I wish to support this new Clause. One feels some diffidence in making any suggestion that might trench upon the resources of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in any way, but he indicated the other night that he might be willing to make some small concessions, although he pointed out that if he granted all the small concessions which were being asked it would undermine the whole basis of his Budget. I hope that this is one of the small concessions which he can see his way to make. When this matter was discussed in 1918, the proposal to increase the Duty from ld. to 2d. was made under the stress and emergency of war conditions at a time when the Chancellor of Exchequer was compelled to look around and to seek all possible means for increasing his revenue. It was recognised at that time that the effect of that increase would considerably retard the expansion of the use of cheques. Some hon. Members went so far as to say that if it had that effect it would be a good thing at that time, in as much as it would reduce the pressure on banking staffs which were so much depleted.
It is difficult to estimate what has been the effect of the increased duty as regards retarding the expansion of the use of cheques, but it is interesting to note the value per cheque in the various years since the tax was increased. I have the figures for the years 1917–18 up to the years 1923–24 of the number of cheques used in this country and the total clearinghouse returns for the corresponding years. In the year 1917–18, 306,000,000 cheques were used, and the total amount of the bankers' clearances for that year was £19,335,000,000, which gives an average per cheque of approximately£63. The corresponding figures for the succeeding years were £72 in 1918–19;£95, 1919–20 and 1920–21;£110, 1921–22;£108 in 1922–23, and£101 for last year. It may be argued that the increase in the value per cheque may be accounted for to a large extent by the increase in prices of commodities, but I think that the increase which is shown in these figures is in itself very significant.
What we have to try to gauge is what has been the effect in checking the increase in the use of cheques. My hon. Friend has referred to the value per cheque, and the percentage of the cheques drawn for amounts under £10. If you come to think of the fact that enormous numbers of these cheques are issued for amounts of £1 and under, and the percentage tax on the cheque of£1 is something like three-quarters per cent., one realises how onerous the tax is on small cheques. Anyone who makes inquiries will discover that there has been a growing tendency to pay small accounts by currency and notes, with the result that people carry an enormous amount of currency in their pockets My hon. Friend has referred to the fact that there is no stamp duty on cheques in the United States, and those who have lived in that country, I believe, all confirm the opinion that the use of the cheque is enormously more popular there than it is in this country. It would be too much to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to concede complete exemption, but I do think that he might seriously consider this concession. One hears a great deal in these days about the assistance which the Government might render to trade and industry. To my mind a great many people look for far too much in that respect from the Government. There are decided limitations to what the Government can do in this regard, but they can do a great deal in the way of clearing the channels of trade. I think that this is one of the small reforms which might be made, and which would be of considerable value in helping to clear the channels of trade, especially at a time like the present, when we want to do everything which we can to stimulate trade.