader of the House, when taxed on this matter on a number of occasions, said that by providing five days the Government were giving more time for Report than was given for Report of any Finance Bill since 1909. I was glad that today, under pressure from me, he withdrew that remark. I accept that his error was made in good faith and that he had no intention of misleading the House. On the Finance Bill in 1965 there were 16 days in Committee and five days on Report. On this Bill, which is infinitely more complex and more far-reaching—in the words of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, it is the most important for over a generation—there were only 12 days in Committee, and only five days have been given for Report. That is less time than was given to the 1965 Bill. I therefore hope that the Chief Secretary and the Chancellor of the Exchequer will reconsider the question of the time that they are giving on Report. One way of dealing with the matter would be to defer the tax to the next Budget. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe) said, that is, in a sense, what has already been done with Clause 39—or Clause 36 as it was in the Bill as originally printed. I spent a long time on Friday morning waiting for the Government's amendments to Clause 39. In Committee we were told that a large number of amendments to Clause 39 would be tabled on Report. By late Friday lunchtime nothing had been tabled by the Government. I had the good fortune to meet the Chief Secretary and he told me that the Government would not table any amendments; they had not the time to table them. That shows the situation into which the Government have got themselves. They have tabled one amendment which means that Clause 39 will not come into effect till 5th April 1976. The amendments which have been promised will come in the next Finance Bill.
Would it not be a good idea if the Government tabled amendments to every clause and said that the provisions would not come into effect till 5th April 1976? The Government would be happy because it would be their chosen method of dealing with the Bill, we would be happy, and the country would be happy.
My hon. Friend has arrived at the conclusion to which I was about to come. That would be the logical thing to do. The amendments could be tabled and discussed on the next Finance Bill, which is due all too soon. That would be one of many possible ways of dealing with the Bill.Why have the Government got themselves into this absurd position in which major legislation is being given wholly inadequate time and discussion? The reason is the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act which imposes the deadline of 14th March by which the Bill must receive the Royal Assent. Therefore, everything must be telescoped to meet that deadline. That is absurd. The Provisional Collection of Taxes Act was introduced in April 1913 by the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Lloyd George, because it had been discovered, as a result of a court case, that it was illegal to collect taxes on the basis of Budget Resolutions. The Act was introduced with considerable thought. It was decided that there should be three months in which the Government would have to get the Finance Bill enacted and on the statute book to enable them legally to collect taxes and not have to refund them. In Committee on the 1913 Bill the question arose whether new taxes should be included. They were originally, but it was suggested that perhaps new taxes should not be included. That was fully discussed, and new taxes were taken out of the ambit of the Bill. That has remained the law to this day. The Provisional Collection of Taxes Act does not affect new taxes. By tacking on the capital transfer tax to the rest of the Finance Bill the Government are creating a difficulty which is entirely of their own making for the rest of the Finance Bill. 7.0 p.m. We do not wish the Government's economic management—to give it a title more dignified than it deserves—to be made more difficult through the deadline of the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act in so far as it concerns Parts I, II and IV of the Bill. We have no wish to cause any problems of that kind. We do not wish the revenues from petrol, VAT, and so on, to have to be refunded. That difficulty is being created by the Government's tacking on to the normal Finance Bill—normal except for the season of the year—the new taxes in Part III with which the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act has nothing to do. A positive decision was taken not to include new taxes within its ambit. Since 1913 the three months which was originally given to allow Governments to get their Finance Bills on the statute book has been amended to four months. If the Government feel it is essential to break up what the hon. Member for Luton, West referred to as a constitutional crisis there is no reason why they should not bring in a further Bill to amend the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act to give them five months instead of four. If we had a further month we could have full discussions. The Government are putting a pistol at our heads and saying that the House should not give proper consideration to this radical tax reform and that outside interests which are affected by the Bill to the extent of financial life or death should not be given the opportunity for adequate discussion, just because of a phoney deadline round which there are innumerable ways, which have been referred to by my right hon. and hon. Friends, and which the Government refuse to take. That is an improper way to treat the House and an improper way to treat important business and agricultural interests which depend on the House for fair dealing.
The short debate has made crystal clear that while the Opposition have no wish to cause unnecessary delay we have nothing but disgust and contempt for the shambles into which the Government and Treasury Ministers, to their misfortune, have reduced this legislation. I underscore what my right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) said when he reminded us of what had gone on in Standing Committee A. He said that in Committee there was no delay. We achieved the very rushed timetable that the Chief Secretary required. We had to skate over several complicated clauses and schedules. We had to deal with issues of outstanding importance at absurd hours of the night and early morning. But we co-operated, we kept to the schedule which the Chief Secretary wished, and we came through on the timetable he wished.We did that despite the lack of ministerial briefs, which often led to delays and difficulties on the Treasury Bench. We did that when it was patently clear, on several occasions, that Ministers had not been briefed and did not understand the measures or the amendments they were putting forward. At times we had an abstract painting kind of debate, when ideas were sketched in the air and we were asked to amend thoughts in the Minister's mind. All this we did in the charming company of the hon. Member for Luton, West (Mr. Sedgemore), who by his contribution today, has shown to all hon. Members who were not in Standing Committee A exactly what we had to put up with, and why there were delays and difficulties upstairs which were not of our making. Much has been said about so-called concessions, and the enormous number of Government amendments that have been put down. They are not concessions. For the most part, they are corrections. "Concessions" is a misnomer. They are changes to make possible what the Government desire, wrong though we believe that to be, and there are a great many of those changes. I do not know the latest tally, but there are between 180 and 200 Government amendments. They are not just one-line amendments, they are pages of print. In addition to the changes and new clauses incorporated in the reprinted Bill, those amendments add up to a new Bill. The basis of the objection of many of us is that we are starting out on a new Bill, dealing with new principles. It is not true to say that the amendments relating to woodlands and charities are concessions. The basic principle, enunciated with much glee when the Bill first came forward, which was that there was to be similar treatment in life and death, went out of the window in Committee, and we have the concept of life time transfers, which create a new principle and, in effect, a new Bill. Throughout, my right hon and hon. Friends and I did our best to help the Government with their corrections. The existence of our own financial advisers was kindly recognised by Ministers on the Treasury Bench, and our own official advisers in helping us did a good job. That was a remarkable constitutional development. In his memoirs, Dick Crossman, in his generous way, bemoaned the fact that the Opposition would never be able to compete with Ministers because Ministers had wonderful advisers. If he had lived and seen our work in Committee he would have realised that he had it the wrong way round. Opposition Members and their advisers were able to contribute substantially to corrections of the vast output of Government amendments which are the remarkable feature of the new Bill before us, which we feel we must have proper time to study and prepare amendments for. There is no difficulty in what it has been proposed that the Government should do. The recommittal procedure is open to them, and it is set out on page 529 of Erskine May. At the end of the proceedings before the Third Reading all the Government have to do is to move for a recommittal of Part III of the Bill There is no procedural difficulty in that and there would be many benefits for the Government if they followed that course. My hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson) is right in saying that in trying to use the strong arm of the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act the Government are on a dangerous course. They are abusing and not using that Act. According to the debate on 7th April 1913, the Act was brought in specifically not for the use of new taxes. It was never intended that vast new measures of major implication—measures which, in the Chancellor's words, are the most fundamental tax measures since the war, should be hooked into this procedural device and rammed through Parliament on the ground that if the Government's timetable is not achieved the whole business of tax collection will be thrown out of gear. That is abusing the procedure of the Act, which was never intended for that purpose. The Government know that, and they should feel a sense of guilt, if that is within their competence, for trying to do it. The Opposition do not wish to delay proper discussion of the new Bill before us and, strongly though they rightly feel, I shall not advise my hon. Friends to press to a Division the motion, which sets out a more welcome procedure than would have been the case if the Government had had it entirely their own way. The heart of the matter is that the Government, by their efforts and by trying to rush through the capital transfer tax to please the proponents of the social contract, or what is left of it, have made the Chief Secretary and the Financial Secretary—the two Laurel and Hardy centre-pieces of the whole affair—look like a pair of Charlies. They have been made to look a pair of Charlies by their colleagues, and one's feelings are mixed between sorrow for them that they have been put in this position and, nevertheless, the feeling that if only they had any sense in their heads they would not have allowed the Committee, this House, the Government or the Bill to get into this crazy state. It may be that we should shed no tears for the Chief Secretary and the Financial Secretary. Perhaps they can live with the fact that they have become, through their incompetence, the laughing stock of most informed circles concerned with tax legislation and probably the laughing stock of a wider audience as it becomes known what an absurd situation they have put us into. But what is more serious is that what they have done is bad for Parliament, bad for the country, bad for our legislative procedures, bad for the Civil Service machine and bad for the morale of our administrative structure. That is of lasting damage, and it is a talisman or an indicator of the incompetence of this Government and of those who put forward this legislation. It justifies completely our very strong feelings that this measure should be unstitched and that the capital transfer tax should be taken away so that it may be examined in a proper, dignified civilised way as becomes legislation of this kind. Those are the feelings of the Opposition on this matter.
With the leave of the House, first I wish to thank all those hon. Members who expressed kind sympathies for me and for my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary. They are much appreciated.My right hon. Friends and I understand this tax only too well, and we understand very well that the Opposition, including the Front Bench and those hon. Members who served on the Standing Committee, also understand the tax very well. Indeed, that is the reason why we have had this display today. As has been made clear, the Opposition do not wish to give serious examination to the tax. That is not their intention. Their intention, as the right hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe) made clear, is to remove the capital transfer tax from the Bill. Judging from the debate which has gone on since four o'clock, it is difficult to believe that the motion which I moved was tabled with the agreement of the right hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East. It is hardly possible for anyone to imagine that that was the case. Yet that is what happened. I agreed that the motion should be tabled precisely to give the House the opportunity more easily and in more time to consider the clauses of the Bill dealing with the capital transfer tax. However, that was never the intention of the Opposition. If they had genuinely and seriously wanted on behalf of their constituents to consider amendments to the CTT, they would have started to do so promptly at four o'clock. I remind the House that the Government have made provision for five days on Report. Apart from one or two occasions, that is well in excess of anything that has ever happened on a Finance Bill. The right hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East said that this capital transfer tax had not been debated fully. The right hon. and learned Gentleman did not have the pleasure, if that is the correct word, of sitting upstairs with us in Committee. The amount of time that was taken to consider non-capital transfer tax clauses could well have been saved in order to debate the CTT more fully—[Hon. Members: "No."] Hon. Members who say "No" should read the Official Report of the Committee proceedings or should have been upstairs in Committee when we debated these matters. The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked when we were likely to debate the capital transfer tax. He and his hon. Friends have made it clear that they have no wish to get to that debate. They do not need to apologise for that. They have made their position clear, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman repeated it on radio this morning. They want to remove the tax from the Bill. They do not want seriously to consider amendments to it. As for the amendments themselves, when were they available? All Government new clauses, the single Government new schedule and the great majority of Government amendments on the CTT were put down on or before Wednesday 26th February—
Were they printed?
Yes. They were printed and appeared on the Notice Paper on Thursday. With the motion that we are debating now, that gave ample time to hon. Members to consider amendments—
What the right hon. Gentleman is now saying seems wholly to miss the point of almost everything said from the Opposition Benches during this debate. It is not a matter of allowing hon. Members to skim through documents and then to advance such arguments as they can put together Amendments tabled on Thursday for consideration in the depth which they require by many people outside this House cannot receive consideration within the time scale of this week or even next week. That is the point which the right hon. Gentleman apparently fails to grasp.
When I discussed with the right hon. and learned Gentleman tabling this motion, most of the Government's new clauses and amendments were printed and on the Notice Paper. They were printed on Thursday.
It is not only the case that the Opposition would like to consult the interests concerned. It is also the case that the Government should consult those interests. What consultation has the Chief Secretary had with the historic buildings councils, the Forestry Commission or any of the other bodies affected in a major way by the amendments?
I shall be happy to tell the hon. Gentleman that and much more if and when we reach the CTT clauses. I shall be happy to discuss those matters when we come to them. I cannot help feeling that we have not been debating this motion. It has been more a debate about the CTT itself.It was said that my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary and I promised to consider a number of amendments. We did that. Where appropriate, new clauses and amendments have been tabled. In other cases it was decided that amendments were not appropriate, were not necessary or were not justified. That is another matter on which I shall be happy to expand when we come to deal with the appropriate clauses. It must be clear to any reasonably objective observer of our debates in Committee and on the Floor of the House that what has happened is that the Opposition have sought constantly to distort and delay as a political ploy. There is no question about it. We have been told that there is an intolerable situation here. There is. The Opposition's deliberate political ploy has been to ensure that people outside have gained a totally false impression of this tax. I must make it clear to my right hon. and hon. Friends, in case anyone has any fears about it, that we have no intention of withdrawing the CTT clauses. This is an excellent tax. The Opposition have spoken against the CTT, but they have not said a word about the tax which it replaces—the tax which the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) said with great glee that he liked and which the Opposition would like to remain on the statute book. They liked it because it was so readily avoidable by the small minority whom the Opposition seek to defend. The very people who are shouting loudest about the CTT are those who never paid estate duty. Under the CTT those who paid estate duty will be considerably better off—widows, widowers, small shopkeepers and small traders whom the Opposition purport to represent. Those small shopkeepers and small traders will be very much better off under the CTT than ever they were under estate duty. Let them read the Bill.
No. I do not know how hon. Gentlemen opposite propose to conduct the debate, but let me tell them that the new schedule will ensure that genuine woodland owners are protected but those who have sought to avoid tax under estate duty by the purchase of forests and woodlands, that tiny minority, will be hurt, and I do not apologise for that. That is the kind of person whom Conservative Members have been seeking to defend.The same goes for trusts which were used largely for tax avoidance purposes. To a large extent, trusts were used for avoidance purposes. What we are doing under the CTT is to ensure that those who want genuine trusts will be neither better nor worse off. Under estate duty they were considerably better off than the vast majority of ordinary taxpayers who paid their taxes properly. I note the Opposition's pressure on behalf of this tiny privileged minority. My hon. Friends will note it, as will people outside the House. I assure the Opposition that we have no intention of accepting their suggestion to remove CTT from the Bill, because it will be to the advantage of the vast majority of ordinary people.
Question put and agreed to.
That the Finance Bill, as amended, be considered in the following order, namely new clauses not relating to capital transfer tax or estate duty, amendments relating to Clauses 1 to 18 and 50 to 56 and to Schedules 1 to 3 and 12, new clauses relating to capital transfer tax or estate duty, amendments relating to Clauses 19 to 49, new schedules and amendments relating to Schedules 4 to 11.
Vat: Eight Per Cent Rate
I have selected the manuscript amendment in the name of the right hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe).
I beg to move as a manuscript amendment, in page 1, line 16, leave out Clause 1.The amendment relates to the entire contents of the clause, and I wish to begin by explaining what it does not seek to do before turning to some matters of importance with which the House would like to deal. First, what we are not seeking to do is to increase VAT from 8 per cent. to 10 per cent. That is neither the effect nor the intention of the amendment. Indeed, if the amendment were carried, the 8 per cent. rate provided for by order laid by the Chancellor of the Exchequer last July would continue in force until next July, and other arrangements could no doubt be made to deal with it thereafter. We are not proposing any given rate in place of that now in force at 8 per cent. The purpose of the amendment is to afford the House an opportunity to have a short but important debate on several issues related to the general condition of the economy. It is a long time since we had a general economic debate, and unless there is to be a debate on the public expenditure White Paper—which we should welcome—there may be no opportunity of a debate of this kind before the next Budget is introduced. Admittedly the frequency of Budgets under this Government gives the prospect of almost quarterly events of that kind, and almost continuous consideration of Finance Bills—we do not welcome that—but we feel that we should have this opportunity for this kind of debate. I wish to deal with two specific matters, and one more general. I propose, first, to say something about the prospect of a multirate VAT which is exercising the mind of many people. Secondly, I propose to say something about the methods of enforcement and collection of VAT which is exercising the minds of perhaps many more people. Thirdly, I propose to say something about matters of more general economic policy in the light of the issues dealt with in the clause. I come first to the question of multirate VAT. I know that this was discussed quite shortly in Standing Committee, but it is important that we should return to it on the Floor of the House at this stage, if only for a few minutes. The fact is that VAT as originally conceived was designed specifically to avoid the complications which would inevitably flow from the introduction of differing rates for that single tax. It is also the fact that documents have been circulating for some months suggesting that it is the intention of the Government to move over to a multirate system. The prospect of such a change causes anguish, dismay and horror in the hearts of the many small and medium-sized businesses which are responsible for collecting VAT. A huge and growing burden of administration has been placed upon such businesses. Their lot is being made more and not less difficult by what the Government are proposing about national insurance contributions from the self-employed. Many of them are in that position, and we hope we can obtain from the Government an assurance that the added horror of multirate VAT is not in prospect. The problem is that the Department of Customs and Excise has issued a notice—No. 727—describing proposals which may be necessary to meet
and this has been the subject of representations to many Conservative Members and, I am sure, to Labour Members, too. These people, who are working long hours, devote a lot of time to the complicated accountancy consequences of VAT anyway, and they can carry out the additional task of collecting multirate VAT only if they extend the hours of work they put in outside their normal working hours. This is a prospect which fills them with horror, and I hope the Government can give an assurance that these documents are not even a ballon d'essai, not even an academic exercise, but some random activity quite unrelated to the intentions of the Government. I hope they will give us an assurance that there is no prospect of multirate VAT. The activities which have been reported by a number of hon. Members and criticised by others concern inspectors of Customs and Excise responsible for the enforcement and collection of VAT. I want to make my statement with care. I recognise that an important and difficult duty rests upon people with responsibility for the enforcement and collection of that tax. I have seen a letter in The Times today from the Assistant General Secretary of the Society of Civil Servants quite rightly pointing out that the inspectors have a duty to the law-abiding majority to ensure that the tax-evading minority do not sponge upon the community for their personal illegal profit, and I do not quarrel with that proposition. The task of Customs and Excise will become more difficult if we move to the multirate system, which is another argument against it. I do not wish to line up the Opposition with the minority of those who are seeking to evade the payment of taxes, nor to line ourselves up with those who regard exceptional misdeeds by inspectors and enforcement officers as characteristic of the entire group of such people, but, even so, there is here cause for concern if even a fraction of the matters being reported should turn out to be true. I hope that the Minister will deal with these points. I know that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has received a long and detailed letter from my hon. Friend the Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison), who will be able to speak for himself on the detailed aspects of the matter, but the cause for concern that emerges from that story and from some others is the suggestion that the investigators visited the premises concerned and apparently under powers to inspect the premises and any goods found there proceeded further than that and were conducting a search of the premises without any warrant allowing them to do so. If that were the case, it is not only an example of the kind of complaint that is made but represents a serious matter about which people are entitled to be concerned, because the Act clearly draws attention to the distinction between the right under Section 37(2) to inspect goods found on the premises, and the right under Section 37(3) to search premises. It seems clear from the account given by the taxpayer in that case that the VAT inspectors were searching the premises without warrant and confiscating private property. If that single example is true it justifies wider concern than arises from that case, and I hope very much that we shall be told exactly what the Government are doing about this matter. There is anxiety lest a habit should be commencing, let alone developing, of high-handed, overbearing, insensitive or unjustified conduct. It is most important for those concerned in this important duty to remember that they are not dealing with a minority of hard-bitten evaders of Customs and Excise duties. They are having to deal potentially with many citizens who are drawn into the network of tax collection. Many citizens are acting to the best of their ability as collectors of revenue. It would be dangerous if that large army of people, upon whom the Revenue depends for the collection of the tax, were to be disconcerted by reports of this kind of behaviour. It is important that the Government should take this opportunity to allay anxiety on this matter. Widespread anxiety certainly exists, and it is not completely without justification. 7.30 p.m. My third point is of a more general kind and relates to the levels of VAT with which we are concerned. Is it right for the Chancellor now to propose consolidating the change in level effected last July? As I understand the position from what was said in Standing Committee, the highest rate hereafter attainable by use of the regulator becomes 9·6 per cent. That puts beyond reach of the Chancellor the arithmetical simplicity of the original pristine proposal of 10 per cent. I wonder whether it is right or sensible, for purely technical and arithmetical reasons of that kind, to consolidate in the way proposed? There is a more fundamental point relating to the pattern of progress, so far as it may be described as progress, of the Government's battle against inflation. We have seen in the last week that the Chancellor has been receiving advice from both the General Council of the TUC and from the CBI. It must be acknowledged that he has received conflicting advice about the appropriate level of demand at which to aim in making his Budget judgment. There is no doubt that as he approaches his Budget judgment the Chancellor must be concerned—indeed, he has said that he is—about the overriding need to reduce the public sector borrowing requirement. It seeems probable that if import controls are to be avoided—that is surely desirable—and if inflationary wage settlements are to be moderated without resorting to a statutory policy—that seems equally desirable—the judgment of the CBI on the appropriate level of demand at which to aim is more likely to be correct than that of the TUC. I say nothing firmer than that at the moment, but that seems to be the right assessment to make at this stage. If that is so, the Chancellor is unlikely to have room for making cuts in taxation. He is equally unlikely to have room for increasing public spending still further. Indeed, that is the last thing that any of us would want. If he is to follow the line foreshadowed in his last Budget statement last November, and if he finds that the social contract, so called, is not having the desired effect in moderating the level of wage inflation, he is more likely to be impelled in the direction of higher rather than lower taxes. That, again, is the background against which we must consider the wisdom of consolidating in the way proposed in the clause. It is also probable, if taxes have to be increased, that the Chancellor should fight hard to avoid increases in direct taxation, especially in so far as those increases might fall on middle or higher managerial incomes and on the incomes of people who are not parties to the social contract. They are the people who have been harshly affected by inflation, by the combination of inflation with fiscal drag and by the effective reduction of the levels at which they begin paying higher direct taxes. It is against that background that we would say, if an increase in taxation turns out to be desirable, that it is more likely to be desirable in the direction of indirect rather than of direct taxes. These are all speculative judgments at this point, but the background does not suggest that it is right to consolidate the VAT level in the direction of a lower central point at which the regulator should operate. I close on a more general matter. We have all read with interest the reports of speeches made before and during the weekend by several of the right hon. Gentleman's colleagues. We have read with interest what the Secretary of State for Education and Science said. He apparently asserted in writing, if not orally referring to "every individual trade unionist", that"the need to prepare for additional rates of VAT"
He then said:"the contract was agreed by his trade unionist delegates in his name".
Later he said:"The Government have kept their share of the bargain. The trade unions must not welsh on their side."
To me as an innocent, reading that report in the newspapers on Saturday morning, I thought that the right hon. Gentleman was saying something little different from what had been said on the same evening by the Secretary of State for the Home Department, and little different from what had been said by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and by the Secretary of State for the Environment in previous weeks. There seemed nothing miraculous on which to comment except the courage of the Secretary of State for Education and Science in joining the ranks of those asserting that wisdom. Then, towards the close of Saturday, the Secretary of State for Employment asserted:"Every member of the TUC General Council should stump the country in support of the social contract. … Every individual trade unionist must accept his personal share of responsibility."
He strongly repudiated the use of the term "welsh". He said:"It is economic illiteracy for anyone to talk as though the wage problem is the only problem and that other parts of the social contract are irrelevant."
The situation became more interesting. There was clearly a difference in emphasis between the speeches being made by the two right hon. Members. The disturbing feature appears, when it is reported in the way in which these matters are reported, that the Prime Minister is bearing down upon the hapless Secretary of State for Education and Science. If that is the case—we should like to know very much whether it is—it is a deeply disturbing development. A Minister is discredited by one of his colleagues following the total collapse of Cabinet collective responsibility. He is apparently thought guilty of economic illiteracy. It might be argued that he was asserting unarguable centralist policy already put forward by the Government. On 30th January when answering a Question in the House he said:"The term is offensive and should never have been used."
He goes on to say:"The success of the Government's counter-inflation policy depends above all on the effective working of the social contract."
The ordinary observer must conclude that the Secretary of State for Education and Science was doing his best to interpret in a slightly different style of language—"75 per cent. of the working people covered by settlements … are within those guidelines. 25 per cent. are outside those guidelines, and I have said that that proportion is far too high."—[Official Report, 30th January 1975; Vol. 885, c. 597–8.]
Order. I am afraid that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will have to indicate to the Chair how he relates this topic to the amendment under discussion.
Indeed, there is a direct relevance. The important matter is the way in which the Chancellor is proposing to conduct the basis on which VAT should be imposed. Is he to proceed in the direction indicated by his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment or in the direction indicated by his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science? That is a relevant and important point.I would have thought that the Secretary of State for Education and Science was far from guilty of economic illiteracy in reasserting what the Chancellor had said. It is important to know the answer to this conflict in considering the Chancellor's reaction to the amendment. Does the Chancellor agree with the Secretary of State for Employment? Does he agree with the Prime Minister that that which is going on, which he condemned in his oral Answer of 30th January, does not amount to a reneging of the social contract? Does he agree that there is no welshing upon the social contract? Alternatively, does he agree with himself, with his own assertions, that 25 per cent. of settlements outside the contract is too many? Where does the Chancellor stand? He can state his position clearly in response to the amendment against the background that I have tried to sketch. His answer to that set of questions is not merely an answer to matters of idle curiosity, because this Government—Heaven help us—are charged with responsibility for this nation's policy to defeat inflation, and not merely for the people of our country within our boundaries but in relation to the outside world. It is deeply disturbing for the people of this country to think, as they must in the light of this weekend's events, that there are divided counsels within the Government about the extent to which the defeat of inflation is overriding. It is equally disturbing for us to think that people observing this country from outside might be wondering where the Government's emphasis is being placed. Is it being placed, as some of us have been hoping, along the lines indicated by the Chancellor since last autumn, or is it slipping away into the miasmic uncertainties indicated by the Secretary of State for Employment? We must know. The answer to that question has a serious impact upon the credibility, consistency and commitment of the Government's policy on this vital question. My last point follows from that. Where are we to believe that the Government are taking the conventions of our constitution? Dealing high-handedly, as they are today, with the right and opportunity of Parliament to survey this kind of legislation, what are they doing with the doctrine of collective Cabinet responsibility? We have all been brought up to think that a Government are chosen from this assembly to hammer out coherent and consistent policies on which they are agreed. We have seen that proposition slipping away as the Government fumble in their approach to the European referendum, but to find it happening on this central question of how to defeat inflation is deeply disturbing. It erodes still further the limited degree of confidence that we in the House and the people of this country can still have in the Government's capacity to cope with the central problem. I hope that the Minister will give us some answers to those questions, which give us some anxiety about the degree of chaos which prevails in the Government's counsels.
I am very glad that the Secretary of State for Employment is in the Chamber because the remarks of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe) in trying to sort out Government policy referred particularly to him. [HON. MEMBERS: "He has gone."] I see that the right hon. Gentleman has made a very quick exit. That will not help us to interpret Government policy, which is very difficult for anyone to interpret. No one would accuse the Secretary of State for Employment of illiteracy, but, equally, neither the House nor the country would think of him as one of the economic savants of our time. His pronouncements about incomes policy, while always welcome, have put the Government's economic strategy in some doubt. I had thought that the Secretary of State for Education and Science had been speaking very much in support of what the Chancellor, and sometimes the Prime Minister, had been saying earlier. Indeed, in his most recent speeches, the Chancellor has been placing great emphasise on the need to secure wage awards which are allegedly within the social contract. The clear implication of his recent statements, that many settlements are outside the contract, is that measures will have to be taken in the forthcoming Budget to correct the situation. What the Secretary of State for Employment is saying—only this can be implicit in his criticising the Secretary of State for Education and Science so heavily—is that the situation is all right as it is and that no further corrective measures are required in the Budget. That is one point that the Paymaster-General should seek to make clear. It is difficult for us to understand the position of the Cabinet on collective responsibility. Whether on the EEC or economic control, it seems to be a question of the Ayes to the right, the Noes to the left. 7.45 p.m. My right hon. and learned Friend referred to the VAT inspectors. Some astonishing cases have been reported recently in the Press. If accurately reported, they would appear to go quite outside the legislation. As one who opposed the legislation from the Government side at the time, I think that the Government owe us a statement about the powers of the inspectors and what they propose to do about any actions outside those powers. The amendment in my name was designed simply to secure the kind of economic debate that we have regularly on the regulator. It is interesting to recall the position just under a year ago, on 22nd July, when the Chancellor reduced VAT from 10 per cent. to 8 per cent. He said:
That does not seem to be happening at the moment. Indeed, the miners' pay award was far above any increase attributable to the rise in the cost of living. I understand that earnings are rising at an annual rate of 30 per cent. and prices by only 20 per cent. Of course, the miners are not the only ones in the queue. According to this morning's Press, the electricity supply workers will be going for an increase of 34 per cent., on top of their average earnings of over £50 a week, to put themselves more or less in line with the miners. I do not know how that squares with the social contract.
"The first and main objective of the proposals I shall now describe is to attack inflation at its source. The General Council of the TUC has recently issued guidelines for collective bargaining which have been welcomed on both sides of the House. Those guidelines envisage that pay will rise in line with the cost of living."—[Official Report, 22nd July, 1974; Vol. 877, c. 1048.]
There are very many disturbing similarities between the position of the United Kingdom and that of Germany in the early 1920s. It is incumbent upon the Paymaster-General to give a fair and lengthy account—if not lengthy, very full—of the present position of the economy, so that we can judge whether we should carry the amendment to omit Clause 1."It was noted at the time that 'once the (budget) deficit has become the dominating feature of the situation and has reached a figure of many millions, all saving of small amounts (of Government spending) seems useless … the financial administration is possessed by a spirit of dissipation and neglect'. It was also found that the Central Bank had to lend directly to industry to overcome their cash-flow problems in the face of rocketing nominal interest rates (up to 30 per cent. a day). In the early stages of the German inflation waves came to be linked to the cost of living index. But, as this could only be produced weekly, they were later linked to the (reciprocal of the) plummeting exchange rate and later still to a forecast of what the rate would be by the time the wages could be spent."
I was one of the 30 hon. Members on the Opposition side of the House who, on 24th July last, voted against the measures introduced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. In particular, I opposed then the reduction in the rate of VAT from 10 per cent. to 8 per cent. I thought at the time that that would inevitably increase the amount of the Government's borrowing requirement. It was also a reduction in taxation introduced purely for electioneering purposes. Nothing which has happened since then has made me think that the judgment formed by some of my hon. Friends at the time was in error.For my part, I believe that it would be right for the Government at this stage to increase VAT from 8 per cent. to 10 per cent. The fact that such a move would be unpopular seems to me to be almost certainly a strong point in its favour. I want to follow up the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Horsham and Crawley (Mr. Hordern) about the level of the borrowing requirement. In his Budget Statement of 12th November, the Chancellor of the Exchequer admitted that the figure then of £6,300 million of borrowing requirement was, to use his own words, "disturbingly large". There is every reason to believe that the amount of that borrowing requirement, which in November was viewed by the Chancellor himself as depressingly large, has increased dramatically in the three intervening months. 8.0 p.m. One of the dangers in the present situation is that even the astronomic sums which the Government are borrowing, mainly from Oriental potentates, is being used, not to finance capital investment, but to bolster up spending by the British people far beyond what they and the Government can afford. We are living in a world far divorced from harsh economic reality. The Paymaster-General should explain to the House to what extent the public sector borrowing requirement has increased since the figure of £6,300 million was stated on 12th November. When the Chancellor introduced his July measures he said that he was proposing to attack inflation at its source. If he was being consistent he would, on his own doctrine, reduce the rate of value-added tax still further. The debate enables us to offer the Government advice on their general economic policy. The advice I offer the Government is that the next Budget must effect a genuine and substantial reduction in public expenditure and, regrettably, a genuine and substantial increase in taxation. The increase in taxation should be an increase in taxation on spending and on consumption and not still further on personal incomes. Britain is slipping dangerously towards economic ruin. It is a ruin which is being presided over by Treasury Ministers. National solvency and national self-respect require that there should be a rapid move towards a balanced Budget. I hope that the Paymaster-General will tell us that that is what we shall have.
I want to pursue two points raised by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe)—first, the question of a multirate VAT and, secondly the question of enforcement of VAT.All right hon. and hon. Members will have received correspondence, particularly from small shopkeepers, expressing horror at the thought of having to administer a multirate VAT. This horror has arisen because of the receipt of many of them of a Customs and Excise directive which is obviously a preliminary to the introduction of such a type of VAT. I do not know whether this directive was authorised by the Chancellor or whether it was sent out on the initiative of the Customs and Excise officials, but it is the type of directive or circular which should not be sent to the ordinary small trader, who has sufficient anxiety already trying to administer, and indeed, collect taxes for the Government. I hope that we shall get a repudiation of the circular and an assurance to small shopkeepers particularly that a multirate VAT is not in contemplation and that they will not be asked to embark on further complicated administration of tax matters in the course of their normal business. As to enforcement, there is anxiety about the powers of Customs and Excise officials. This anxiety has arisen particularly in the last few days because of the case raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison) of the antique shop in Selby, Yorkshire, which Customs and Excise officials entered and where for two and a half hours they pestered the mother of the lady proprietor, the proprietor herself being ill. The officials then spent five hours searching the shop in the presence of the proprietor who, I repeat, was a sick woman. They searched articles, including her wastepaper basket, private stationery, handbag and personal diary. Their questioning reduced her to tears at one stage and an inspector told her to stop snivelling. The powers of enforcement that are embodied in Section 37 of the Finance Act 1972 certainly do not empower inspectors to behave in that manner. Section 37(1) provides that any
That merely authorises entry into premises. Section 37(2) authorises any person who"authorised person may at any reasonable time enter premises used in connection with the carrying on of a business".
to"has reasonable cause to believe that any premises are used in connection with the supply of goods under taxable supplies"
Section 37(3) allows the authorised person to enter if he has a warrant to search. That is the only time that inspectors can search in the way that the inspectors searched in the Selby case. When the Financial Secretary was questioned about this matter he referred only to Section 37(1) and endeavoured to assure the House that VAT officers have no power to enter a trader's home as such. The hon. Gentleman refrained from mentioning subsection (2) which in its very terms allows an inspector to enter a trader's home if he has"enter and inspect those premises and inspect any goods found on them".
on those premises are goods under taxable supplies. So an inspector need only say" I have reasonable cause to believe that there are such goods in the trader's home." Is it necessary to have such a power to enforce a tax of this sort? If it is necessary to infringe upon rights of privacy to this extent, we should think seriously about whether the tax is a proper one. However, it is not necessary to do that, because Section 37(3) gives the authorised person all the powers of search provided that he obtains a warrant from a justice of the peace. This is the protection for the public. I appreciate that the Finance Act 1972 was passed at a time when I was a Minster in the Conservative Government, but this is now proving a wrong power to be given to inspectors when they are looking into VAT matters. They have proper power if they obtain a warrant to search from a justice of the peace. That empowers them to enter if they have reasonable cause to believe that someone is dodging the tax. I hold no brief for those who want to dodge the tax. If the power to enter and search is being used as it was at the antique shop in Selby, we must amend Section 37 so that inspectors have the power to enter only if they have obtained a warrant from a justice of the peace first."reasonable cause to believe that"
I, too, should like to say a word about the prospect of the introduction of multirate VAT and a little about the general approach to the economy by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.At one stage of my business career outside the House of Commons I had the good fortune to work for a man who was a master at figures. He taught me one motto which I have had firmly in my mind ever since: whenever you can, keep it simple. That applies to rules for busines, for administration and, above all, for taxation. I believe that VAT has already reached the limits of complexity that can be sustained and operated by many of our smaller traders. The choice that confronts the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he is considering whether to introduce a multi-rate VAT, I genuinely believe, is whether to drive out of business many small shopkeepers and traders who render a very good service to the community. This would be particularly serious in smaller communities and rural areas. There has been a remarkable number of closures of shops in areas of that sort in the last year or two. An example is the disappearance of the sub-post office. In parts of my constituency it is now very difficult to get anybody to operate a sub-post office at all. This is the result of a combination of the complexities of Post Office administration and the fact that the supporting activities are encumbered with VAT. I believe there is considerable resentment on the part of traders that they are operating an unpaid service in the collection of tax quite outside what one might call the normal course of duty. I Exchequer, and I know the amount of raised substantial revenues for the have been engaged in an industry which work involved. One-hundredth or perhaps one-thousandth of the effort per £1 of revenue raised had to be put in by firms in my industry compared with the effort required from the small trader in the collection of VAT. On those grounds alone there are very strong reasons for keeping VAT simple, and on a simple tax rate. On the local and what the Chancellor might regard as the minor issue, I think that the concern caused by the action of some members of the VAT inspectorate is so great that it warrants a clear statement from the Treasury of the inspectors' powers and of the instructions that have been issued about their use. This is not a small matter. It is one of the fundamental liberties of the subject in this country that he shall be free from harassment by officials, and to let a different situation develop without protest would be a retrograde step. I hope that members of the inspectorate will be well briefed before they descend on traders. I have in my constituency an owner of a small residential seaside hotel who was cross-examined by a member of the inspectorate because the percentage of his catering takings expended on food purchases was, as the inspector put it, much higher than is the case in London. This, to me, showed such an abysmal ignorance of the subject on which he was questioning that he should have been told to learn the subject or not make a fool of himself by asking such ridiculous questions. 8.15 p.m. I turn to something much more fundamental—the economic argument against introducing a multirate VAT. Despite the existence of rampant inflation, it is a fact that we are in the severest recession that we have experienced since 1945. It is much graver than the present unemployment figures would indicate. Whereas in former times there have been periods when unemployment has risen because of a shake-out of labour by employers, if I may put it in that way, or because of a dramatic increase in productivity which had not been expected by the Chancellor, the exact opposite is the case today. The true level of unemployment is disguised for the time being—but only for the time being—by short-time working and by the curtailment of overtime. I believe that we have all the classic conditions of recession present in this country and that they will develop during the next 12 months. In those circumstancees, to single out certain goods and industries for a sharp increase in tax, for perhaps the doubling or trebling of VAT—for one would not imagine that the Chancellor would introduce a multirate for an extra 2 per cent. or 3 per cent. on VAT—will be a leap in the dark, and it may well destroy industries whose continued existence is desirable. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to look back at the experience of the consumer durable industry in this country since 1945, under the treatment that was accorded it by Chancellor, I regret to say, of all parties, but mainly of the Labour Party, with the arbitrary and quite disgraceful changes in the purchase tax rate. I have no doubt that the reason that the British market is a gold mine for foreign manufacturers, and particularly some European manufacturers with an industrial base broadly similar to our own, is that it was made quite impossible to operate an efficient consumer durable industry because of the leaps and slashes—but particularly the leaps—of purchase tax rates on those commodities. I query the whole basis of thinking on the part of the Government in imposing such heavy taxation on petrol and the motor industry. I know that when the price of one commodity is apparently at the root of one's balance of payments difficulties, it is very easy to say that we must restrict the use of that commodity, but the purpose, of course, is to get the balance of trade on to a more favourable basis. Surely one should at least discuss with a reasonably open mind whether it is right to hit so hard at motoring or whether it would not be more sensible to apply a more broad-brush treatment by curtailing expenditure right across the field of spending. I say this to the right hon. Gentleman because, day by day, evidence comes to me that for many people motoring really is a necessity of life. It is very easy to be censorious and to pass value judgments on these things. I do not smoke. I believe that people who smoke are throwing their money away and damaging their health, but I do not expect that they will take much notice of me and I do not expect that I shall achieve much of a reduction in the level of smoking. One could say that there is plenty of scope for a reduction in the use of petrol, but for many families a car is today regarded as a necessity, certainly for travelling to work. It can be just as much a factor in people's minds when considering whether to press for wage increases as, for instance, the cost of the foodstuffs which the Government have subsidised. I shall not take up the time of the House in discussing the subject in detail, but as petrol prices have been raised by the imposition of VAT, and as we are discussing general demand management, I must point out that, if the Government wish to pursue their apparent present intention not only of placing no limit on the price or of not offsetting the increased import prices of petrol by, perhaps, some reduction in internal taxation, but of adding to them as well, they must make out a case for so doing, and they ought to give their judgment on the question whether they believe that there will be a major shift in the economy in the amount of resources devoted, over a long period, to the motor industry. If there is to be such a shift, it is worthy of discussion, just as we have in the past discussed the contraction of, say, the textile industry or the coal industry over the years, as well as the position of other industries which have found their historic place fundamentally changing. I hope, therefore, that we shall have a statement on the VAT inspectorate and the instructions given to inspectors. Secondly, I hope that the Chancellor will draw back from the brink of a multirate VAT. Thirdly, I hope that he will at least do us the intellectual compliment of making, in more detail than hitherto, his case for imposing so much of the additional burden on the private motorist instead of curtailing expenditure by more general tax increases.
I have been greatly troubled by two matters on which many constituents have made representations to me. The first concerns not only the general position of all shopkeepers under a multirate VAT but, in particular, the position of pharmacists. It is extremely difficult nowadays to find trained pharmacists. Someone dealing with ordinary goods in an ordinary shop, if his time is limited, may ask his wife to take a hand or get an unskilled person to help. A pharmacist cannot do that. He must be present throughout the hours of dispensing, frequently including Saturdays and Sundays, and he must be on call. If the pharmacist, as the most skilled person in the shop, has to be on call for that purpose, he cannot devote his time to filling in the exceedingly complicated VAT forms which will flood in upon him if we have a multirate VAT.I greatly fear that a large number of small pharmacies will close as a result In an area such as the one I represent, pharmacies are already closing all too readily, and it would be a disaster if more were to do so. But such is the burden of work of filling in the forms during their spare time that pharmacists are rapidly reaching the point of no return. I beg the Minister to assure people that he will not take this particularly damaging road. I come now to the tax on petrol. In my constituency we already have an unemployment rate of 5·8 per cent.—worse than in many development areas, and still rising. My constituents are most reluctant to go on to unemployment benefit, and they will take jobs miles away in order to keep themselves employed. With petrol tax at the rate it is about to reach, this puts a catastrophic drain on their resources. Many of them would be far better off unemployed, but they refuse to be so, and, with the petrol tax rising as it is, and as is proposed, there is great hardship in a country area where people have to go, 40, 50 or 60 miles a day in travelling to work, especially without such costs being allowed against income tax—which would at least help somewhat. I put those two matters to the Chancellor because I know from the many hundreds of letters which I have received that they are causing grave anxiety.
I hope that the House will permit me, after some of the more technical comments on the application of value added tax, to turn for a moment to a subject raised by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe), namely, the Government's general economic strategy as it is implied by a proposal of this kind to reduce the rate of value added tax.It is ironic that, with the economic situation as it was towards the end of last year, we had a Budget the main immediate monetary effects of which, in taxation terms, were, on the one hand, in the case of VAT, to reduce the level of revenue and, on the other, with the relief in relation to stock values for companies, at the same time to transfer some benefit there. It was difficult at that time to assess the Budget and economic strategy lying behind those decisions, especially at a stage when we were anxious about the Government's deficit increasing by an unknown amount, but uncomfortably rapidly. Will the Paymaster-General make some comment, therefore, on the suspension last week of any restriction or restraints on the money supply in the banking system? I ask that because it seems to me that the relationship of the various weapons in a Government's armoury for controlling the economy is both delicate and difficult, and it is important for the House and the country, and for the financial community in particular, to understand the Government's intentions in this case. The abandonment of restraints on the money supply could have come for three reasons. It could be because the growth of the money supply has been so low that restraints are no longer considered necessary. It could be that the Government expect that the requirements for lending in the banking and monetary system will be so great that the present restraints would be unduly onerous and, therefore, it is better to remove them to permit a substantial increase in the money supply during the coming year. Third, it could be that the Government are unconcerned about the future of the money supply. Each of those possibilities raises serious questions about which the House should be informed at an early stage in a debate of this kind. Experience since restraints were applied has been that about one half of the permitted increase in the growth of the money supply took place in 1974 and there is, therefore, substantial slack within the banking system. If the restraints have been removed in anticipation of a large increase in the money supply, it should be understood by hon. Members that an increase of about 25 per cent. could be contained if the present system were merely to be continued. I hope, therefore, that it is not for that reason that the restraints have been removed. If the restraints have been removed because the growth in the money supply has been so low and the Government feel that such restraints are therefore no longer needed, the implication seems to be that the recession which we are entering is likely to be deeper and longer than many of us have already come to fear. If, however, the restraints have been removed because the Government are unconcerned at the prospect for the money supply in the coming year, they should note that there is a strong psychological impact in whether there are or are not restraints applicable at any time. As we view with concern and anxiety the increased Budget deficit, as we hear an apparent diversity of voices within the Government about restraint of inflation through control of incomes by voluntary or other means, and as we discuss a Budget which permits a growing deficit on the current account, there is an urgent need for an explanation from the Government of their motive in removing these restraints.
I should like briefly to support what was said by many of my hon. Friends, in particular my right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) and my hon. Friends the Members for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Mr. Hall-Davis) and Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman), about the possibility of a multirate VAT. The debate gives us a welcome opportunity to explore to what extent the Government have at heart the interests of retailers, particularly shopkeepers, upon whom they rely so heavily to collect so much Government revenue.Do the Government have the faintest idea of the sheer administrative burden they place on the shoulders of retailers? Do they know the work which has to be done and the time it takes, the wages it costs and the leisure time that it claims? Do Treasury Ministers understand the increasing burden of the other administrative work that the Government impose upon this class of Government agent? Collecting VAT is not the only task. That has to be done at the same time that retailers administer PAYE, national insurance and graduated pension contributions, the butter and beef coupon schemes for old-age pensioners, the requirements of the new prices legislation, and so on. All of this is done without compensation and, so far as I have been able to discover, without any thanks. The only compensation has been the imposition of an extra 8 per cent. in the national insurance contributions of the self-employed. It is not surprising, therefore, that the possibility of a multirate VAT has been greeted by retailers with horror. The smaller the business the greater the burden that it will impose. I referred only to the possibility of multirate VAT because when pressed in Standing Committee the Financial Secretary refused to give any assurance that it would not be introduced at an early date. A VAT circular has given an added weight to these fears, and we are now at a stage when shopkeepers are actually admitting defeat under the weight of the administrative burden cast upon them. I know that a great deal of my argument has been outlined already in the debate and I hesitate to repeat it. I shall not do so at any length. The difficulty about the procedure under which we operate is that until a Minister replies we have no idea whether our arguments have sunk in or not. It is rather like making submissions in court to a completely silent judge which, fortunately, is a rare experience. I take the opportunity to emphasise once again the urgent necessity of not increasing the burden of Government administration on the retailers. Value added tax is a tool which government nowadays may use in the management of the economy. I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) was right when he said that VAT should be increased to 10 per cent. and that it should not be used as a means of forgoing income but should be used as a tool for increasing revenue. In whatever direction VAT is moved its movement should be uniform and not variable. I trust that although an assurance to that effect was not forthcoming in Committee on 23rd January it will be given to the House tonight.
I congratulate my right hon. and hon Friends who put down the amendment on giving us the opportunity to explore some of the darker areas of VAT. Recently we have heard disturbing things about the administration of VAT which reinforce the conclusion many of us must have reached that the Customs and Excise over-armed itself with power under Section 37 of the Finance Act 1972. I remind the Paymaster-General, because he was not privileged to take part in our debates upstairs, that this section was often cited to us as a precedent for Clause 17 and Schedule 4 of the Bill. If it was a precedent, it was a very ominous one. The charms of Section 37 are not enhanced because it happened to be introduced by a Conservative administration. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not advance that rather threadbare argument in support of anything that may have happened.One appreciates the difficulties which the Customs and Excise has encountered with the introduction of a new and fairly complex tax. I know, because I meet many of them in my constituency, that individual members of Customs and Excise are people of integrity with a stern sense of duty. However, they collectively sometimes manage to convey the impression to the people with whom they have to deal over VAT that they are still hunting the 18th-century smuggler. It is crucial that they should appear to have a tender feeling for the susceptibilities of traders and small shopkeepers with whom they have to deal, people who often cannot afford an elaborate accounting department. Some kind of mutual respect should develop between traders and shopkeepers and the Customs and Excise. It must develop from a realisation by the Customs and Excise of the intricacies of the businesses with which it has to deal. Over the weekend a pharmacist in my constituency told me that the representatives of the Customs and Excise who had visited her appeared unaware that people in her line of business carried considerably greater stocks at the beginning of the winter than at the end or in the summer. The Customs and Excise representatives gave her the impression that they suspected, because her stocks were low in the summer, that there had been a failure to make proper returns for VAT purposes. It may be that she was given the wrong impression, but that could have been avoided by a slightly more sensitive handling of the situation and by a deeper knowledge on the part of the Customs and Excise of the businesses with which it has to deal. As I am prone to repeat in debates on the Bill, there is a contract between Government and taxpayer. I do not want to be tempted into probing more deeply that rather threadbare object, the social contract. I hope that, with the assistance of the Secretary of State for the Home Department, the Secretary of State for Employment, the Secretary of State for Education and Science and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, we shall be able to determine with rather more precision at a later stage who has welshed on whom and exactly what the social contract now amounts to. On that matter there is an interesting amendment to Clause 16 which I hope will be selected for debate. I revert to the implied contract between the Government and those who collect VAT on their behalf. There is a growing feeling of resentment in businesses that they have to act as unpaid and unregarded tax gatherers. As my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman) has so perceptively remarked, this bears especially hard on small businesses where there may be only one person or only one person with special qualifications. I have in mind, as did my hon. Friend, the business of pharmacy, where there may be only one person with the right qualifications. I know from first-hand knowledge how much such people, who are highly qualified, grudge having to spend their valuable time on preparing the VAT returns. I know that their patience—and they are not alone in this—would be driven beyond endurance if, as we have reason to suspect, the Chancellor of the Exchequer introduced multiple rates for VAT in his next Budget. I believe that VAT is tolerable, and then only barely tolerable, if we have one rate, disregarding the zero rate. I hope that the Paymaster-General will be able to allay the widespread fears and suspicions that have been generated by the notice recently issued by the Commissioners of Customs and Excise. In conclusion, I should like to go to the more general economic questions raised by several of my hon. and right hon. Friends. There is the question of how far and in what way the Government should meet the deficit for which they have obviously budgeted. I happen to believe that one of the most ill-judged of the many ill-judged measures of this Chancellor was the cut from 10 per cent. to 8 per cent. in the rate of VAT in July. I believe that it was designed as no more than a crude bribe to the electorate. I also believe that it was intended as the basis of a highly dishonest projection of inflation rates. I believe that this Chancellor has damaged beyond repair his own credibility. We shall remember against him, and we shall quote against him in our economic debates so long as he holds his present important and honourable office, his projection in July of inflation running at 8¼ per cent. It may be that he will never recover his credibility, and from a national point of view that would be a great pity, but he may in some measure redeem his reputation and lack of judgment. He can do it if he is minded to put up taxation in his next Budget as I believe he will be obliged to do, by resisting the stern puritan calls that so often evoke a response from Labour Members, to introduce sumptuary rates of VAT; secondly, by resisting any further rise in direct personal taxation, because our present rates, by far the highest in Western Europe, have reached the level where they are practically self-defeating; and, finally, if it be necessary, and I believe that it will be, by raising VAT from 8 per cent. to 10 per cent. so that we are at last back to our position of July last year.
One of the phenomena of modern fiscal life is that, as a member of the public, the shopkeeper is compelled for part of the time of his ordinary life to become a servant of the Government, a publican as it is called in the Testament, although not necessarily a sinner, although apparently judged by Customs and Excise to be both publican and sinner. An increasingly large number of officially employed civil servants are required to check on the activities of those many millions of citizens of simple education who indulge in the industry of shopkeeping. As the burden increases, it is far too much to ask of a citizen who runs a shop of any kind in a small town that he should be involved in the absurd mathematics of VAT.I remember someone asking the question "How do you take 2 per cent. off the price of a Mars bar?" A variation in the rate of VAT involves ordinary people in absurd mathematics, and I trust that the Paymaster-General will heed that and will tell his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer that differential rates of VAT would be catastrophic for those who run a sweet shop, or a pharmacy, or a grocery. 8.45 p.m. One of the absurdities of decimalisation is that it has made us count on a bad system. I understand that it was one of the brainchildren of the Secretary of State for Industry. He is probably responsible for more idiotic proposals for which the Labour Party have eventually fallen, such as the referendum, than any other hon. Member. Decimalisation involves counting on the 10 system. The 10 system involves two prime factors, five, which nobody ever uses, and two, which is used. If we were changing anything we should have changed the counting system either to the octaval system or to the duodecimal system. If the rate of VAT were to be changed, it would be comprehensible under either of those systems. However, if we change the rate of VAT from 10 per cent. to 8 per cent., we get into quite impossible mathematics with the decimal system, especially for people who are "economic illiterates", if I may use that term. While the Secretary of State for Education and Science may be an economic illiterate, it does not bode well if the Government impose upon those who have an ordinary education and who are not illiterate, economic burdens which are quite impossible for them to bear. If the pythons of the Excise Department raid this section of the community and accuse them of doing ill by the Government, we are making another bureaucracy and creating an even bigger bureaucracy to be nasty to them. It is for these reasons that this is a proper amendment. The rate of VAT should not be amended. Such a move introduces mathematical complications and improperly invades private activity. For those reasons I support the amendment.
I am happy to agree with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Mr. Fairbairn) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dover and Deal (Mr. Rees). I hope that we shall not be faced with any further complications in what is already a complicated tax. I agree with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire about the occasional inhumanities of "VAT-man". Certainly the small trader is lost in the present complexities. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire has mentioned the difficulties of the small trader. As a small trader, I have no idea whatever how many souvenir bookmatches I possess. I have no intention of counting them, but the VAT-man can come during the hours of daylight and count them for himself if he wishes.I hope that the Government will not fall for a large number of different rates of VAT. There are rumours to that effect. Sometimes these rumours turn out to be true. Sometimes the Government—this is the only unkind thing I want to say—are prone to give way on these things. Certainly if the Secretary of State for Industry had heard of the octaval system I am sure he would have wanted to try it. If we are to have various rates, there is a class of activity which must surely be high on the list for a low rate or possibly even a zero rate. The British Tourist Authority has just estimated that £1,000 million will be earned by tourism this year. That healthy market must be based on a healthy home market. It is no good saying that overseas visitors can pay VAT or any other tax. I wish to mention the plight of the small hotel keeper and the guest house proprietor. Recently I had the pleasure of addressing a substantial meeting of these people in Swanage, Dorset, not far from my home. There is no doubt that the great personal interest which these people take in those whom they welcome into their homes in the summer will to some extent be disturbed by having to calculate at 8 per cent. or any other percentage which the Government decide to dream up. Tourism flourishes on what people come to see, and the arts and the national heritage are high on their list. Indeed, those are the principal things that people come to Britain to see. We must congratulate the Evening Standard on its campaign to have VAT removed from the living theatre. When VAT was introduced it was to be a comprehensive tax at a low rate. Nobody suggested that it would be right and fair for all. This was recognised soon after, in that the Arts Council made a quite substantial grant by way of relief of VAT which had to be paid in some sections of the theatre. There is no doubt now, however, that all sections of the theatre are in difficulty, and the losses made by many theatres exactly equal the amount of VAT which they have had to pay to the Revenue. I therefore believe that the theatre has a strong claim to be at the top of the list if concessions are to be made. I say that against the background to which my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe) and other of my hon. Friends have rightly referred.
The point which the hon. Gentleman has made is sufficiently important for me to intervene to say that he speaks for a large number of hon. Members on both sides of the House who hope that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will feel it right and proper to take away this tax, or the major part of it—possibly by other financial provisions in due course—which bears so heavily on the theatre.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. If he and a substantial number of his hon. Friends were to support us, we could, without any difficulty, carry an amendment against the Government and take away this tax. I leave him to think about it.The theatre has a strong claim to be at the top of the list, but we must bear in mind the arts generally. The Royal Opera, which is in a special category and is substantially supported by the State, despite the heroic efforts of such organisations as the Imperial Tobacco Company and the National Westminster Bank, pays in VAT an amount equivalent to 3·5 per cent. of its total income. That is worth mentioning in passing. There is the extraordinary anomaly that some musical enterprises are heavily hit by VAT and others are not. I hope that the Government will bear that in mind. There are admission charges to historic houses, which bear £1 million worth of VAT, gardens, museums, exhibitions, and so on. I must not forget sport, because for all those interested in art an equal number are interested in sport. The Government must therefore consider that matter if they decide to change the 8 per cent. rate and have differential rates. I must mention the question of VAT on repairs to historic buildings. The Exchequer has given the Historic Buildings Council an extra £500,000 to take care of VAT and rising costs generally. But the private owner, who, in partnership with the Historic Buildings Council, aims to carry out the repairs, has had no corresponding increase. Indeed, he is hit by inflation and VAT if he is a trader. If we are to have differential VAT rates—some high, and some low, with some zero rating—let the Chancellor of the Exchequer recognise that there is great concern about the burden on the theatre and similar institutions and the national heritage in general, and that there is considerable support for relief. I leave the right hon. Gentleman with those thoughts and hope that he will refer to them.
The previous debate on the Chancellor's motion was about incompetence and the Government's inability to prepare properly and bring forward in due time the capital transfer tax measure, which the Chancellor has described as the most important tax measure since the war. Illiteracy seems to be the topical charge and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe) began by referring to the comments made by the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot) during the weekend. The right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale, privy as he is to the Cabinet's inner deliberations, apparently found a high degree of economic illiteracy amongst his colleagues, and in that respect it is not for us to question his judgment.Our little amendment had a charitable purpose, and it had in mind the comments of the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale. Believe it or not, one day he might be right. It is extraordinary how human endeavour is sometimes rewarded. There seems little purpose in consolidating a tax reduction in this Bill when the 1974 VAT order runs until July and when it seems more than probable, as the days go by, that the Chancellor will have no option but to increase taxation once again in his Budget in April. Although we cannot expect the Paymaster-General to anticipate his right hon. Friend's Budget statement, I hope that we shall hear from him whether it is illiterate for Ministers to speak out strongly in favour of the social contract. If it is, there is perhaps a yawning cavern in what we have been led to understand is the cornerstone of the Government's economic policy. I ask the Paymaster-General to give us some general answers to one or two of the questions posed by my hon. Friend for Horsham and Crawley (Mr. Hordern) for, as he said, inflation is palpably out of control. Wages are rising at about 30 per cent. on an annual basis and prices at 20 per cent., and there is no sign that wage demands in the public sector are decelerating, as witness the power workers' demand which is shortly to come forward. The social contract, that mysterious entity—that mirage which seems to disappear as one approaches it in the thirsty desert—is apparently dead, if, indeed, it ever existed. The situation now is that not only is inflation apparently out of control but the confidence of British industry is at its lowest ebb. All that is undoubtedly contrary to the main objectives of the Chancellor as expressed in his Budget Statement in July this year. As my hon. Friend the Member for Horsham and Crawley said, we have seen a welcome improvement in our balance of payments, but I do not think that that can be due to the improved competitiveness of British industry. Our costs are rising faster than those of almost any of our competitors. The balance of payments position looks as if it has improved, because the terms of trade have, luckily, turned in our favour, but the terms of trade are to a great extent out of our control and we cannot take much credit for that. Neither can we take much blame if the terms of trade turn against us. Most worrying of all on the economic side is the point made successively by my hon. Friends the Members for Horsham and Crawley, Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) and Hitchin (Mr. Stewart), namely, what appears to be the escalating size of the public sector borrowing requirement. We are all concerned about the out-turn. We do not expect the Paymaster-General to give us any indication, but surely it cannot be running at the level suggested by some Press commentators for whom we all have a great respect. Some suggest that the out-turn of the public sector borrowing requirement will be in the region of £8 billion. That is a staggering figure. 9.0 p.m. With falling interest rates, I can well believe that the Government are selling a lot of gilts. With depression all round us, bank advances in the private sector may well be at a low level. Therefore, when my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin speaks of the money supply, I can well believe that it is at the moment rising well below the rate of money GNP. To the extent that I believe the figures on the money supply at all—and that is another subject—I can believe that at the moment the level of the money supply is satisfactory. But assuredly the money supply is not under control. As each day goes by and as public expenditure apparently accelerates, we become more and more vulnerable to the interests and whims of our creditors abroad, some of them the Oriental potentates to whom my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne referred. Whatever the level of the money supply, this country is placing itself in an increasingly dangerous and vulnerable position by its dependence on deposits from overseas. This is far and away the most critical part of our economic situation. My right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) spoke about the public expenditure White Paper. He said that he hoped we would debate it in due course. Speaking from memory, I recall the resource table in the public expenditure White Paper. That indicates that, even on the public expenditure figures announced by the Government earlier in the year when the PESC exercise began, this country faces the most critical situation in terms of the necessary level of private consumption. If the public expenditure has exploded in the way in which we believe, the position that the country faces is one of extreme danger. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Cooke) will forgive me, having said all that, if I do not embark upon further increases in the public sector borrowing requirement by commenting on VAT on the theatre, on historic houses and on other matters. I understand his arguments fully, and I have no doubt that we shall wish to consider them on a future occasion. I come, then, to some of the remarks made about VAT enforcement by my right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby, my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Mr. Hall-Davis) and others. If the allegations made by my hon. Friend the Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison) are accurate—and I believe that the Government have not only to investigate this matter but to say something about it—Clause 37 has not been complied with. If the allegations are accurate, surely a warrant from the justices of the peace must have been required. I hope that the Paymaster-General will have something to say about this. I recall the views expressed in Committee on the enforcement powers in relation to VAT. At that time, I was a Treasury Minister. My hon. Friend the Member for Horsham and Crawley moved a number of amendments put forward by the Bar Council and other reputable bodies. I recall that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dover and Deal played a prominent part in those debates. It was the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself, sitting on the other side of the Committee, who was the most strenuous opponent of the powers which we were giving to Customs and Excise at that time. Interestingly enough—this goes to the heart of the matter raised by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dover and Deal—the Chancellor of the Exchequer made great play of the privilege of communication between a lawyer and his client. I quote but one sentence from the then Shadow Chancellor, who said:
We all accept that indirect taxation and the collection of Customs and Excise duty and VAT is a much more difficult and sensitive matter than direct taxation. The Chancellor was protesting in that Committee at the powers that we were giving to Customs and Excise. We hope, therefore, that he will personally investigate some of the allegations which have been made against Customs and Excise in this case. It is obviously counter-productive for such allegations to be made and for them not to be followed up, and I have here the main leader in the Sunday Mirror, yesterday, which ended with the statement:"No Government in their right senses, certainly no Government with a sense of Britain's legal traditions, would ever have considered the introduction of powers of this nature."—[Official Report, Standing Committee E, 12th June 1972, c. 806.]
We all know that they are not arrogant VAT-men, but I hope that the crusading Denis referred to in that leader will investigate the matter with care. My hon. Friends the Members for Lancaster (Mrs: Kellett-Bowman), Tonbridge and Malling (Mr. Stanley) and Bristol, West and my hon. and learned Friends the Members for Kinross and West Perthshire (Mr. Fairbairn), and Dover and Deal are concerned about the prospects of multirate VAT. We already have a multirate VAT with three rates—8 per cent., the car rate, and zero rate. If the Government add to the three rates, the burden upon traders will become intolerable. They are already suffering under the stringencies of the Price Code and the increased national insurance contribution, and if we are to ask traders to act on behalf of Customs and Excise and pay an increasing amount of tax it is important to retain their confidence in the system, because we could easily tip all these unpaid tax collectors over the edge into civil disobedience. Taxation in this country depends more and more upon consent, and at the moment that consent is under great strain. I conclude by reminding the House that it was the reduction in VAT to 8 per cent. which enabled the Chancellor to make the disgraceful suggestion during the General Election campaign that inflation was running at 8¼ per cent. Our short debate on this amendment brings back the memories of that VAT reduction and the consequences that it had. But as we have turned the debate, unwittingly perhaps—and perhaps not wholly with your consent, Mr. Deputy Speaker—into a short and rather fragmentary economics debate, I remind the Paymaster-General of what his colleague the Home Secretary said over the weekend, because his remarks seem to have paled beside the charges of his right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale and the charges of economic illiteracy which have been thrown about. The Home Secretary said "This country faces at the moment the gravest danger since Hitler". I hope that I have quoted the right hon. Gentleman correctly. We shall have many economic debates in the future, and perhaps during the course of the Bill, but the right hon. Gentleman put the problem faced by this country very succinctly, and perhaps the Paymaster-General will briefly answer the debate."So come on, Denis. On with your crusading Batman suit and put those arrogant VAT-men in their place."
May I first congratulate the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Nott) on what I believe is his first speech on his return to the Opposition Front Bench. He certainly improves the Shadow Treasury team. In the past few months we have always listened with great interest to his views on the honesty of a balanced Budget set against the performance of the Chancellor under whom he served.The hon. Gentleman said that we have had a fragmentary economic debate. It has indeed been fragmentary. I took some comfort from his assurance that he would not expect from me any anticipation of my right hon. Friend's Budget Statement or Budget judgment, or figures relating to the public sector borrowing requirement. In so far as I can I shall deal with the specific points that have been put to me during the debate. I am sure that the House will not expect any new announcements this evening. We would have chosen a different way had there been any such intention. I was asked whether I could give an assurance whether there would not be a multirate VAT. I cannot give any such assurance, any more than could my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary when speaking in Standing Committee. The whole of the consultation that has taken place on this subject has made it clear that no decision has been made. If there were a decision to introduce a multirate VAT system it would need new legislation. The House would therefore have full opportunity to examine whatever proposals were brought before it. Equally, I cannot comment on the speech made by the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Cooke) on VAT on the living theatre, the performing arts and sport. As the House knows, representations have been made on these matters to my right hon. Friend. Those representations are under consideration. I hope that I shall be forgiven for pointing out that there are difficulties in this area that are not the choosing of this Government.
The right hon. Gentleman said that there has already been consultation. Perhaps he will tell us more about the scope of that consultation. If there were to be a multirate system of VAT, would the arts and sport be high on the list for a low rate?
I will not give the hon. Gentleman any encouragement. I have said that the matter is under consideration, and I shall not go beyond that. The matters that have been under consideration include a special retail scheme and the general operation of a multirate system of VAT were it to be introduced. I emphasise the point, as the consultation has made clear, that no decision has been made.Many right hon. and hon. Members have spoken on the methods of enforcement of VAT. Deep concern has been expressed about the way in which VAT has been enforced and the way in which powers of inspection have been carried out in certain cases to which Conservative Members have referred. It is important that the House should be alert to any abuse of power. I hope that abuses have not occurred. The first point to make is that the previous Conservative Government decided that as VAT was a system of self-assessment it was necessary to have the power of inspection. That power is embodied in Section 37(2) of the Act. The power of inspection is different from the power of search. That point is met in Section 37(3), where a warrant from a justice of the peace is required. The power of inspection should be a fairly routine matter where notice is almost always given to the person whose premises are to be inspected, and normally this has been carried on without difficulty. 9.15 p.m. There are 1,200,000 registered traders and so far there have been 180,000 control visits, out of which there have been few complaints. Indeed, I believe that the current complaints concern only 10 visits although that would be too many if any proved on investigation to be justified. The need for these powers was decided, understandably in the circumstances of VAT, by the previous Government. If complaints are made it is obviously of the highest importance that they should be thoroughly investigated and that if there is reason for complaint appropriate action should be taken. Particular reference was made to a case brought forward by the hon. Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison), but I would remind the House that that complaint was made in a letter to the Chancellor of the Exchequer dated 26th February. There has not yet been time to investigate the complaint, but it will be investigated thoroughly. I am sure that the House will require that it should be so. Certainly inspectors must act within the law but the instructions to them make it clear what the limits of their power are and the distinction between the power of inspection and the power of search.
If the instructions have no particular reason for secrecy it would be reassuring to traders if they could be published.
I shall discuss that question. I am not sure whether the instructions are written or verbal, but I shall see whether I can help the House in that respect.
I think that the hon. Gentleman said that only 10 cases were being examined by the Customs and Excise at the moment. I know of at least one case in which a constituent is complaining about these powers and I should have thought that many of my hon. Friends have had similar cases. The Press has reported other cases. I know that the right hon. Gentleman will treat this matter with the seriousness that it deserves, because it appears that the practice is much more widespread than he has said.
If the hon. Gentleman knows of any case which he believes is not currently being investigated but which he thinks should be investigated, I hope he will let us know. It is our desire that legitimate complaints should be investigated so as to establish the truth.
I have today received an Answer from the Financial Secretary to the effect that 21 people have been searched under the VAT powers since 1st April 1973. That alarms me a little. I am not certain of the circumstances in which it becomes necessary to search so many people in a mere year and a half. I do not expect details of all the 21 people searched and why, but would the right hon. Gentleman include that in his area of investigation?
If the hon. and learned Gentleman has further questions about those cases in which evidently there was a search, of course we can try to deal with them, but I take it that if those cases have been described as cases of search, a warrant from a justice of the peace would have been required.
The right hon. Gentleman misunderstands. I understand that these people were personally searched. I have asked another Question and received the reply that 97 informations have been laid and search warrants issued in each case—that is, search of premises. But the purpose of my other Question was to discover how many had been physically searched. There is, for example, a reassuring provision that a woman may be searched only by a woman Customs Officer. It was in that connection that I asked that Question.
I obviously cannot give an answer to that question today, because I have not seen the Answer that my hon. Friend has given. If the hon. and learned Gentleman has further points, of course we shall look at them.The right hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe) came on to what he described as matters of general economic policy. Among these he discussed the actual effect of the clause under discussion. May I make it clear to certain Opposition Members that the clause does not change the rate of VAT. It merely consolidates the position created by the order changing the rate to 8 per cent. Therefore, any hon. Member who thinks that by supporting the clause he is reducing the rate of VAT need have no such worry. The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked whether it was right to consolidate the new rate of VAT. As I am sure he knows, we have to consolidate it within one year or bring in a new order. I believe that it would be wrong not to follow what has been the normal practice in the past where the regulator has been used—that is, to consolidate at the earliest opportunity. After all, the intended margin for the use of the regulator power is 20 per cent. It would be wrong that it should be increased by a failure of this House to consolidate the rate when the opportunity occurred. This does not affect the right of the House to change the rate by subsequent legislation. But there I would enter questions of budgetary judgment, which clearly I cannot do this evening. The right hon. and learned Gentleman made what he described as certain speculative judgments about our present economic situation. He spoke of the need to achieve the right level of demand. That need certainly exists. One of the most important elements in achieving the right level of demand at present is to ensure that there is a sufficient transfer of resources into the balance of payments. Here during the last year we have had some success. Hon. Members of the Opposition have pointed out the extent of our continuing deficit, and that is a matter of serious concern. But there has been some success in the matter. During the last year the volume of exports rose very substantially more than the volume of imports. I think that it was the hon. Member for Horsham and Crawley (Mr. Hordern) who said that that was not the case recently. It is certainly true that for the last three months the volume of imports has fallen by 2·6 per cent. and the volume of exports has also fallen by a similar amount. This is due, I suspect, perhaps to some loss of competitiveness, but perhaps also to the deteriorating world trade situation which has made the task of our exporters very much more difficult. However, it is of vital importance—no one in the Government would deny this—that we should rectify our balance of payments situation as rapidly as possible and reduce our borrowing as rapidly as possible. That is an important aspect in the demand management situation which my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has to consider. The right hon. and learned Gentleman discussed the social contract. Again, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has stated perfectly clearly his view of the present situation. He has said that 25 per cent. outside the contract was too high, and there is no division within the Government on that point. Certainly there is a serious inflationary situation, and the prime source of inflation at present is wage settlements. At any rate, we may now gain some advantage from the decline in the use of thresholds after the end of Stage 3, because threshold agreements were no small element in the problem of dealing with inflation which the Government have confronted since coming into office again some twelve months ago.
The Paymaster-General has just told the House that there is no difference of view within the Government about the operation of the social contract and the methods which are to be used to fight inflation. Is he asking the House to believe that there is no difference of view on this matter between the Secretary of State for Education and Science and the Secretary of State for Employment?
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman would wish me to devote too much attention to that intervention.The hon. Member for Hitchin (Mr. Stewart) asked whether the suspension of the supplementary scheme represented a change in the Government's policy for controlling the money supply. The reason for putting the scheme into abeyance—it has not been scrapped—is that it is not at present biting. In the latest three months for which figures are available the average level of interest-bearing liabilities was only 6¾ per cent. above the base level compared with the guideline of 18 per cent. It therefore appeared sensible in this situation to put the scheme into abeyance, but it does not represent any change of policy on the money supply. The hon. Gentleman will know that the increase in money supply under this Government has been below the increase of money GDP. I have already said that I cannot give the House any information in response to questions about the size of the public sector borrowing requirement. It is normal to do that each year at the time of the Budget. My right hon. Friend did it a second time last year in November when there was a significant change that he wished to announce. I certainly cannot help hon. Gentlemen in that respect at the moment.
The Paymaster-General knows that my hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Hordern) and I put specific questions to him about the level of the public sector borrowing requirement and we asked him specifically by how much that had increased since the Budget Statement on 12th November. Why is the right hon. Gentleman so coy about giving these figures? Will he be more frank with the House and with the country?
Not this evening.The hon. Member for Horsham referred to the level of investment in Britain, about which he has legitimate concern. I do not know whether he has seen the Press notice issued today about capital expenditure in the manufacturing, distributive and service industries for the fourth quarter of 1974. These figures give some comfort. They are better than some forecasters had expected. They show that the level of investment was still slightly short in manufacturing industry of the 1970 figure but at any rate was well up on the figures for 1971, 1972 and 1973. That does not mean that the level of investment in Britain is regarded by the Government as adequate or that steps are not needed to encourage higher investment.
Has the right hon. Gentleman seen what I was referring to—that is, the Financial Times Business Survey which referred to the lowest level of confidence amongst business men and particularly their investment intentions? What do the Department of Trade inquiries show? It is the trend for the future with which we are concerned, not figures for the fourth quarter of last year.
I realise that the hon. Gentleman is concerned about intentions for the future. I was pointing out that pessimistic forecasts made over the last few months have, fortunately—I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will welcome this—not yet been borne out. I in no way wish to contradict the view that there is a serious danger in this respect. That is why my right hon. Friend took steps in November to increase company liquidity by a figure which we now estimate to be about £1,800 million, which we hope will help in that respect. However, it may well be—indeed, it is part of the Government's policy—that further action should be taken to improve the level of investment in Britain.Some hon. Members asked me questions about VAT on petrol and the motivation of the increase from 8 per cent. to 25 per cent. I do not believe that I should enter into those questions in any detail because in Clause 2 there are certain amendments which are concerned with that matter and it might be better if we left the discussion of that problem until we reach that point. I have tried to deal with questions which have been put to me, and I hope the House will now decide not to remove this clause from the Bill. As a matter of fact, it would not make much practical difference if the House decided to remove it, but I think it would be right to take the first opportunity to consolidate the change of rate. That is what this clause does, and I hope the House will approve it.
Vat: Special Rate For Light Hydrocarbon Oil, Etc
I beg to move Amendment No. 2, in page 2, line 12, leave out '25' and insert '15'.
With this amendment we may take the following: No. 3, in page 2, line 22, at end insert:
(c) shall apply to the first fifteen gallons of light oil purchased in any one calendar month by the owner of a registered private motor vehicle for the purpose of propelling that motor vehicle, provided the main place of residence of the owner is situated more than two miles, by the shortest route using public highways, from any area which—
(i) as a local government area in England or Wales before 1st April 1974 was a London borough, county borough, borough or urban district, or (ii) as a local government area in Scotland is a city or burgh, or (iii) as a local government area in Northern Ireland before 1st October 1973 was a county borough, borough or urban district,and the exception specified in this paragraph shall be limited to fifteen gallons for any one person'.
It is a pleasure to me to return to the Finance Bill debates, having with the greatest of difficulty kept myself firmly seated during the afternoon and evening debate so far, and having had particular difficulty in not rising to the hon. Member for Luton, West (Mr. Sedgemore) who was rash enough to intervene a little earlier. I hope that he will intervene in this and other debates because he adds colour to all that we do and say in this House.This amendment was not discussed directly in Committee, although the hon. Member for Goole (Dr. Marshall), who, I hope, will speak to Amendment No. 3, has put down an amendment which is not dissimilar from the amendment which was discussed by the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) on the question of an allowance.
Where is he?
The hon. Member is not finding it easy to attend. Liberals have many commitments, and my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson) is quite wrong to suggest that there is anything wrong in his absence, because there are plenty of other Liberals who can carry on the debate in the absence of the hon. Member.The question here is what should be the rate of tax on petrol. The Government propose a 25 per cent. VAT as a surcharge both on the price and on the excise duty on petrol, which brings the price up to its very high level of about 72p, 73p or 74p a gallon, depending on which grade one purchases. It is a curious consideration that just when people were expecting the Arabs to bump up the price of petrol to unprecedented heights the price has gone up to unprecedented heights—but it is not the Arabs who have put it up; it is the Government. A very large proportion of the price—more than half—is now tax, and we cannot blame the Arabs for that. We can only blame the Chancellor for his goings-on. I should like to examine the economic justification for the Government's doing this. If it is proposed that we should reduce imports of oil and do it by taxation of oil, it seems odd to single out petrol for that particular burden, because petrol represents only 14 per cent. of a barrel of crude oil. The other 86 per cent. goes as fuel oil, lubricating oils, and so on, which go into industry. It is an anomalous and curious position for the Government to take when they are prepared to subsidise electricity—which burns a great deal of fuel oil—to the tune of £1,000 million a year, and at the same time to heap the tax on to petrol. It does not seem to me to be a logical way of reducing oil imports, if that is, indeed, the motive of the Government. The absolute price of petrol is about the same in this country as it is in the major European countries, but it already represents a far higher proportion of the average wage. Although our petrol prices are similar to those in Germany, France and Spain, we pay much more for petrol, as a percentage of the average wage, than people in those countries do. There is no doubt, therefore, that petrol is being singled out as a means for particularly onerous treatment of the British motorist. I see on the tape tonight that a statement made by a Treasury spokesman—one of those curious people who never come out into the open and say who they are—has made clear that the Government are thinking about abolishing the road fund licence duty and increasing the price of petrol still further by taxation to compensate for the revenue lost on the road fund licence. The talk is of another 15p on the price of petrol. I do not think that there is much sense in the motor vehicle tax—an odd sort of tax which takes £25 a year from each motor vehicle owner, as though that were not an expensive tax to collect. I have no great love for that tax, and I agree that it would be better to substitute petrol taxation for it. I am reminded here of the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Cornwall, North in Committee that there should be a five-gallons-a-month ration for everyone, at a lower price, which would have had the effect of giving a subsidy of £125 a year to every vehicle owner. But that was effectively demolished in Committee as a typical Liberal suggestion, which found no friends. However, the Government are now being more subtle if they intend to do what it is said they have in mind, namely, simply to abolish the road fund tax and increase the price of petrol still further. But such a move would at once bring petrol to about £1 a gallon by the time VAT and all the other things were added. That would be far too high, and there is no economic justification for it. Before I come to the economics of the matter, I should refer to Amendment No. 3, in the name of the hon. Member for Goole, whose basic suggestion is that country dwellers should have 15 gallons of petrol a month at a lower rate. He does not say quite what the lower rate should be—admittedly, it is difficult to draft—and, although it might in principle be desirable, it would be appallingly difficult to work in practice. All this business about the main place of residence of the owner being more than two miles
from the nearest urban district that was, would cause a little altercation, I am sure. It is hard enough to remember the present local government boundaries, let alone the previous boundaries, or what would be the shortest route by public highway to get two miles away. I am sure that it would all be rather difficult, and, what is more, other people's speedometers never seem to read the same as mine. Moreover, I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman's amendment would meet the case. A lot of people who live in the country may not need the concession. Equally, there are a lot of people living within two miles of an urban district that was who should jutifiably have it. I cannot, therefore, regard that as the right way to go about the highly desirable objective which the hon. Gentleman seeks. From a constituency point of view, I entirely support the hon. Gentleman's objective. My constituents would all benefit. We have no urban district borough or county borough within miles of my constituency, and I am sure that they would all support it. Nevertheless, I cannot think that it would be either right or fair to go about it in that way. Why is there this pressure from country districts for cheaper petrol? The immediate answer is that the price of petrol is too high. Those who have to live by motor cars, shop by them and go to work by them, those who have to do their business by means of road transport, whether they live in the country or the towns, will automatically find themselves completely disadvantaged by the high price of petrol. The right remedy is to stop loading the burden solely on petrol. My preferred solution would be that we should place a tax on the import of crude oil and that we should take some of the burden off petrol and put it on to fuel oil. It is crude oil we buy, not petrol. The petroleum statistics make it clear that if we were to cut 10 per cent. or 20 per cent. of the petrol consumed in this country it would not affect our take of crude oil. We need that amount to keep the factories and the power stations running, and we should need to buy just about as much as before the cut. I now go further and examine the economic basis for this whole policy. We talk about the oil deficit and the non-oil deficit. There is a different attitude towards the oil deficit as compared with the non-oil deficit. The oil deficit is not our fault, or the fault of Ministers. It has nothing to do with this country; it just came up and hit us and we do not have to feel any guilt about it. On the non-oil deficit, however, which relates to such things as caviar, Japanese television sets and Mercedes cars, we may have a certain amount of responsibility and perhaps we should do something to reduce it. All this is totally fallacious thinking. It is all one deficit, and it is hideously big. We must address ourselves to controlling not just one part of it or one product out of which it arises. If we have a deficit of £4,000 million, which is about the figure for the current year, we trace it to the fact that last year the Government had a deficit of about the same amount on its domestic borrowing requirement. If a Government print £4,000 million and give it to the British people, it follows that the people will spend it, that the goods will not be available in this country, and that they will spend it on importing goods from abroad. Here I pay a tribute to the Labour Party—one of the few that can be paid to it. Labour Members may go home tonight feeling secure in their political wisdom as a result of what I am about to say. It is that the Home Secretary, who used to play such a prominent part in our economic debates in 1969 and 1970, actually abolished the domestic deficit borrowing requirement and made it into a surplus. Hey presto, we had a surplus on current account a year later. It follows, as far as I can see, that the Government's policy on the borrowing requirement, which we were discussing in the last amendment, is reflected in due course in the country's import bill and in the trade gap. If the Government think we are spending too much on imports, whether it be on oil or anything else, all they have to do is to reduce the domestic borrowing requirement and in due course they will find that the balance of trade will improve. I suspect that they know that to be true as well as I do. If, therefore, these are the true facts—sketchily and briefly though I have put them in my desire to help the House to make progress through my self-restraint— why is it that the private motorist has to be clobbered? Why does he have to pay more than 70p a gallon for his petrol—a figure which might increase to £1 if the rumour on the tape turns out to be true? Why does the whole brunt have to fall on the private motorist? It is of no economic benefit to the Revenue that it should do so, since it could raise its money in more orthodox across-the-board methods. It is of no benefit to the balance of trade—which is mainly due to the Government's profligate economic policies—nor, so far as I can see, to the road programme, road safety, or any of the other highly desirable objectives which the Government may have in mind. 9.45 p.m. The answer is that in the mind of every good Socialist there is a thorough dislike of the private motorist. There is a hatred of the man who gets into his car, drives to work, leaves his car there and drives home in the evening. He does not fit into the mind of the planner who lays out tube lines, trains, buses and what is called public transport—those vast, empty charabancs which are trundled through the northern cities of our country. As people will go in their cars, because it is more convenient in every way and more sensible for them, they must be stopped. That is the argument. Therefore, we see the ruthless application of a policy of pricing them out of the market. The price of petrol is forced up to try to force people out of their cars and back into the empty public transport."by the shortest route using public highways"
I agree with what the hon. Gentleman says about the private motorist, but the curious thing is that all Ministers, top civil servants and heads of industry go to work in cars. There are 50 more cars at the disposal of Ministers and top civil servants than there were a few years ago.
The right hon. Gentleman must agree that there is a difference. One must be fair. A Minister's car, a top industrialist's car or a civil servant's car is not paid for by the private individual; it is paid for by the Ministry or the industry concerned. Therefore, the position is not the same as that of the ordinary person who has to pay out of his private income to go to work in his own car. The situation is exemplified in Russia, where the only people who are allowed cars are the top commissars—the top members of the Communist Party—because it is essential for them to travel. The hon. Members for Luton, West (Mr. Sedgemore) and Bebington and Ellesmere Port (Mr. Bates) are laughing. They are quite happy in this debate, because they will both have cars. So will the Chief Secretary and other Labour Members. It is the ordinary people in my constituency and my hon. Friends—
Representing Luton, West, I assure the hon. Gentleman that if I had my way every citizen would have a car.
I welcome a convert. I have always thought that the hon. Gentleman was tactile material. He is beginning to show that he is responding to the arguments to which he had to listen during those 160 hours of debate in Standing Committee. I think that with a little more patience he will once more become a reasonable citizen, prepared to understand how these things work.I ask the House to accept the amendment and cease to persecute the private motorist on grounds which have nothing to do with economics or the saving of fuel, which have no economic justification or rationale but which are part of the desire of the Socialist and bureaucratic mind to make people's travelling habits conform to the way in which public transport runs. Those who believe in individual freedom, whether it is affected by the capital transfer tax or by the matter of transport, would be well advised to address themselves to bringing down the price of petrol, so that ordinary people can go about their business in motor cars if it suits them, without being priced out of the market by a Government who insist on planning every aspect of our lives.
I support the amendment. I am the more moved to do so by the reports over the weekend and today about the Chancellor's intentions with regard to the price of petrol.I genuinely believe that the Treasury as a whole, including the Ministers in charge of it, have no appreciation of what life is like in those parts of the country with no public transport. It must be remembered that in recent years public transport in many of the areas that some of us now represent was subsidised by the Treasury in one form or another. There were the social grants in respect of railway lines that have now been closed, and so savings have been made by the withdrawal of those grants. There were grants for public bus services also now being reduced and probably to be reduced still further with the rearrangement of the rate support grant. Already the Exchequer is considerably relieved of expenditure that it has incurred hitherto in order to maintain some form of public transport in the rural areas. On top of that, the Treasury now comes along with these indiscriminate proposals. In principle, I do not oppose conservation measures, but these proposals are indiscriminate. The Government seem totally unaware of the true effect of an increase in VAT, both that allowed under the Bill and that projected in various leaks circulated in the newspapers in the last couple of days. An increase will cause serious hardship in rural communities. Is the Treasury aware that the distributing oil companies in Britain are now imposing minimum delivery quantities on the petrol stations, which means that many of the smaller petrol stations are going out of business? Thus, in addition to the hardship that is caused by VAT, petrol is becoming unobtainable from many of the smaller stations. I cite an example from my own constituency. It happens to affect me directly. The valley where I live is 25 or 30 miles long from the burgh town to the remote hillsides. Until a few weeks ago, there were two petrol filling stations, one seven miles and one about 20 miles from the town. Neither is now able to supply petrol. The oil companies imposed quantity limits below which a premium was charged. The profit margin that a small retailer could obtain does not meet the interest charges on the money that has to be borrowed to pay for a petrol delivery. This is a serious social problem, not an economic problem, that the rural communities face. This is already one of the consequences that has occurred in the past few weeks of the imposition of the VAT surcharge. The serious Government proposal that has been widely circulated today—the story is on the tapes again tonight—that the Government are considering the abolition of the £25 excise tax and proposing a still further imposition of petrol tax instead would further drive the rural communities into total despair. It is no good the Chancellor applying his own experience from Leeds or London to the communities of which I speak. Many people who commute long distances to work from the rural areas will simply have to go on the dole in order to be better off, because they will be unable to afford the cost of travel to work. For them there is no public transport. It is no good saying that this is a conservation measure designed to force people to use public transport. It cannot be used if it does not exist. Farmers in the remoter communities will find it difficult to get employees and their families to live in such areas simply because of the cost of living there. I appeal to the Treasury to think again about this VAT imposition. The two-tier petrol pricing system that they are studying will make no sense if they keep this indiscriminate measure. It must be a measure biased in favour of the rural communities if they are to survive as we have known them.
The hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) referred in his closing remarks to the need for some kind of two-tier pricing system for petrol which was biased in favour of rural communities. I suggest that this is exactly what Amendment No. 3 standing in my name is designed to effect. The hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) referred to a number of details in my amendment. I shall deal with his comments in the course of my speech.There is in the rural areas a particularly severe need for social justice for the motorist. It is not necessarily the rich motorist, but rather the motorist of modest means who depends on his own car, often an old vehicle which needs a lot of maintenance and repair, to get to and from work, to the shops and other places of public business. Regrettably there are increasingly large areas of the country where public transport is conspicuous by its absence, where people are dependent on their own means of transport. This amendment will enable a motorist living in a rural area to have 15 gallons of petrol each month on which VAT would be levied at the old rate of 8 per cent., rather than the new rate of 25 per cent. To that extent the steep rise in the cost of petrol would be mitigated. I recognise that one difficulty in formulating such a proposal is to define exactly what we mean by a rural area. I find it impossible to do this perfectly. There has been an attempt to do it in the amendment by reference to the old local government areas of England and Wales and to the corresponding areas in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Although the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury may have difficulty in remembering what the boundaries were, they are at least on the maps and people can refer to them and work out the exact distances that they live from what was the nearest London borough, county borough, borough or urban district under the local government system before 1st April 1974.
While I recognise the inability satisfactorily to define "rural area", may I ask whether the hon. Gentleman does not on the other hand recognise that the old local government areas were not very helpful and that, for instance the Lake District or a large part of it was defined as an urban district? Is he aware that the top of Helvellyn by that definition would not have qualified for rural relief? Is that not a reason for supporting the first of these two amendments?
I recognise the difficulty the hon. Gentleman raises. Conversely, there are many areas which were rural districts and which are largely urban in character. I recognise that the definition of a rural area given in my amendment is not perfect. If someone can provide a better definition I am prepared to listen to him. I am merely putting forward the best definition I have so far been capable of making.Let me say a word about the practical application of the amendment. The hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury said that it would be difficult to apply. I suspect that officials in the Inland Revenue would look in some horror on the idea of having to issue coupons just for motorists in rural areas. They would not want to take the initiative in supplying such coupons. Surely an easier method of implementing the proposal would be to put initiative upon the motorist, and for him to be able to reclaim the extra VAT—the difference between 8 per cent. and 25 per cent.—that he will have paid on the first 15 gallons of petrol bought each month. 10.0 p.m. The procedure for doing that would simply be to make available application forms for the private motorist to complete and return, on either a monthly or a quarterly basis, to the Inland Revenue for the return of VAT