This matter was so fully discussed yesterday that I had hoped the Committee understood that this was a formal stage which was necessary. The Committee will remember that some hon. Members looked with surprising suspicion on the Crown Lands Bill which, among other provisions, includes a Clause which will enable Stamp Duty to be charged in the case of any transactions otherwise liable to stamp duty but which hitherto have been exempted in the case of the Crown estates. The Crown Lands Acts, 1829, 1S45, and 1852 have provisions exempting from Stamp Duty all deeds relating to the business of the Crown Lands. There is no reason to believe that this exemption has made it in any way easier to grant leases or conveyances, and the repeal of this provision will enable a considerable revenue to be received by the State, with no disadvantage to the transaction of business by the Crown Lands Department. It was about the only provision of the Bill which appeared to meet with approval from hon. Members opposite, and that is why I did not think it necessary to trouble the House with any further explanation.
I must confess I do not quite understand the right hon. Gentleman's explanation. He said that this was a device by which the State was to gain a certain amount of revenue. It seems to me to be a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul. The exemption from Stamp Duties is to cease; that is to say, Stamp Duty will now be payable, but the Crown revenues will correspondingly decrease. What then is the purpose of making this bookkeeping double entry? It seems to me to add to the expense. Could the right hon. Gentleman tell us what advantage is to be gained and how the revenue will increase. It seems to me that only trouble will increase.
No. It is not the Crown authorities who pay for the stamps; it is the purchaser or lessee who pays for the stamps. Hitherto, for no reason ex cept the provisions in the old Acts, there has been an exemption from Stamp Duty. It has not added to the price which the State receives for leases or conveyances, and we think it is time to see that this loss to the revenue is stopped.
I do not usually find myself in agreement with hon. Members opposite, but does the right hon. Gentleman not realise that when a man sets out to purchase land he estimates beforehand what the total cost is going to be. He says he is prepared to spend so much. If he is going to buy Crown lands, he is prepared to go a little further because he does not have to pay the tax. If he is buying from a private individual he takes the stamp into account in the price he is prepared to offer. The right hon. Gentleman is not going to get a single penny more by this.
That is purely a matter of opinion. Those who are responsible for these transactions take the view that it is so little realised that this exemption exists that the purchaser does not take it into account in deciding the price he is willing to pay. If the hon. and learned Gentleman is right we shall be no worse off in these cases, but I am assured that in the great majority of cases we shall be better off and we shall get the same price.
I think this proposal is one that ought to commend itself to the Committee. It is part of the general system that we hope to see introduced in the Crown Proceedings Bill when it comes before the House, and in other Measures to treat the Crown in the same way as a private seller. I think the sale of Crown lands should be treated in the same way as other lands. It is consonant with the whole tendency of modern legislation to treat the Crown in exactly the same way as the subject.