Orders of the Day — Ways and Means.

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons on 9th April 1941.

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Photo of Mr Gilbert Gledhill Mr Gilbert Gledhill , Halifax

Like most other hon. Members, I desire at the beginning of my speech to congratulate the Chancellor of the Exchequer on his statement. He performed a very difficult task with his usual charm of manner, and, although we all feel that we are being bled white, we almost like it. I think there are general signs outside of the determination of the public to accept any sacrifice, and to put up with any sort of restrictions, many of which are unnecessary, in order to resist the aggression of Hitler and his gang. But in doing that, we are entitled to ask something in return. We are entitled to ask the Government to observe the greatest possible economy and to see that waste of all kind is prevented. The Chancellor of the Exchequer commented on this fact when he said that part of his Job was to secure full value for the enormous sums of money coming into the Treasury. I may be told that there is a Select Committee which is investigating Government expenditure. I do not wish to detract from the value of its work, but it seems to me that that is rather locking the stable door when the horse has bolted; Although we have had a number of reports, we have not been told what action has been taken as a result. A few months ago I put a Question down to the Prime Minister, which I think was ultimately answered by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, asking whether a small committee, consisting largely of business men and accountants, could not be formed to examine the organisation, the staffing and routine of Government Departments. I received the usual putting-off answer which one gets from Government Departments when one makes a suggestion of that kind. I should like, however, to renew that suggestion now, and to ask whether it would not be possible to introduce a small committee, of about half-a-dozen at the outside, to examine thoroughly the organisation of the various Government Departments, and especially the new Departments which have been created as a result of the war effort. It should be possible for them to make many suggestions for alterations in routine, methods of filing records and seeing that they are absolutely up to date and on modern lines. It might be possible for them to suggest amalgamations. I have felt for some time that the Ministries of Transport and Shipping ought to be brought together, both being concerned with the same big subject of transport, and it would seem that there is something of this in mind.

While welcoming the small advantage that has been given to us in respect of Excess Profits Tax, it seems strange that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has not taken any powers to extend the principle to the largely increased earnings of certain individuals. Directors of companies are not allowed to increase their salaries, or, if they do, the increase is taken into account in the Excess Profits Tax calculation. There are many firms whose products are marketed by agents and representatives paid on a percentage of the turnover. They are getting largely increased incomes, due in the main to the increase of price and the very much bigger demand made by the war. They are getting those increased incomes, not by any greater effort on their part, in many cases by a very much less effort, but directly out of the war itself, and it seems a pity that some method cannot be devised of extending the principle of the Excess Profits Tax to those cases.

When the Purchase Tax was first instituted we were told that the revenue would be in the neighbourhood of£100,000,000 to£120,000,000. It seems at present that it will fall a long way short. We are told that up to date£26,000,000 has come in and that in the next 12 months the Chancellor expects£70,000,000. I am afraid he will be disappointed, because, with the tremendous increase of taxation and the reduction of allowances, spending power will be reduced and the tax will not yield the revenue. Would it not be wise to reconsider it? There is a number of anomalies. I have details of anomalies in the stationery trade. A wage packet, if blank, is taxed. If it is printed, it is not. A filing card, if ordinary plain-ruled, is taxed. If it has cash lines ruled, it is not taxed. There are many similar anomalies which require to be dealt with. I suggest that, as the revenue is very much less than was expected, the tax might be reconsidered, or even scrapped.

I should like to make an appeal on behalf of fathers of families. The allowances have been very much reduced, and some two or three years ago the educational endowment system was washed out. It seems to me that the man who has two, three, four or more children to bring up and educate in these difficult times should receive some further consideration. With Income Tax at 10s., in spite of which we are still aske3 to go on saving, it is very difficult indeed for the father of a household to carry on and educate his children as he would like to do. I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to consider whether it is not possible to grant some small concession to fathers of families from the point of view of education.