I beg to move, in page 5, line 32, at end, insert:
(6) Notwithstanding anything in the preceding provisions of this Section no balancing allowance or balancing charge shall be made to or on any person by reason of the sale or transfer of the relevant interest in any building or structure if such sale or transfer is made as part of or in connection with a transaction which involves the sale or transfer of the trade or undertaking for the purposes of which such building or structure is being used or of any part of that trade or undertaking which is capable of being carried on as a going concern and either—
I wish to ask your guidance, Mr. Speaker, on whether, while I am addressing my remarks to this Amendment, it would be in Order to refer at the same time to an Amendment in my name to Clause 14 which is in precisely the same terms.
The House will remember that during the Committee stage I submitted an Amendment which was on somewhat similar lines to the one we are now considering but which I recognise was, in the circumstances, probably too widely drawn. I tried to make a case for such a proposal, narrowed down to the cases of public utility undertakings purchasable under Statute and to other sales which might take place on prescribed terms. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was good enough to say then that he thought there was a special case relating to this type of undertaking, and while I agree that he in no way committed himself he did promise to look into the matter again. I had hoped in the intervening period to see Amendments put upon the Order Paper or to have an opportunity, which has recently been afforded me, of a short discussion on this particular point.
I do not know what view the Chancellor will take to-day upon these Amendments, but in justification of them I must point out that there is a very large number of electricity supply undertakings which, but for the war, would probably, ere now, have been purchased by local authorities. Their purchase by agreement has been deferred, but the purchase rights remain and may still be exercisable after the war. The undertakings are purchasable on terms prescribed by Parliament, which decided that they must be sold on the then value, and the then value immediately after the war, or whenever the permission to revive these purchase powers is granted, may show a large or small capital appreciation—one cannot say until the valuations are made. But I do not think it is right that a balancing charge should apply, as it may unless this Amendment is accepted, in the case of undertakings which are saleable under terms prescribed by Parliament.
Then there is this point, upon which I venture respectfully to suggest that very few Members are really well informed. There is no industry of which I have experience, in which the capital expenditure bears so high a proportion to the annual turnover, as the industry of electricity supply. If an undertaking has laid out £1,000,000 in capital expenditure it is fortunate if the total gross income which it obtains from consumers as a result of that expenditure is more than between £150,000 and £200,000 a year. In other words, it takes five or six years' annual income to equal the capital expenditure. Therefore, a balancing charge in the case of an undertaking whose capital bears such a very high relation to the annual income is much more serious than in the case of more normal businesses. Income Tax at 10s. in the £, as it is to-day, is also a very much more serious matter for undertakings that would be sold, perhaps, during the next two or three years than it was in the case of undertakings which were purchasable when Income Tax was only 5s. or 6s. 6d. in the £.
We do not know what legislation will be brought before Parliament in the near future dealing with this industry. We all know that, splendidly as electricity undertakings have performed their duties, there are possibilities of improvement in organisation in various ways. I think it is generally agreed that far too many separate undertakings are operating today, and that in the near future steps should be taken to reduce that number by combinations or groupings. Human nature being what it is, we should all agree, I think, that that can be done more rapidly and much more pleasantly by voluntary agreements than by compulsion, and I do not want this House to take any steps in this Bill which will frustrate the objectives which many of us with experience in these matters are keeping rightly in view, and that is combinations by voluntary means.
There is another point which I would ask the House to note. If a sale is con- templated the undertaking which is selling its property can adopt one of two methods. It can sell its shares for shares in the purchasing undertaking or it can take cash. If a balancing charge is to apply then I think a share deal will result, and there will be one unfortunate consequence of that. It will mean that the selling company which exchanges its shares for shares in the purchasing company will still remain in existence; it will have a corpus; it will have to present annual accounts and have them audited; and we shall thus be perpetuating a large number of concerns which ought to be wound up. That is a point which I think the Chancellor will have to meet. There may be great injustice to municipalities if they are called upon to part with their undertakings, because they have not a share capital construction as companies have, and if they are called upon to sell, they will, presumably, part with their assets for cash, and they may attract a balancing charge, which I think would be an injustice.
This is, I agree, a very complicated Amendment. It is by no means an easy one to explain and perhaps I myself do not really understand it as thoroughly as I ought to. But I have given the Treasury four or five days in which to consider these Amendments, which I sent to them before they appeared on the Order Paper, and I hope the Chancellor, with his experts, has been able to consider the statements which I have presented for their consideration, and that to-day I shall hear that he is prepared to accept these Amendments, which deal both with buildings and plant and machinery, and, if not, that he will hold out some hope that in the near future, possibly by another Bill, he will be prepared to meet what is admittedly a difficult situation.
I beg to second the Amendment.
I confess that I have only seen this Amendment to-day, but the point that strikes me in connection with it is this. If two companies have a share capital like the two great cable companies which have so recently amalgamated, no balancing charge can arise, but a utility undertaking, in the terms of the Statute governing that undertaking, must, when its assets are transferred, sell as an undertaking. Then a balancing charge is attracted, and it is really not fair to make this distinction against a concern which has not share capital. Anyone interested in bringing electricity to the rural areas must hope for amalgamations as soon as they can be carried out, and it is certain that if a large financial obstacle is placed in the way, such amalgamations will be less likely in the near future.
The subject-matter of this Amendment is complicated and technical, but I shall endeavour to put the case as it appears to me as simply as possible. As I understand it there are two quite separate issues, both of which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Sir A. Gridley) said, were raised in Committee. They were raised in Committee at comparatively short notice, and I said that I would consider the remarks of my hon. Friend to see whether, on more mature consideration, I thought there was a case for some alteration in the scheme of this Bill in regard to the two really separate matters that were raised. The first matter concerns transactions between associated concerns and the case that was put to me was that such transactions should not be treated on exactly the same footing as transactions by way of sale of plant or machinery between concerns which were quite separate. I think my hon. Friend will recognise that the Amendment which I have on the Paper does go a very long way to meet the case that was put forward; in fact, I think it is somewhat more favourable, in one respect at any rate, than his own proposal, because it deals with, all cases where there is a majority interest, and not merely with cases where there is a 90 per cent. or greater interest, as is proposed in the Amendment. I do not think I need say anything more about that part of my hon. Friend's proposition.
The other part of his proposal raises a question which I said I would look into. The question is this. Do the circumstances of compulsory acquisition of assets create a case for exceptional treatment as compared with voluntary acquisition? That, briefly, is the substance of the matter. I have considered my hon. Friend's representations, I hope he will believe, very carefully and sympathetically. I am sorry to say that I cannot see that a case has been made out for the exceptional treatment for which he asks; in other words, I cannot regard compulsory acquisition as creating a situation calling for different treatment from that which would be given, according to the scheme of the Bill, to precisely the same transaction carried out on a voluntary basis.
My hon. Friend naturally devoted his remarks in the main to the position of electricity undertakings; although the Amendment would cover every form of compulsory acquisition. What is the position in regard to those electricity undertakings, to which I propose to devote my remarks? Those undertakings have been allowed to engage in business under a licence, an essential provision of which was that they were under the liability of being taken over compulsorily in certain specified circumstances. There is nothing in the law governing compulsory acquisition from which it could be inferred that such a provision as we are proposing now to introduce could properly be regarded as a breach of a statutory undertaking or a statutory understanding. Nothing of the kind. That is what I was looking for, and I found nothing of the kind. I can see only a transaction the financial effect of which is exactly the same as would be the case with a similar transaction voluntarily entered into. If we accept that the purpose of this Bill is to write off capital expenditure incurred in earning profits—and inasmuch as the rate at which the expenditure is written off must inevitably be more or less arbitrary, it is an empirical rate—we have, therefore, to introduce, in order to avoid inequalities and injustices, the conception of a balancing charge, or a balancing allowance, the two being co-relative, for the purpose of correcting, in the light of ascertained facts, the operation of the empirical allowance which is given year by year after the initial allowance. That is the purpose of it.
If that principle is accepted, it seems to me that it is applicable in just the same way to the case of compulsory acquisition as to the case of voluntary acquisition. After all, it may be bad luck—I will not seek to deny it—that transactions may come along in the near future in respect of assets which have perhaps temporarily an enhanced value and that enhanced value on realisation will attract taxation; but it may at other times be the other wav round, and assets may be aquired compulsorily at a rate considerably below the written down value—because the current market value is the basis—and in that case, of course, there would rightly be a balancing allowance. If the point were pressed, I think one would be justified in asking oneself, why should an undertaking, which from its very inception was subject to the liability of compulsory acquisition, be put in a position when it goes out of business—when the contingency contemplated at the outset actually arises—to go away with a substantial profit due to an enhancement in values without making its due contribution in the way of taxation according to the general scheme of the Bill? Therefore, for these reasons, which I hope I have explained adequately, I do not feel it is possible, at any rate as I am at present advised, to accept this proposal, and I hope my hon. Friend will not press it.
As regards the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, the point about the purchase of shares as an alternative to the purchase of assets, I am not quite sure I followed him. I was under the impression that where an electricity undertaking is acquired by a public authority, the transaction has to take the form of an acquisition of the assets. That, I think, is not really relevant to the case I am seeking to make against the Amendment, and I do not propose to pursue the matter further.
I agree generally with the proposition that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has advanced, but I would point out to him that the matter is exceedingly complicated by the exact point in time that we have reached with regard to the development of the electricity supply industry. Under the principal Act which governs this matter, where a local authority allowed its Order to be developed by a company, the purchase rights mature 45 years after the date on which the transfers took place. That means that during the war there have matured all the Orders that were granted between 1895 and 1900, or thereabouts. That period was a very active time in the promotion of these Orders, with the result that a very large number of them have matured during the war, and a considerable number will mature during the next few years. The matter is already terribly complicated owing to the fact that the House, in 1888, decided that this service should be originated and conducted on a parochial basis. Since that time there have been so many readjustments of local government boundaries, and the development of electricity has gone so much beyond the confines of mere parish boundaries, that the problem of compulsory purchase is now very complicated.
I speak with some feeling on the matter because an authority of which I was chairman, the London and Home Counties Joint Electricity Board, carried through more compulsory purchases, I believe,—the number was six—in the period immediately before the war than any other undertaking in the country, and, therefore, I have had some experience in the witness chair and elsewhere of having to deal with the complications that existed before the war. I tremble to think how any witness is to be able to give reasonably truthful answers on the whole of the detailed propositions that will be put to him in the near future when he will be confronted with the old complications, plus the complications of postponement of purchase, plus the complications that are dealt with in the Amendment. I was hoping that we might have had some indication from the Chancellor of the Exchequer that when the electricity supply industry comes up for consideration, as it must do in the very near future, the whole of these complications will be borne in mind when the legislation is discussed, including the kind of complications with which the hon. Member for Stockport (Sir A. Gridley) is dealing in the Amendment. I think the hon. Member, in depicting the serious plight of the municipalities, went a little beyond what could really be based upon this Amendment; personally, I am not nearly so frightened about what will be the effect upon municipal management as he appeared to be. But the whole subject has become so complicated that this additional complication is only an added reason for some early settlement being reached as to what the future organisation of the electricity supply industry is to be.
I am bound to say that I am bitterly disappointed the Chancellor has shown no inclination to meet me in this matter. I am reinforced in my remarks because I have support from my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) who, I know, has had many years' experience in assisting in the management of an important section of the industry in and around this great Metropolis. If we are to allow this Clause to go through—
I beg to move, in page 11, line 44, after "structure," insert:
used for the purpose of the repair of motor vehicles; or.
The general principle, with the details of which this Amendment deals, was discussed on a much wider basis on the Committee stage, but as far as the motor repair trade is concerned, I think some further consideration ought to be given to the proposition. On the Committee stage the Chancellor informed us that the general basis of the concession in Part I is in line with the derating arrangements. That is an arbitrary line. I believe the purpose of the concession is to encourage the development of the industries concerned for the purpose of enabling them to make up for lost time and get into their stride after the war. In the motor repair trade, the repair shops, which are an essential part of the trade, are not given the same concession as is applied to the repair shops of the big industrial concerns. I think no one will deny that during the war the motor trade repair works have played a considerable part, and that, compared with other industries, they are in no less need of all the encouragement that can be given to enable them to get on with the tremendous amount of post-war work. I do not propose to argue the case at any length, because the general principle was fairly well discussed, and I think it is understood by the whole House. I hope the Chancellor will give some consideration to this section of the trade in the application of the concession.
I beg to move, in page 11, line 45, after" at," insert "or in connection with the working of."
This is little more than a drafting Amendment to meet a point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles) in Committee. I do not think the House will require an explanation of a matter which is extremely technical in its character.
I beg to move, in page 24, line 3, leave out "in connection with," and insert "incidental to."
The object of this and the next Amendment—in line 4, leave out from "trade," to "the" in line 6—is to redefine the scope of the Chancellor's new provision, now Clause 21, which enables certain building alterations to rank for allowance as though they were part of the plant or machinery in connection with the installation. We discussed the matter and the examples are well known to the House. The sort of example that we had in mind was air-conditioning plant and the putting-in of double windows in order to have the plant in a proper situation.
I thank the Attorney-General for these Amendments, especially the second, but I should like him to explain the distinction between the expressions "in connection with" and "incidental to." It seems to me a rather fine distinction and I am not quite sure how it will work out in practice.
"In connection with" has a wider connotation. "Incidental to" denotes rather than connotes an ancillary process dependent on another. It is not too narrow. That is the general distinction, and the example that I gave is a good one of something which is really incidental, that is, putting in a refrigerating plant, and where you have to have a certain type of window. It is easier for a tribunal or for anyone who has to consider the matter to determine that something is incidental, whereas the words "in connection with" have a wider connotation, and my right hon. Friend did not feel that he could go as far as that. I think it will cover, as it is designed to cover, all the examples that were quoted and generally approved as being necessary in this connection.
I beg to move, in page 26, line 3, after "building," insert:
where the whole of the building was.
The object of this and the following Amendment is to make it clear that, if an office of a mine or oil well is part of a building or structure the rest of which qualifies for allowance, and the office part represents not more than a tenth of the whole, it will not be excluded from allowance under Part III of the Bill.
I thank my right hon. Friend for these Amendments, but I should like to ask what happens if an office has a welfare room, though it was not constructed originally for that purpose. Would an apportionment be made?
I should rather think that the test for tax purposes is the user of the premises and not the purpose for which they were constructed, but I should hesitate to lay down the law on a point of that character.
Further Amendment made: In page 26, line 4, at end, insert:
(vii) any expenditure on so much of a building or structure as was constructed for use as an office, unless the capital expenditure on the construction of the part of the building or structure constructed for use as an office was not more than one-tenth of the capital expenditure incurred on the construction of the whole of the building or structure."—[Mr. Peake.]
I beg to move, in page 48, line 45, at end, insert:
(2) If, in the case of a trade which consists of or includes the working of a mine, oil well or other source of mineral deposits—
This Amendment meets a point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles) in Committee, and it provides that balancing allowances in certain cases where a mine or oil well comes to an end may be spread back over the six years preceding the conclusion of operations at the mine or well in question.
the person entitled to the allowance may claim that the balance of the allowance may be given for the last preceding year of assessment, and so on for other preceding years, so however that no allowance shall be given by virtue of this subsection for any year earlier than the fifth year before the first mentioned year of assessment.
I beg to move, in page 53, line 5, at end, insert:
Provided also that where the sale is one to which paragraph (a) of Sub-section (1) of this Section applies and took place before the appointed day and the seller acquired the machinery or plant on or after the sixth day of April, nineteen hundred and forty-four, paragraph (a) of this Sub-section shall not apply.
This and the following Amendment provide that in the case of transactions between associated companies balancing charges shall not be made in respect of what are in fact simply book transactions—transfers from one pocket of the concern to another.
Further Amendment made: In page 53, line 16, at end, insert:
(4) Where the sale is one to which paragraph (a) of Sub-section (1) of this Section applies and paragraph (b) of that Sub-section does not apply, and the parties to the sale by notice in writing to the surveyor so elect, the following provisions shall have effect:
The said sum is—
Provided that in computing the said sum in the case of any buildings, machinery or plant, any sums provisionally allowed under Sub-section (2) of Section nineteen of the Finance Act, 1941 (which relates to exceptional depreciation allowances) shall be left out of account."—[Mr. Peake.]
I should like to thank the Chancellor for this Bill, which will be a very useful one. I am specially familiar with the parts dealing with agriculture and mining, and both of those sections will be of real help. I should like to ask my right hon. Friend whether under Clause 30, when the Regulations are made and the rules laid down which will govern the treatment of the mining industry, representatives of the industry will be given the fullest possible chance to discuss with his advisers what those Regulations shall be. It will be very hard to make Regulations which will fit every kind of mine. I am sure that the representatives of the industry, if they are given a chance to discuss them, will do so with pleasure and with profit to the Treasury.
I am very glad that in the massacre of the innocents this ewe lamb has escaped the general slaughter. I think that the Chancellor's concessions, which will not probably cost a great deal in terms of to-day's figures, will be of some benefit to the further enlargement of industry. I hope they will have a substantial effect in that direction. We shall watch the results with anticipation. We on this side wish the Bill well and hope that, when it comes into operation, it will promote prosperity and will prove as useful as its authors hope it will be.
In regard to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles), I readily undertake that there shall be consultations with those concerned before the Regulations under Clause 30 come into effect. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) for his observations on this Bill, which has been described, not, I think, quite accurately, as a modest attempt to do something for industry. I thought, and I still think, that it was rather an ambitious attempt. It broke new ground, and I think it will be really helpful to industry, not merely by what it contains, but as an encouragement by indicating that it is the desire of the Government, in a regime of inevitably heavy taxation, to pay due regard to the effect of taxation upon productive industry. I am grateful to hon. Members in all quarters of the House for the manner in which they have facilitated the passage of the Bill.