asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer how much revenue does he estimate will be lost to the State in this and in a full financial year in consequence of the new move of the Midland Bank as to non-stamped cheques for small sums, and on the assumption that other banks act likewise; and whether he proposes taking any steps to safeguard such revenue?
asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he is aware that a large joint stock bank has introduced a system of unstamped receipts to supersede, in certain cases, the use of cheques for sums under two pounds; that this innovation will result in an exemption from Stamp Duty which it has not been thought justifiable to confer by direct legislation; that the new receipts give to the bank's customers and the general public none of those safeguards against fraud and that recourse against the drawee in cases of negligence and error which, in the case of cheques, are given by the Bills of Exchange Acts and other legal protections; and whether, in these circumstances, he will either propose the removal of the Stamp Duty on cheques under two pounds or, if that course be deemed undesirable, take any measures necessary to protect the public and the revenue from the disadvantage of this innovation?
I have seen in the Press the statement about the issue of these receipts. The general legal position of these receipts is primarily a matter for the consideration of those who issue them and those who use them. Nevertheless, it involves a number of questions of public interest. The revenue aspects of the proposal are also important. Neither the Board of Inland Revenue nor the Treasury, still less His Majesty's Government, have been consulted upon, or expressed any opinion about, the principles involved. We are consulting counsel upon the question of the liability of these receipts to Stamp Duty. I am not yet in possession of the legal view, nor can I at present form any reliable estimate of the possible loss of revenue. I may, however, say that should it be found necessary to safeguard the Revenue from a serious inroad detrimental to the finances of the year, there will he ample time to deal with the matter before the Committee stage of the Finance Bill is concluded.
Captain GARRO-J ONES:
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Bankers Clearing House Committee is meeting to-day, that a large number of bankers are inaugurating this system, which is spreading rapidly, and can he not expedite some public declaration from the Exchequer as to the advantage and the necessity of protecting the Revenue?
No, Sir. I expect the bankers at their meeting to-day be aware of the tenor of the answer which I have just given, and I think they will be very likely to postpone any action.
Has the right hon. Gentleman's attention been called to Press paragraphs to the effect that the Treasury authorities are prepared to support this scheme, and are in no way antagonistic to it, that a different view from that appeared at least in two London newspapers, and would it not be better that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should issue a definite statement that the Treasury could not support this scheme?
I am in no way responsible for the statements which have appeared in the Press, and I think that I must wait until I am fortified by counsel's opinion before making a definite statement on the legal position. As I have said, we have not been consulted on the principle involved.
Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that the encouragement of this new system may prove to be a valuable source of revenue to him in the near future, when a suitable tax could be inaugurated in the form of a penny stamp?
I think all these matters ought to be considered, but as far as I have been able to ascertain the consequences of what is at present proposed will not be very satisfactory from the point of view of the Revenue of the year.