Clause 15. — (Betting Duty.)

Part of Orders of the Day — Finance Bill. – in the House of Commons on 15th July 1926.

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Photo of Mr Philip Snowden Mr Philip Snowden , Colne Valley

That, perhaps, is a rather smart way of dealing with the matter, but it is perfectly inconsistent, and I do not admit that even the smart rejoiner of the right hon. Gentleman the Financial Secretary meets the point at all. It does not mean that betting and gambling in the office is wrong, and not wrong elsewhere. We had the revelation in the case which had been raised at Question Time where a Post Office servant was dismissed, not for gambling in the office, but for grave irregularities which were said to be the result of gambling elsewhere. So that we have this anomalous position: that it is a most serious offence, according to this standard, to indulge in betting or gambling, yet the State give its patronage to it, and is receiving considerable revenue from the encouragement of this serious offence!

How is the right hon. Gentleman going to get over the mechanical difficulties that may arise? How can he defend the tax which he is going to apply in one case only, while he is going to exempt betting in another case, when the two transactions are carried out under almost precisely the same conditions It will be perfectly illogical to attempt to defend the distinction. I should have thought that there was a great deal more to be said for the taxation of what is called street betting than for taxation of the other kind. Whether that be so or not—and the Chancellor knows what was said by his officals who gave evidence before the Committee on betting—if you once begin to tax betting you must go on to its logical conclusion and tax every form of betting. The matter came before the Committee presided over by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for East Grinstead (Sir H. Cautley).

May I again, leaving out of consideration the moral issue—which perhaps for the moment is irrelevant—deal with the right hon. Gentleman who defends this tax solely on the ground that it will produce revenue? If that is the reason for imposing this tax why is he going to abandon taxation upon such a large proportion of betting It may be true that the amount of money involved in betting which will be duty free is not so large an amount as that involved in the betting that will be taxed, but surely it is a new principle in revenue law and practice altogether to put a, duty upon one of two things which are identical. Therefore the right hon. Gentleman must ultimately be driven to extend the betting duty on all forms of betting, and he can only do that by the licensing of betting houses set up in every part of the land.

I want now to say a word or two on the Amendments which are to he moved later by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I say now what I said on a previous occasion. I saw no difficulty in effectively collecting the duty because the amount at that time was a good arithmetical number of 5 per cent. The Chancellor now proposes to make the duty 31 per cent. on credit betting and 2 per cent. on cash betting. How in the world are you going to calculate arid collect this 2 per cent. duty upon the racecourse? A good deal of racecourse betting is, I understand, in comparatively small amounts. I believe some people put on a shilling. [An HON. MEMBER: "A bob'!"] Others half-a-crown; others larger sums. How is it going to work out? What is a 2 per cent. duty on half-a-crown? It will be two farthings and two-fifths. On a 5s. bet it will be four farthings and four-fifths, and so on. I shall be interested to know how this duty is going to be levied. One suggestion that has been made is that the authorities are going to issue tickets to collect the duty in somewhat the same way as the Entertainments Duty is collected. It cannot be done. It seems to me, therefore, that this duty is going to take a great deal more out of the pockets of the people than it is going to bring into the Exchequer. It is much easier to calculate the value of the 32 per cent. on the credit betting. In dealing with this aspect of the case I understand that sometimes large sums are involved. Therefore, it is much easier to collect the 31 per cent.

Just one further observation. The Chancellor, when he introduced this duty, announced that it would be 5 per cent. He was supposed to be in possession of all the facts as to the amount of money which passed in betting in the course of the year. It is not to be assumed—or, at any rate, we ought not to assume—that the Chancellor comes to this House and throws his proposal on the Table without having given it proper consideration! But that is the practice of the present Chancellor of the Exchequer. He tables his proposals first, and then he thinks about them afterwards. We had exactly the same experience last year. He proposed Silk Duties. As soon as expert criticism was brought to bear upon them they were proved to be utterly impracticable and foolish, and the right hon. Gentleman was compelled, in passing the Bill through Committee, radically to amend them in all their more important aspects. This year he proposed this duty at 5 per cent.; now he proposes 3 per cent. and 2 per cent.

What is the reason for the change? One reason, a very extraordinary reason to move a Chancellor of the Exchequer, is that he thinks a 5 per cent. tax would bring in far too much money. He estimated the revenue at about £6,000,000 a year when the tax was originally proposed. I have heard, and I do not think the right hon. Gentleman will deny it, that one of the reasons which has induced him to make this Amendment is that a 5 per cent. tax might bring in £12,000,000 or £18,000,000, and the right hon. Gentleman recoils from the prospect of having a surplus next year of £10,000,000 or £18,000,000. [interruption.] The only thing which I think would justify this tax, especially if the rate were maintained at the figure originally proposed, is that it would become most fruitful in the last year the right hon. Gentleman is likely to occupy his present position, and, therefore, there would be something of a nest egg for his successor, who, perhaps, might not have his moral compunction so highly developed as to refuse to take advantage of it.

As I have said, the main point to discuss this evening is the proposal which the Chancellor of the Exchequer will shortly submit to the House, and I shall look forward to what he has to say about the practicability of these proposals with very great interest; and although I have not to-night urged at such length or with so much force the moral objections and the other objections that we have advanced on a former occasion, it must be distinctly understood that we still hold all the objections to this tax which have been repeatedly stated in this House, believing it to be vicious on moral grounds and, as an instrument of taxation, one which no country like our own ought to have.