I beg to move, in page 11, line 9, to leave out "(r)".
Paragraph (r) refers to baths, washtubs, washboards, ironing boards, shields and stands for smoothing irons or pressing irons, clothes line posts, clothes pegs, clothes props and clothes irons. In the merry month of May, when the Chancellor went a'wooing and when the women of this country accepted his luscious promises about doubling the standard of living and about leading the country further along the road of confident expansion, who would have thought, listening to the Tory promises, "There ain't going to be a crisis" and "It ain't going to rain no more," that by the month of November everything would have been forgotten.
Housewives who accepted the proposal and who accepted the right hon. Gentleman and all his relatives with him, including his in-laws, did not dream that they were going to be assailed not merely in rents, rates and food but that he was actually going to have his eye on their clothes pegs with which they pegged up the youngsters' nappies in the back garden. One can understand the taxation of luxury goods, but for this there is no defence. Take the first item, baths. They were hitherto exempt—Sir Charles, if I cannot have some order in the Committee I do not intend to speak further.
It should be quite unnecessary for me to raise my voice. I do not like to hear a woman raising her voice, in Parliament or anywhere else.
Why should the Chancellor think about baths? I wonder whether he is aware that in singling out this item for increased taxation he is hitting at the very poorest of the poor, the people who cannot afford a bathroom? They are the people who are not in council houses. Those of them in my city usually live in tenements. They push a zinc bath under the bed and bring it out on Friday night, or whichever night dad has his bath, and then push it back again and bring it out the next night when the children take their baths. Many hon. Members on both sides of the Committee have seen these zinc baths hanging out in the back yard.
Over the past six months, the right hon. Gentleman, and other hon. Members opposite, have been saying to these people who do not have bathrooms, these people who live in the older properties, "Why should you have to pay in your rates to help to subsidise people who have bathrooms and modern baths?" Out of their sympathy for these poor people this is what they now do—they put a tax on the old zinc bath.
Let us consider washtubs and washboards. There are many women who voted Conservative at the last Election and who, unfortunately, believe almost everything that hon. Members opposite tell them. Many of them think that hon. Members opposite are incapable of making a misleading statement. They do not realise that the only way hon. Members opposite can get power at all is by making misleading statements to either one or other section of the community. They cannot in the same policy support both the policeman and the burglar. It is impossible for hon. Members opposite to please people who finance them, and give us a policy that will help the people who need help.
Many women postponed buying a washing machine. I myself have never had a washing machine, though I should not like to say that I took heed of what the Chancellor said and prevented inflation by depriving myself of a washing machine—there are a great many reasons why I have never had a washing machine. But other people postponed buying washing machines because of what the Chancellor said about hire purchase and a spending spree. If a woman does without a washing machine, she needs a washtub and a washboard, yet the Chancellor rewards her by taxing the only alternative to a washing machine.
It is said that housewives always sing when they are at the washtub and I believe it is also said that men sing in
their bath. Well, the men who are singing in their bath and the women singing at the washtub ought to dedicate a song to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, a well-known song,
All of me,
Why not take all of me?
I will pass to the ironing board. There is no reason why ironing boards should be taken from those articles which are exempt and put on the tax level. It just shows how utterly mean the right hon. Gentleman has become, and I wish that he would take this to heart and discipline himself. He seeks out the shields for smoothing irons. Is there anything more humble than a shield for a smoothing iron? There is no hon. Lady in this House who does not pity the woman who has to put an iron on the fire, because this is what this means.
In these days of automation, of antibiotics and of nuclear energy women are still to be found who have no alternative than to stick an iron in the embers of the fire. Instead of showing a little sympathy for these poor women, the Chancellor taxes the very shield with which she wraps up the iron. I did not agree with the former Budgets of the right hon. Gentleman, but I did not know that he could go to these lengths in this one.
Then there are the clothes line posts and the clothes pegs. In his last Budget speech, the one which he made before the General Election, the right hon. Gentleman talked very confidently about looking upward and outward. Personally, I thought that that indicated that one would require to have a squint. He talked about liberating the human spirit. How can one reconcile that type of language used in May with the impositions on the poorest of our housewives in the month of November? Where, indeed, was the right hon. Gentleman looking when he discovered all these things? The iron rests in the embers of the fire, and he actually saw that. He saw the shield, the ironing board and the clothes line.
The right hon. Gentleman must have been doing a lot of travelling in trains. He must have been thinking, "What more can I tax?" As he travelled throughout the country he saw the clothes lines, and the women hanging out the nappies on a Monday morning, and he had his eye on the clothes prop as well as on both the clothes line and the clothes pegs—even the very prop with which they keep the clothes off the ground. At the same time, the right hon. Gentleman says, "We must not have a spending spree." If we do not use clothes props, what is to happen to the clothes? Are clothes props considered as part of a spending spree?
What could we do without clothes pegs? How could we hang out a line of washing without clothes pegs? They cost about 2½d. each and on every peg ld. will go. It is all calculated to assist the Chancellor in the fulfilment of his promise that the Tory Party would double the standard of living within the next 25 years. Many housewives would like an instalment to be going on with while they are still alive. They would like to know the fragrance of the lilies while they can still smell them.
I noticed that Conservative women at their last conference said, "If the cost of living does not come down we shall lose votes at the next Election." I see the Economic Secretary to the Treasury smiling and writing down a magnificent reply to my speech, but it will have to be a reply to what he himself said. My colleagues quoted the Conservative women as saying that the rising cost of living made canvassing increasingly difficult and that four resolutions criticising living costs were before the conference.
The Economic Secretary rose with great triumph to tell us that he had carried the conference with him in the end with a vote of confidence in the Government. He did not tell us, however, that an amendment was passed approving the Government's moves to stabilise prices. Did he tell the women how he proposed to stabilise prices? We were told that once we had decontrol on everything prices would find their own level. Is there an hon. Member opposite who knows at just which figure prices will find their own level? We have been waiting for four years for prices to find their own level. The ex-Minister of Food said. "We will first stabilise"—
—"and then reduce." Yes, we are paralysed at the effrontery of right hon. and hon. Members opposite.
In the name of those who support this Amendment, I ask that the humble implements of hard-working women shall have taxation removed from them altogether and be treated as they were before the May Election.
I want to associate myself with this Amendment for the particular reason that the list for imposing a 30 per cent. tax includes babies' baths. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has gone out of his way always to exempt from tax as much as he can what babies wear and use. Perhaps these babies' baths have got into the list through an accident, or because they have been overlooked. I cannot believe that the Chancellor is trying to discourage baby washing.
Tubs and basins can be used for other purposes and my right hon. Friend may have very good reasons for taxing them. I am behind the Chancellor in introducing the Purchase Tax to cover a wide range of articles to stop more money being spent and our import position getting worse, but I should like him to look at this case again. There is a special type of baby's bath which hooks on to the sides above an ordinary bath. These babies' baths are quite unsuitable for any other purpose because they are fairly high priced. They are a great convenience for the mother, who can wash her child and ensure that the splashes go into the ordinary bath. That saves her trouble, the baby gets more comfort and fuel is saved by having to heat less water.
These articles are made in my constituency and I am told that no imported material is used in their manufacture. Practically the whole of the material used is plastic. These babies' baths are exported to a very considerable extent, and that trade is growing every day. If the present proposal is accepted, and 30 per cent. tax goes on to these baths, it will kill the home market. Everyone knows that unless we have a healthy home market exports will probably die also. A large order is about to be given by the well-known American firm of Sears Roebuck for these baths of English manufacture, but it looks very probable that that order will be lost if the tax is put on. I hope, therefore, that the small concession for which I am asking can be given, that the Chancellor will realise that if he puts this tax on he will lose the very exports he is so anxious to gain. If he cannot accept the whole Amendment, I hope that in his reply the Economic Secretary will be able to say that this item was overlooked, or that it will be reconsidered and he will see what he can do about it.
I listened with very great interest to my hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mrs. Mann). There is only one thing with which I must admit I did disagree. That was the simplicity with which she seemed to regard promises made by hon. Members opposite. Surely by this time we know that the definition of a Conservative is one who says one thing and does another. We had experience of that in the last Election, and should now take it for granted and act on that basis. That is what has happened and will happen in the future. We may take it as the usual practice of the Conservative Party. I do not find it a matter for any surprise.
I do not wish to go into the wider spheres of discussion, however, but to confine myself to the very limited subject of clothes posts, which are made in my constituency—
My hon. Friend says that clothes posts are grown in his constituency, but those made in my constituency are not grown—they are made of steel. I hope that at a later stage my hon. Friend will be able to intervene and explain about the type of clothes posts which grow in his constituency. Those from my constituency are of tubular steel—
Yes they are very good. I am glad to have the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. Jack Jones).
I ask the Economic Secretary to consider this item very carefully. As my hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie said, these articles are not luxuries but necessities. They are considered as necessities not only by the women who use them but by builders. They are now being put into all new houses as fixtures. This tax will mean yet another small addition to the house-building costs of local authorities. It may be a very small one, but, spread throughout the country, it must be seriously considered as another addition to the cost of house building.
In 1951, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Gaitskell) was Chancellor, the Korean War was on, and we were in a very difficult position. At that time, difficult though the situation was, my right hon. Friend found it possible to remove the tax upon these items. Now, when the Chancellor says that conditions are getting better, that everything is going along fine, and no one needs to worry at all because we are going to get richer and richer, he reimposes this very heavy tax of 30 per cent. upon the items released from taxation by my right hon. Friend.
If the hon. Member will wait a moment I shall explain exactly what they are made of, and I think that the explanation will satisfy him. He is probably thinking about the raw material situation, which is a perfectly reasonable point. It may be said that these posts could be exported. The general idea of the Conservative Party is that if something is made and sold at home, and a tax is put upon it, it is then immediately exportable, because it cannot be sold here any longer.
I agree. In the case of this item it is even more nonsense than usual, if that is possible—because these things, although relatively cheap, are extremely heavy. One of the most important items in the export trade is that of freight, and these goods would have to pay very heavy transport charges, although they are relatively low-priced articles. It is, therefore, almost impossible for them to compete in any foreign market.
I can tell the hon. Member for Kidder-minister (Mr. Nabarro) that these posts are made, in the main, from boiler tubes, bought second-hand from British Railways and reconditioned. It cannot be said that they are using the best quality steel, which would otherwise go into products which could be sold abroad for dollars or other foreign currencies.
They have to be made of some kind of raw material, but in this case it is raw material of the least value, and of much less use than would have been the case if they had been made of new and pure steel. They are simply made of scrap.
Does not my right hon. Friend agree that with the complete absence of controls upon the use of steel, and the absence of building licensing generally, if this scrap gets into the steel industry it will probably be wasted upon non-essential building, such as the new Conservative Central Office?
The hon. Member who has now become known as the "Kidder of the Minister" seems to be advocating that these boiler tubes should be taken out of the boiler; should then be taken down by craftsmen, put on the railways, transported to the steel works and then, by the use of valuable coal or gas, turned back into steel—and then rolled out into tubes to be made into clothes posts once more. That is the business man's idea. Our idea is to use scrap, paint it, and sell it reasonably cheaply to the housewife.
I am surprised at the intervention of the hon. Member for Kidderminster, because he knows a good deal about my constituency and he knows that many people in it are exceedingly poor. They need clothes posts, but do not want to have to pay more money for them—and they should not be made to. He is seeking deliberately to encourage a higher rate to be paid for these necessities. I do not know whether these posts are used by people in Kidderminster; they may use the kind produced by my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Dye), which are made of a different material. In my constituency they are used frequently, and it is very unfortunate that everybody who wants one in future will have to pay more for it.
I sum up by saying that these items are necessities; the increase in tax upon them, though very small, will nevertheless have a certain effect upon the cost of house building; they cannot be used for the export trade with any success, and the raw materials used in their making are of the cheapest possible kind. For all those reasons I hope that the Chancellor will reconsider this matter seriously and see if it is not possible to omit this item from the list of things which he has decided are required to bear a higher tax.
I intervene only for half a minute to ask my right hon. Friend to reject at once all these arguments which, in my view, are entirely spurious. At present, we are importing 2 million tons of steel a year, in one form or another. It is true, as the right hon. Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) said, that one way of regulating the use of steel is by employing physical controls, and all the abracadabra of a steel rationing system. In my view, the Chancellor is absolutely right in using fiscal and monetary means and purposes for discouraging the employment of steel which may be used for very much more valuable purposes than clothes posts.
The right hon. Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Dugdale) supported his argument by saying that these clothes posts were mostly made out of scrap water tubes from old locomotives. That may well be the case, but the plain fact is that not only are we importing 2 million tons of steel a year, at a cost of between £75 million and £80 million, but we are also importing high-grade scrap and the raw material of steel works in many different forms. It is wholly injurious to our economy for metals to be used for articles such as clothes posts, when an indigenous timber clothes pole, made from scantlings and thinnings from our own forests, may be employed at least to equally good effect.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will discard all these arguments and stick to the simple principle that it is quite legitimate to use the weapon of Purchase Tax to discourage the consumption of those articles of a consumer character which contain steel or other metals—be they ferrous or non-ferrous—which are so urgently needed by our principal exporting industries.
Can the hon. Member spare another half minute to explain something? It is very unlikely that the Government Front Bench will do so. What is his own view about the application of this tax to articles, made of metal, which are not fixtures? Why is it that these clothes posts are the only single builders' fixtures which are taxed? The heavy fixed articles escape tax, but those which use up only trivial amounts of metal attract the heaviest tax.
The short answer is that there is a very wide range of consumer goods which contain tubular steel in one form or another and which are subject to Purchase Tax. All tubular steel furniture is subject to Purchase Tax, and it springs from the same raw material as that of which these clothes posts are made.
It is important to question the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) further upon this matter, because he is almost the only Tory who has supported the Government in these debates. The burden of what he was saying was that he supported the Amendment, and so, logically, he should support us in the Lobby, because he wants to encourage the use of timber clothes posts; and as there is tax on timber clothes posts he ought to be voting against the Chancellor.
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) appears to be so defeated in the argument that he must leave, and I hope that while absenting himself from the Chamber he will also absent himself from the Division Lobby when the time comes to vote on the Amendment. I do not wish to add very much to what my hon. Friend the Member for Coat-bridge and Airdrie (Mrs. Mann) has already so eloquently said on the subject of the burden the tax places on the housewives, but I want right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench to realise that when hon. Members on this side of the Committee give examples of the sort of hardship that is suffered they are not examples thought up in support of speeches in debate but are examples drawn from the experiences of hon. Members in their constituencies, among people whom they know and whom they represent here.
Only a few days ago, at an advice bureau in my constituency, I was visited by a lady who had got herself into extraordinary difficulty by showing kindness to her neighbours who could not afford clothes posts. In her backyard she has a tree, and first one and then another of her neighbours asked that they might be allowed to carry their clothes lines from their windows to the tree. [An HON. MEMBER: "Tax free."] There are now nine families using her tree because they have no clothes posts, because the landlords are not willing to provide them. She, of course, is not now in a position to tell those people to take their clothes lines away, and it will be the landlord who will have, perhaps with some firmness, to be brought to take action to see that those nine families have separate clothes posts. The intervention of the Government to prevent that from taking place will certainly be a burden upon them.
It is true, as my hon. Friend has pointed out, that this tax appears to have been specifically selected to bear most heavily on those who are the worst used. Anyone who can afford any of these articles provided as home fixtures, which are normally built in in luxury flats and even any ordinarily comfortable modern home, and for which infinitely more metal and raw materials are used, is excused tax on them. The Government have to seek to tax the slum dwellers, and those who live in tenements and in overcrowded conditions, in old homes they yet try to keep neat and clean.
The Government fly in the face of all the propaganda and education—not indeed, that the propaganda and education were necessary for this, because people naturally want to keep their homes clean and neat, they naturally want to make the best possible provision for washing and laundry, and for bathing and otherwise looking after their children. These efforts for improving the conditions of living in tenement houses are being frustrated by the action of the Government.
There is another matter I want to raise now partly, because I believe that the Economic Secretary will reply to this debate, and we may, perhaps, expect from him more ebullient improvisation in replying than we can from any of his colleagues. We on this side of the Committee, in our debates of the Budget and the Bill, have been trying to get the Chancellor to realise that the provisions of the Budget are inflationary. We have tried to do so from a number of angles, but we seem to have made very little impression. The Amendment relates to a group of articles upon which a very heavy tax indeed is being imposed, and I would draw the Government's attention to the inflationary effects of the tax upon those articles.
The Chancellor—I am very glad he is here—enjoys a reputation for liberal-mindedness and progressive ideas on many aspects of the social services of the country. I wish to draw a parallel between his situation at the present time and the fate that overtook a previous Chancellor of the Exchequer when the latter was the victim and the slave of an economic doctrine and a fashion in economic opinion of his day as Chancellor.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill), in his long and colourful political career, did a good many things which would excite the animated opposition of the supporters of the party on this side of the Committee, but the one which earned the undying detestation of vast numbers of the people, and especially in what were the depressed areas at the time, was one that he did more or less by accident and bitterly repented within a year or two: he acceded to the economic fashion at the time and put this country back on the Gold Standard. That has haunted him ever since.
It was deliberate policy, but it was thrust upon him by his economic advisers.
It would indeed be a tragedy if the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his turn, became a victim of the notion that the way to stop inflation is to increase prices. It seems to have got hold of him. Perhaps he will recover in a few years' time.
I wish to produce one more argument. I have already adduced the argument of the effect on the cost of living of automatic increases in wages to those who work in the industries which produce these taxed articles. This is a heavy increase of tax, which means an increase in prices; it means automatic increases in the wages of those who make them, which automatically find their way into the prices of the articles. Nothing the Chancellor can do about it will stop that inflationary effect. There is another inflationary effect which will develop, and for this reason.
We are now dealing with a group of articles on which this tax will require about a 50 per cent. increase in the working capital of the retailers, because they have to pay the Purchase Tax on the articles when they are delivered into their shops. That is a quite devastating burden for a retailer suddenly to have to bear. What will be the result? The result, quite naturally—and the Chancellor will, no doubt, be very pleased about it—will be that the retailer will cut down his stocks. He will renew and make up his ranges of stocks of these articles in only the smallest possible quantities. But the manufacturer is not able to handle orders for one saucepan, size 5, and two, size 7. If he is not to increase the cost of production quite fantastically he has to continue his production planning in series, and so, somewhere between the manufacturer and the retailer, there will have to be a system whereby the tank is steadily filled by the steady output of the manufacturer and drawn upon by the dipping out of the retailer.
What will happen is that there will be more use made of wholesalers than is necessary. That will have a very bad effect upon the system of distribution in this country and will add considerably to the cost of goods when they find their way to the consumer. It will also result in a very unfair influence being brought to bear upon the wholesale side of this industry. Where wholesaling is an important and necessary stage in distribution there is a case to be made, and a very important rôle to be played by the wholesaler. In many industries he presents to the retailer a varied and attractive range of goods.
There are many industries where the wholesaler commissions certain designs and has a number of manufacturers providing them for him, but not too many designs for each manufacturer, and where it would, in fact, be impossible to carry on the retail trade effectively and impossible for retailers to get the variety of stock in their shops without the assistance of the wholesaler.
That is a legitimate function where the skill and judgment of the wholesaler plays an important part, and he is very properly rewarded for it. It would, however, be a very mischievous and costly thing if we now had a new type of wholesaler who was merely a wholesaler because he was financing stocks, and because he could afford to pay the Purchase Tax and relieve the manufacturer of the output as it came along, and then wait for the retailer to put in his small orders.
We are discussing on this Amendment a number of articles which do not need much variety of design. There is no reason why these simple articles cannot find their way direct from the manufacturer to the retailer's shop. It is not like the textile industry, where it is necessary to choose from a variety of patterns and qualities. These are simple, straightforward, things. But the wholesaler has to be paid for his function, for the work he does, and for the handling of the goods. The Chancellor usually, when he is doing his arithmetic, thinks in terms of millions and hundreds of millions. May I take him through the arithmetic of a 10s. article within this range?
An article now costing 10s. in a shop probably costs the retailer 7s. 6d.; that is to say, the manufacturer would get 7s. 6d. for the article. If, in future, the manufacturer sells it to the retailer there will be a tax of approximately 2s. 6d. as a result of the provisions of the Bill. But if the manufacturer sells it first to a wholesaler that will mean that the cost of the article will be put up by something like 2s. 6d. in the shop. The 10s. article would cost 12s. 6d., which is bad enough.
Supposing that the article finds its way to a wholesaler, the wholesaler's profit will be added first and his margin of 17½ per cent. or thereabouts has to be taken into account. That means that he will add 20 per cent. to the 7s. 6d. The wholesalers price will be 9s., and the tax will now be payable on a total of 9s. and not 7s. 6d. which will make the cost to the retailer about 12s. If the retailer puts on only his old profit the cost of the article will be about 15s. in the shop, and if he puts a profit on the Purchase Tax as well that article will cost the domestic consumer 16s. instead of 10s.
I hope that the Economic Secretary will be able to explain to me that that is not inflationary and that it is helping the economy of the country. That is the sort of cumulative, mounting effect of this tax which the Chancellor may be trying to achieve for all we know. We have asked him straight out if he really believes that he can check inflation without deliberately causing unemployment. The replies have for the most part been emotional rather than logical from the other side of the Committee. They take the form of indignantly denying any such thing.
There is, of course, one final explanation. It may be that the Chancellor intends to apply a jolt to the public mind and a halt to consumer expenditure by a trick. It may be that he does not want this debate to end very soon. This is something that could help. Whatever Chancellor is sitting opposite will have to meet the same situation of inflation at the time of full employment. I think that the Chancellor will have gathered from the various remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Gaitskell) that my right hon. Friend would not have met the situation in the same way.
It would need a Government which really enjoyed the confidence of the whole country to persuade people to stop buying about one half of what they want to buy for a month or six weeks. I suppose that the Chancellor would be very well-satisfied if everyone who needed to renew any sort of necessity put off the renewal for about a month. He would then, in fact, have achieved some immediate results. Perhaps that is what he is trying to do.
When this announcement was made about the kind of article which we are discussing now, a rumour appeared in the Press that the Chancellor intended to change his mind. I was most impressed by the manufacturers who told me that trade was at a standstill and that no one would renew his orders until he had some confirmation or denial from the Chancellor. I tried to put down a Private Notice Question because it seemed to me to be such an important matter, but I was unsuccessful.
I raised the matter on Second Reading, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) pressed the Chancellor for an answer. No answer was forthcoming; no answer one way or the other. Perhaps the Chancellor is trying to prolong this indecision. Perhaps he would like these debates to go on for several weeks during which time the tank of commerce is slowly emptied and not renewed. If so, we shall be delighted to co-operate from this side of the Committee.
I know that the Economic Secretary will not be able to tell my hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie why the Government should select the poorest of the poor on which to put this burden. I know that there is no answer which will satisfy the people in my constituency who live in tenement houses where life is made possible only by the sort of articles which are attracting this vindictive attack. There will be no answer to them, but the Economic Secretary might like to enjoy himself by explaining what is his attitude to this remorseless, cumulative inflationary process which the Chancellor is launching into the distributive side of the country's economy.
My hon. Friends have already put the arguments very strongly against the Chancellor's proposals and I want to give expression very briefly to what I can only call a little feminine contempt of the fact that any man should appear before the House of Commons with the effrontery to ask us to put a tax on some of the articles that are included in the Schedule.
I do not know how it is pronounced in Cambridge, but I pronounce it as we do in Oxford and say to the Chancellor, "De minimis non curat lex." There are some things which should be beneath the notice of a man in the exalted position of Chancellor of the Exchequer. To think that the Chancellor should ask us to consider seriously putting a tax on clothes pegs! This apparently is necessary to the right hon. Gentleman's grand design for the recovery of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman has sunk as low as that.
I suppose that when one examines the list one could hardly expect the Chancellor to consider every item on its merits, but he might at least have glanced at the words "clothes pegs" and avoided placing himself in such a ridiculous and humiliating situation as to have to urge the Commons in Parliament assembled to agree to a tax on clothes pegs. Has the right hon. Gentleman consulted the gipsies? Although there are other types of clothes pegs manufactured in the country, pegs are still made by gipsies.
As far as I know, gipsies are not a corporate body. They are individualists. Does the right hon. Gentleman, therefore, ask that every gipsy in the country should register and take out a licence? I am not familiar with all the intricacies of the Purchase Tax, but I understand that if one sells articles which are subject to tax one has to register in some way. Are gipsies to register for the sale of clothes pegs? If not, presumably they will be breaking the law. Has the right hon. Gentleman had the Schedule translated into Romany?
I think that the gipsies will have something to say to the Chancellor. They might even spirit him away, which would not be a bad thing.
I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mrs. Mann) made a slight error. While it is true that clothes props and clothes posts and clothes airers are subject to tax, it appears that clothes lines are not, for some reason. Surely this is a serious omission. The Chancellor cannot be knowing his business if he is leaving them out. A note on Group 11 (r) states:
Clothes lines, indoor or outdoor, are regarded as not chargeable with tax.
No doubt the Economic Secretary to the Treasury will say whether they are now to be taxed or are to remain exempt. This is an omission which the hon. Gentleman can perhaps make good on the Report stage.
There is also, in the "Notice by the Commissioners of Customs and Excise," another slightly puzzling note. Group 11 (r) exemptions include clothes boilers. Can the hon. Gentleman explain the difference between the clothes boiler in that group and the wash boiler and wash copper in Group 12 (f) which, apparently, are still exempt from tax? Am I right in assuming that the boilers mentioned in Group 11 (r) are the kind that one has to place on the fire or the stove and those in Group 12 (f) are the kind in which a heating element is incorporated? I imagine that that is so, but the Economic Secretary should make clear to the Committee whether clothes boilers which have no fire are still exempt or whether they are to be subject to this very burdensome tax.
I should also like to ask the hon. Gentleman what justification he has for suggesting that washboards should be included. Anyone who knows anything about washing—and I fear that the Economic Secretary does not know much about clothes washing—will realise that using this article is one of the most burdensome ways of doing one's laundry. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to make the experiment, I suggest that it might have the effect of reducing the waist line. Why, when one has a difficult and strenuous job to do, should one have the added insult of being taxed for doing it? That is the burden of our complaint about the articles that are included in this Group.
Hardly one of these articles is normally used by persons who live in houses provided with real modern conveniences. They are almost all things that are used by persons who either live in country cottages, where there are no gas, electricity and other amenities, or who live in towns but are just too poor to afford the modern equipment which I imagine all of us here expect to find at home. The people who have to do their washing in this way, using portable baths, are precisely those who have a burdensome life already. I cannot see why we should suggest that in addition to having all the hard work they should have to pay extra money for being permitted to do it.
I feel very strongly about the taxing of portable baths. Fixed baths are not taxed. These portable baths are those used by people who have to carry the water, heat it on the fire or on the stove, fill the bath, empty the bath again, and do all that kind of laborious business. No one who was in a position to afford anything better would do that. No woman would use the old-fashioned washboard and the portable bath if she could afford even the simplest kind of wash boiler. This tax seems to me iniquitous.
I see that iron shields are also taxed. If one has to wash and iron clothes for a large family, perhaps including dirty clothes for working men and one still is in the position of having to use an iron which needs a shield, one must either be living in the remote countryside or else living in the town but too poor to be able to buy a modern electric iron. Therefore, if ever there was a deliberately discriminating tax on the poor who have to do hard physical work in their homes it is this tax. It is really despicable. We make jokes about it, but to tax all these articles is really contemptible.
Would my hon. Friend also bear in mind that the iron shield is used by large numbers of old people who, from force of habit, like to iron in this way in preference to using modern appliances?
That may be, but that adds point to my argument that we are oppressing people who are not in a position to look after themselves.
I cannot believe that the officials of the Treasury or the occupants of the Government Front Bench can have ever done the kind of work which has to be done by people who still use such appliances. If they had ever done it them- selves I am convinced that they would have said, "At least we will strike this out." I cannot believe that any one of them can have experienced the backbreaking work of doing washing in this way, or can have visualised the labour, when there are children in a house, of having bath tubs which need to be filled and emptied by hand. It is a laborious and tedious business.
This cannot make much difference financially. I am glad that the Chancellor has returned to the Committee and I hope he will feel that his proposal is a despicable way of dealing with people who would not be using any of these appliances if they were in a position to afford better ones. I ask that he should show some feeling for people in the position I have described, by making this gesture. I am grateful to the Chancellor for the small gesture he made in another direction, the only one so far, but here is an opportunity for him to show that he has some imagination and sympathy with people who have to use these laborious and irksome processes.
It has been said that few of us on these benches support the Chancellor and that while most of the speeches against these proposal are made from the other side of the Committee there have been even a few from this side. It is well known to us who work in this environment that hon. Members who support the Government generally try not to speak unless they are specially urged to do so. It is manifest that if we made as many and as long speeches as those made by hon. Gentlemen opposite, we would have had three all-night sittings instead of one and that nothing new would have been said. Therefore, it must not be assumed by those outside, as is put about by hon. Gentlemen opposite, that because we do not all speak here we do not think the proposals of the Chancellor are right, broadly speaking. Indeed, we have shown that we believe this to be so by supporting my right hon. Friend in the Division Lobbies.
I would ask the Committee to consider what is the purpose which the Chancellor has in mind. Primarily it is to save the £ from devaluation and to close the widening gap in the balance of payments. All the proposals of the Chancellor must be viewed, therefore, from the point of view of making a contribution towards those ends.
Much is made of the hardship of the housewife, the hardship of the wage earner, the hardship of the old people, and so on. Let it be remembered that there is no greater hardship which could befall them than that money should lose its value in the next few years at the rate at which it lost its value during the first few years of the Labour Government. That indeed, would be the greatest hardship of all. Wages, salaries, profits, are all compensated in a period of inflation by the fact that they fall to be paid in the new currency, but those who live on small fixed incomes, such as the pensioners and the old people, do not get compensation, or they get it very slowly. The consequence is that when money is allowed to lose its virtue the people hit most are those who are most in need.
So I say that there is a great deal of misplaced sympathy—I would almost say humbug—in the constantly reiterated statements made by hon. Gentlemen opposite that they are the protectors of the housewife. It was they who sold her down the river during the period when costs rose so swiftly in the five years after the war.
That is a fair point, Sir Austin, which I take.
It is suggested that these commodities are the ones which should be left out, especially baths, especially washtubs. It is suggested that a tax upon them will promote the utmost possible hardship for women in their homes. This is nonsense. The same thing has been said about each Amendment as we came to it. First, it was mops. It was suggested that if we taxed mops that would be a special hardship; if we taxed bath tubs, that would be a special hardship. Everything is a special hardship. It is obvious to me that if we are to affect the economic position throughout the land we must deal with a wide category of goods. If that is to be the method we must have taxation over a wide range. Most of all, we must discourage spending on many things.
I have heard it said that it would have been all right if the Chancellor had put up the tax on luxuries rather than impose it on washtubs, but that, again, is nonsense. Not enough people buy luxuries to make the economic effect of any importance, whatever tax is put on them. It may be electorally valuable to raise the tax on luxuries and not on goods bought by the masses of the people, but that would have little or no economic effect, and it is an economic effect which the Chancellor is trying to produce.
By way of illustration, the answer would be that motor cars are bought by many people. The Chancellor particularly wants more cars to be bought overseas. If he had singled out only the Rolls-Royce, it would have been ridiculous. Certainly, it would have enabled hon. Gentlemen opposite to wave the flag and to say, "Look how we are penalising the few who have Rolls-Royces," but it would not have had the desired effect. The very fact that the tax is put on popular motor cars—
I am sorry. I have been led on to motor cars and I will come back to washtubs.
There might be certain categories of goods which could be left out. For example, supposing it was proposed to put a tax on poppies which are sold on Remembrance Day, there might be such a strong sentiment against this that it would be overwhelming. Also, there might be a case for removing tax from baskets made by blind people or for not putting it on. [HON. MEMBERS: "It is on."] The Chancellor himself thought there was a case for dealing with bootees, not on any sentimental ground, but because the tax would produce a great anomaly.
If it is argued and agreed that everything is an exception, that everything produces a special hardship, the purpose of the Chancellor would be defeated. Let me repeat what is the purpose of my right hon. Friend. It is to restrict spending at home in order to try to save the £ by reducing the gap in our balance of payments. That can only be done by widespread action over a large range of goods affecting many people. It amounts to this, that if people are not willing to help the nation in its present time of trouble by supporting these measures, in spite of all that is said in this House, there is no way in which the £ can be saved. If hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite were on this side of the Committee they would have their own methods—
The taxes would have to operate over all purchasers and people throughout the land, or they would fail. It is obvious that to produce the desired effect, the operation must be over the whole field. Therefore, there is no more case for leaving out washtubs than for leaving out anything else. If we leave out the whole lot, we are not doing anything to inhibit spending. It seems to me, therefore, that there is no argument whatever for the Amendment, or for the next or the one after that.
I should like to deal with a political point. In this country we have a custom whereby General Elections are held as a rule every four or five years. Members of Parliament are sent here to do what, on broad principles enunciated at the Election, seem to them to be right in all the circumstances of the time. We have had our politics for the time being. [An HON. MEMBER: "For how long?"] A man said to me the other day that it would be very cold if I were to go bathing off the pier at Brighton. I replied, "Yes, but I do not choose to do it and, thank goodness, I do not have to." It is equally true that it would be very unfortunate for the Government if we had an Election just now, but we do not choose to and, thank goodness, we do not have to. That is the whole point. It shows what good sense there is in our political system.
Finally, there is a psychological point. I remember the time when Sir Stafford Cripps said that he would not devalue the £ and that all would be well. Although many people tried to believe him, and I personally thought that he meant what he said—I am sure he meant what he said; he was doing his best—financiers throughout the world did not believe that he could do what he said. Men behind him in the House of Commons at that time did not support him.
On a point of order. In view of the fact that on an Amendment relating to clothes pegs the hon. Member is introducing references to the devaluation of the £, could it be pointed out that Sir Stafford Cripps made neither of those remarks attributed to him by the hon. Member? If he wants to pursue this matter in the debate and quote the exact remarks of Sir Stafford Cripps, we would be happy to help him, but I think we would be out of order.
I am drawing to a close, Sir Austin. I am making a powerful argument which will influence both sides of the Committee, and I think that it will be shown to be relevant. The Labour leaders said that they would not devalue but the fact is that they were not believed. They were not believed because there were not men of sufficient courage in the House of Commons to support them.
My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer said at Istanbul that he would take all steps that were necessary. What is the evidence that he has the courage and that there is behind him the strength to support him in his courage? The evidence is that he is willing and able to carry through the House such unpopular measures as those applying to the kitchen front. If he were to give way on these measures, he would be selling out the £ and for that reason he would not be believed throughout the world. It is my belief tha the result would be to produce exactly the chain of events which occurred under the Labour Administration and which all citizens in the land ought to avoid. It seems to me, therefore, that our duty is to support the Chancellor of the Exchequer wholeheartedly because we think that what he is doing is right.
The hon. Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) need not tell us to do our duty. It is being done every day in the industrial areas. In my judgment, an impartial observer of our proceedings during the last few days, or someone who had read an account of them, would be forced to the conclusion that we are a set of "crazy devils." We are crazy in the sense that we are attempting to do something, or are asking that something should be done, that ought to be done without our asking for it.
When the Chancellor of the Exchequer produced his Budget, last month, I listened to every word of his speech, and I had the courage, if any was required, to give expression to these words:
I am one who believes profoundly that if the Government propose to solve the financial and economic problems of this country by inflicting greater hardships on the poorer people then they are bankrupt of ideas."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th October, 1955; Vol. 545, c. 286.]
The truth of that statement has revealed itself more forcibly during the last few days, as we have debated this Finance Bill.
We are now discussing the imposition of taxes on some of the things which are essential in the everyday life of the working people. The Chancellor or his scouts have made a mistake, because there is one thing that they have missed out of the list. They have missed out the hooks upon which the clothes line has to be hung. They are not taxing the hooks, but they are taxing clothes props and posts.
It ought to be remembered that in the last few years a process of evolution has been working. Improvements are being made, and will, I hope, continue to be made, in the life and conditions of the ordinary folk. There has been an argument about steel clothes posts and about wooden clothes posts. Near where I live, in order to save steel we have begun to make clothes posts of reinforced cement. They are very popular in working-class areas. The result of these new tax proposals will be that whereas those clothes posts are now priced at 7s. 6d. and 8s. each, their price will become 10s. or 11 s.
That brings me to the point that the Government are imposing great hardships upon the ordinary people. If these people are not entitled to some consideration or concession, who is?
A lot depends upon the weather conditions and the position in which the posts are fixed. Sometimes they may last only a week or sometimes they may last for ten years or longer. I do not know whether the hon. Member has experience of these things, but I have.
This is a crazy way of doing business. There are many other things that the Chancellor could tax if he wanted to restore the economic and financial stability of the country. But the first thing the right hon. Gentleman did was to raid the kitchen. Then he raided the wash-house and now he has gone into the backyard and raided that. Tax upon tax is being placed on the ordinary people so that the Chancellor, as he is claiming, can restore the country's financial stability. What a crazy idea.
I wanted especially to talk about the effect of the tax on baths. I do not know whether the Chancellor and his advisers at the Treasury realise that this tax will impose additional hardships on those people who live in rural and semi-rural areas, who do not have bathrooms and who are not blessed with the type of bath to which hon. and right hon. Members are accustomed. Such people bath in what is known as a galvanised tin bath. For the first time in the history of the country we are to tax the bath in which the miner or the industrial worker takes his bath. As I said before, it is a crazy way of raising revenue.
That is especially true when it is remembered that we are trying to develop, as the Ministry of Health is telling us, greater hygiene, greater cleanliness and greater sanitation. These things are advocated by Ministers here and in their other public speeches, yet the Chancellor comes along and says, "I will make it difficult for you to buy baths." To do that he slaps on baths a 30 per cent. Purchase Tax. I pay my tribute to those who, for years, have advocated pit-head baths which have been a boon and a blessing, but, to use a Lancashire expression, they have not stretched far enough and many pits in the rural and semi-rural areas, where there are many miners living in old cottages built eighty to a hundred years ago, do not have pit-head baths. The miner must have his bath at home.
Many of those pits are reaching the end of their tether, as we say in Lancashire, so it would not be economic to build pit-head baths for them, but the men who work there still have to bath in the old-fashioned way and here we have a Chancellor in this enlighted age—and his hon. Friends agreeing with him—saying that to solve the financial and economic stability of the country we must tax baths and clothes props and everything which is used by ordinary people. I appeal to the Economic Secretary to the Treasury to consider those points before rejecting the Amendment.
The next point I want to make is on behalf of old-age pensioners. We are in a sorry plight that the country's financial position should be such that we have to tax smoothing iron holders. Again, those are a relic of the past. In homes without electricity or gas, people must depend on what is known as a flat iron. Perhaps the Economic Secretary has never heard of a flat iron. I wonder whether he can tell me how many are in a set. [An HON. MEMBER: I bet that he has never been hit with one"]. I Can the Economic Secretary tell me how many polishing irons are in a set? He cannot do so, yet he says that the place where the hot iron has to be put must be taxed.
What despicable thinking there has been, what meanness, what parsimony of the men at the Treasury. Surely we have gone beyond the point where taxation must be borne by people's flat irons. The tax upon such things is anti-social, anti-Christian and the sooner the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the men at the Treasury begin to examine things from an everyday point of view the sooner we shall have fair play and justice to ordinary working people.
I want to ask a question about rubbing boards, washing boards, as they are known. Has the Economic Secretary seen a glass one? There is now a glass rubbing board which has a wooden surround. Is it to be taxed? The cone-gated glass type came into existence as a result of scientific discovery and is very largely made at glass works in Lancashire. It is cleaner and more hygienic than the old type. Have the Chancellor and his advisers ever seriously discussed the effect that this tax will have on ordinary people and the housewives? I have a little experience of the work of Departmental Committees and Interdepartmental Committees.
We are boasting about increased prosperity and productivity, but who are the people responsible for the increased productivity? Who are the people who have laboured as a result of the Government's plea? They are not to be found on the Treasury Bench, but in the mines, in the mills and on the land. Those are the people who have played their part in the daily rounds and common tasks of life to help to restore this country's economic position. But the Treasury, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Government now say that as a reward they will tax baths, smoothing irons, rubbing boards, clothes pegs, cosmetics, etc., anything which ordinary people have to buy.
This is the most despicable thing that the Government have done, and they have done some damage. Unless the people rouse themselves to their individual responsibility, the Government will do a lot more. I emphatically protest against the imposition of the tax upon the things mentioned in the list issued by the Treasury.
The hon. Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) suggested that hon. Members on this side of the Committee were exaggerating the importance of this tax and were using the same arguments as had been used on other Clauses in denouncing it as an onerous burden on the housewife. I assure him that it is a heavy burden on the housewife. In my view, it is a heavier imposition than is contained in many of the other Clauses which we have been discussing.
In my constituency, an ordinary London working-class constituency, the question whether fur coats, even cheap fur coats, shall carry an increased rate of Purchase Tax is of interest but not of the same interest as the tax on the com-modifies which we are now discussing. My constituency is not a slum area, but most of the houses, apart from those built since 1945, have no bathrooms. The majority of the houses in my constituency do not have fixed appliances for bathing, this also applies to other London constituencies.
If hon. Members who are travelling by train through these boroughs will look out of the train window they will see hanging on the walls at the back of these houses three or four of these portable baths, according to the number of families occupying the house. After all, one can do without a fur coat but one cannot do without a bath. The women have to have bathtubs in order to bath their children. Mother and father use them on Friday nights. These bathtubs wear out, and to provide replacements for them is a constant drain on the purchasing power of the working class in London. Such a bathtub is not one of those things which they buy once in their lives. The fact that there is no room inside the house to accommodate the bathtub and that it has to hang on a nail, outside, in all weathers, means that there is steady and constant deterioration. This is the sort of article which a family has to buy several times in the course of the years.
I know the hon. Gentleman's district well, and similar districts, and I am glad to think that on almost every house there is a television aerial. I am glad that that is so, but how many baths does one have to buy for each television set that one has?
That interjection illustrates the difference between the two parties. If a man buys a bathtub and installs it in his house, he has to meet a considerable additional cost for installation. Furthermore, he is installing it in somebody else's house, and I do not doubt that, as a result of supplying the bath himself, he will have to pay more rent under the Housing Repairs and Rents Act.
In any case, where does he put the bath? I know of cases in Deptford of three or four families living in a six or seven-room house. Where would they put the bath? Many of our people take their baths in the room in which they live and they cannot possibly install a permanent fixture. There is a great deal of difference between the installation of a radio or television set and the installa- tion of a bath. I am getting tired of this attack on people in London because they own the things which they produce. Why should they not have television sets? I must not be led astray into that argument, however, or I shall be out of order.
Purchase Tax on bathtubs is a continual drain on the pockets of these people. When the Departmental Committee of the Treasury advises the Chancellor and his hon. Friends that this tax ought to be imposed it does so because it believes it is statistically right, but it does not expect the Chancellor, who lives in an entirely different atmosphere from that of my constituency of Deptford, to understand the economics of the portable bathtub. I do not suppose the Economic Secretary or the Chancellor have ever thought of going to Deptford. I am sure that they ought not to do so without a police escort after this Finance Bill has become law and its full effects have been felt.
I warn the Chancellor, moreover, that he will have great difficulty in his own constituency about this tax. I have a proprietary interest in the Chancellor, because he is my M.P. It is fair to say that I spend what spare time I have between Elections in trying to rob him of that privilege and in trying to see that somebody else represents his constituency in the future, but at the moment he is the M.P. for the constituency in which I live.
In my village there are about 100 houses—and this is in the very centre of the right hon. Gentleman's constituency; twenty or twenty-five of them have water laid on. That is all. After some centuries of being ruled by the squire in the countryside, main water has been made available only in the last month or so. In those cottages, which predominate in the constituency, there is no room for a bathtub.
The Chancellor does not seem to understand this. In going round his constituency he apparently has not faced the fact that agricultural workers, too, have to use portable bathtubs and have to take baths in their kitchens or their kitchen-living rooms. I am happy to warn the Chancellor that as a result of this imposition, which is as serious and grave for the agricultural worker in Saffron Walden as it is for the industrial worker in Deptford, he will find that the opposition which we cook up for him month after month and year after year between Elections will be more successful than ever before.
I should not have intervened, even briefly, in the debate had it not been for the speech by the wild man from Kidderminster, the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro). He suggested that the way to solve the problem of this tremendous gap was to put taxation on wooden articles, but also to make people use less steel.
Wooden clothes pegs are going out of fashion, as are wooden clothes posts. The hon. Member for Kidderminster tried to tell us that a clothes post could be made from scantlings or thinnings, which is sheer and utter nonsense. A clothes post is 10 ft. long—four inches by three inches—and it needs to be a big chunk of timber. We do not get clothes posts out of scantlings and thinnings. A 9 ft. piece of timber is required, and it rots continuously at the bottom, winter after winter, until the housewife says to her husband, "Get me some tubular steel and set it in concrete, so that I have something which will last. That will save money." That is the way to stop people from spending more than they need to spend—give them products which will last a long time rather than things which will last a year or so.
The hon. Member for Kidderminster talked about the importation of 2 million tons of steel a year. Anybody would think the housewives of Britain were to blame for that. In fact, we spend £75 million in dollars on imported steel each year. That is the cause of the gap—having to bring in imports which, if the Tories had planned for full employment in the past, we should not need to import now. They did not plan in this country to produce these essential things. Had they done so it would have obviated the necessity to import now.
I should be out of order if I continued to discuss the import of steel, although the hon. Member for Kidderminster got away with it. Every Monday morning, when the steel workers of this country start work, they have to earn £2 5s. before they get a halfpenny, because £2 5s. per ton, imposed on the cost of steel produced in this country, is needed to meet the cost of importing American steel.
Wooden clothes pegs are going out of fashion. Let me tell the Chancellor what is happening. The people of this country are turning instead to the use of steel spring clips. Perhaps he has never seen one, but when he gets back to his office and I know he will go back there—he will see on the desk the clips which clip his papers together. That is the sort of tiny clip with which the housewives are replacing the wooden clothes peg. Steel tubes are being used as clothes posts and the textile hemp rope is now being replaced by synthetic covered steel wire.
The idea of compelling the use of less steel by imposing this tax is a complete myth. By increasing the cost of products which have been in use for so long, the Chancellor is increasing the need to find alternatives of a durable nature which, nine times out of ten, include steel. That is the sort of thing that is going on. To expect to solve the problem of the gap in this way is just nonsense. Whoever is advising the Chancellor is, from a psychological point of view, on the wrong horse.
The very men who last year produced 1¼ million more tons of steel, which could give us millions more buckets, baths and galvanised washtubs and rubbing boards, have been told that, because they are producing more steel, they can go home and tell their wives that they can pay more for articles made from that steel. The consequence of that is that the wives ask for more money. What happens?
Last week, the Executive of my trade union put forward a substantial claim for increased wages. The men on that Executive are not the wild boys of the trade union movement. They are, in the Chancellor's own admission, the most tolerant and steady trade unionists in the country. They are asking for less hours and for a lot more money.
One cannot argue as a Government that people should be tolerant and kindly and should hold back from making these claims when, at the same time, men are going home Friday after Friday with pay packets which buy less and less. It is the housewives of the country who, are prompting their husbands to ask for more and more. The psychological effect on the men is not conducive to greater production.
I am not just filibustering to fill in time. I am concerned with this country of ours, and I put country before party any time. We are beset by keen competition. Germany is on the march in the production of steel. Russia, Belgium, Luxembourg, America, our Colonies, Australia, and even Egypt, are smelting pyrites these days. I say quite sincerely that the sort of humbug which we are now discussing is not achieving that which the Chancellor wants to achieve. It is doing just the opposite; it is aggravating a position which is already sufficiently aggravated.
Having been a junior Minister, I know that once Governments make up their minds, they do not like to retract. Let the Chancellor have a careful look at this matter and tell the people advising him that they are doing the wrong thing. It is not making our people happier. Even the gipsy pedlar is upset about it. We started by considering lipstick and rouge, and yesterday went on to cups and saucers. I was not concerned about cups and saucers. The trouble is that there were too many mugs in this country at the last Election.
No one who has been a Member of this House for even as relatively a short time as I have would have any doubt that, in a crisis, the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Jack Jones) would always put country before party. I only hope that he will give those of us defending these measures credit for as much sincerity as he shows when he speaks.
This has been a most interesting debate, and the Committee may be relieved to hear that I do not intend to discuss either the correct pronunciation of Latin or the rightness or wrongness of the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) in 1925, or devaluation in 1949. The hon. Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mrs. Mann) began this debate with what I thought was a most attractive speech, such as she always makes on these occasions. I have noticed several times when it has fallen to me to follow her, that she starts with a matrimonial metaphor, thinking, perhaps, of my bachelor status.
The hon. Lady asked how we reconciled this Budget and the measures which we are now introducing with our avowed policy of doubling the standard of living within twenty-five years. She went on to say that the people of this country want to enjoy the fragrance of the lilies while they still smell, which I thought was an excellent metaphor.
I am sorry if I misheard the hon. Lady.
If we are going to develop our standard of living, as we hope to do, it is absolutely essential to avoid inflation. That, indeed, is the main point of the measures which we are now introducing.
The hon. Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White) asked me a number of questions about what was actually included in the Schedule. She is not in the Chamber at the moment, but, as these are rather detailed matters, I will write to her about them.
That is a point on which I am consulting my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary. So far as I know, the Bill has not been translated into Romany.
There is one point I particularly want to make because it was raised by the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown), in a very sincere speech, and by the hon. Member for Deptford (Sir L. Plummer). They both asked whether we realised what the impact of these measures would be on the poor people and the ordinary people of this country. I think that was the phrase used by the hon. Member for Ince. I say quite sincerely to the Committee that we certainly have this in mind, and I for one have absolutely no doubt as to how the ordinary and poor people of this country stand in regard to this matter. I say that because I was born and brought up in a village, and I know exactly the problems with which the hon. Member for Deptford was dealing in his speech.
This Budget is an honest attempt by the Government to deal with the question inflation, because we want to secure our position in world markets. If we fail to deal with it, then it will be precisely the poorest people who will suffer first. I do not deny that it is not easy to establish a direct connection between the tax on these particular items and our export trade. I do not dispute that at all, but the Amendment which we are now discussing is related to the general Government policy of restraining demand over the whole field. We believe that restraint of demand is essential if we are to have a secure surplus in our balance of payments. We honestly do not think that there is an adequate case for accepting Amendment to leave out "(r)."
I am very interested in the hon. Gentleman's argument about inflation. It seems to me that the Government's argument is that, by mopping up purchasing power through imposing taxation on the necessities of life, they will thus avoid inflation. But that does not follow, does it? I understand that at the present time there are wage claims involving a total of between £5 million and £6 million a week. Therefore, it seems to me that the Government are actually running into the great danger of bringing about the very condition which they hope to avoid.
I can only say that I believe that the measures which we are introducing will help to combat inflation for exactly the reasons given by the right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) in 1946, and which were quoted the other night by my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Spearman) in what I thought was an admirable and courageous speech. These proposals are all part of the Government's general policy, and, for that reason, we cannot accept the Amendment.
The speeches of the hon. Gentleman on successive Amendments are getting thinner and thinner. We are really getting less and less of an answer to the points raised. In particular, I thought that the answer to which we have just listened was no more than a repetition—I will not say a tedious repetition, because that would imply that it was out of order, but a very short and brief repetition—of the sort of speech to which we have listened on almost every Amendment so far.
I personally—and I think that my hon. Friends share this view—am appalled that, for all his superficial economic brilliance, the hon. Gentleman has still not begun to appreciate the simple point that if he and his Government are trying to fight inflation, the worst possible way of doing it is to put up prices. That is a very simple proposition which I should have thought the hon. Gentleman would have appreciated in chapter one of his economic studies. I am sorry that after we have had a day and a night of debate, the hon. Gentleman has not yet grasped the point.
I can understand there being a number of quasi-technical points on which it may be difficult for the hon. Gentleman to give an immediate answer. For example, he may be in some doubt about whether corrugated glass scrubbing boards will carry the same rate of tax as other types. Since the Schedule refers to "scrubbing boards" I should have thought that they would bear the same tax.
I could have understood the hon. Gentleman being in difficulties over that matter.
I can understand the difficulties about gipsies. The hon. Gentleman said that he would consult the Financial Secretary. Why cannot he do so now? The Financial Secretary is present. Indeed, we are very honoured to have the Financial Secretary, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade here as well as the Economic Secretary. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where are the Law Officers?"] I do not see any Law Officers present.
On the question of the gipsies, whose palms the Chancellor has just crossed with Purchase Tax, it is very desirable that the Financial Secretary should, before we vote on the question, indicate to us—the whole Committee is interested —how the Board of Customs and Excise intends to operate the purely mechanical arrangements for the collection of Purchase Tax from the considerable number of clothes peg manufacturers who are of the roving kind. It is not good enough for the Economic Secretary and the Financial Secretary to have a get-together long after the Committee has been asked to pronounce on the point.
I agree with the Economic Secretary on one point. The debate has been very interesting—up to now, at any rate. Obviously, its possibilities are not yet exhausted. One reason for its having been such a good debate was the excellent send-off which it had from my hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mrs. Mann), who began her speech very helpfully, for the benefit of the Committee, by listing the items covered.
One of the rather unfortunate things about the way the Bill is drafted is that one has to do a great deal of reading and research to find out exactly what the mystic letters (j), (r), (t), (u), (v), (g), (h), (i), and all the rest refer to in the very complicated schedules now operated by the Board of Customs and Excise. I hope one result of the fact that we shall have spent several days and nights debating Purchase Tax will be that the Board of Customs and Excise will at some appropriate time get down to the task of consolidating the Purchase Tax schedules, for they are in a dreadful mess. The Committee owes a deep debt of gratitude to my hon. Friend the Member for Coat-bridge and Airdrie for having made so clear what the Amendment was about.
One thing that she made very plain—this has been sustained by all the speeches from the Opposition and one or two speeches from the Government benches, notably that of the hon. Member for Ton-bridge (Mr. G. Williams)—was that every single item in the list she read out is a household necessity. There is scarcely a household in the country—certainly, scarcely a working-class household—which does not need some of these articles frequently. It is no use hon. Gentlemen saying that one scarcely ever buys these things. These articles are being bought every day. If they are not being bought every day, I do not understand how the Chancellor hopes to obtain his revenue.
My hon. Friend referred to baths. I am glad she did. She was referring to galvanised and zinc baths, called, for short, tin baths. The point was taken up by my hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Sir L. Plummer) in his reference to housing conditions in his constituency, and also in the rather graphic passage, which I hope the Chancellor will read tomorrow, when he referred to housing conditions in rural areas in the Chancellor's own constituency.
It was fortunate, also, that my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) was called, for he was able to make the point, which I am sure many of my hon. Friends would like to make, about the relation of the tax to the households of mineworkers in areas where there are no pit-head baths. A very large number of coal miners and a much larger number of miners engaged in other extractive operations still have no pit-head bath facilities. Consequently, for them, as for so many other people, the tax is one on a physical necessity.
It is, in fact—I am surprised that more hon. Members opposite have not referred to this—a tax on cleanliness. I remember the eloquent speeches of Lord Chandos, who, as Mr. Oliver Lyttelton, in debates on Purchase Tax during the lifetime of the Labour Government, used to inveigh with great vigour against the tax on soap. We have already pointed out that the Government have increased the tax on soap in the Bill, but I should be out of order in developing that point any further now. However, it is in order to mention baths and washtubs.
A number of my hon. Friends have pointed to the consequences of taxing clothes posts, clothes pegs and clothes props. My right hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Dugdale) devoted practically all his speech to the subject of clothes posts. I wish he had been able to continue and deal equally thoroughly with the equally important subject of clothes props, to which there has so far been little reference. Everything my right hon. Friend said was characteristic not only of clothes posts but of every other item covered by the part of the Schedule to which the Amendment relates.
My right hon. Friend reminded the Committee—the Committee cannot be reminded of it too often—that this is the very list of goods from which Purchase Tax was removed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Gaitskell) in the 1951 Budget. As I have already pointed out, that was an extremely tough Budget. It caused a great deal of controversy. It was a Budget related to the beginning of the armaments programme.
Indeed, the Economic Secretary himself has reminded the Committee that the economic situation at that time, as a result of the war in Korea and as a result of the beginning of the armaments programme, was regarded by both sides of the House as being very tough. It was so tough that the Conservative Party, then in opposition, despite its habitual willingness to make party capital out of occasions of that kind, did not vote against the increase in Income Tax or the increase in petrol duty, the two major increases in that Budget.
Yet, at a time when conditions were so tough that Income Tax had to be raised to 9s. 6d. in the £, with the assent of the Conservative Party as well as the Government party of the day, my right hon. Friend took these items from the Purchase Tax schedules, again, I assume, with the assent of the Conservative Party, for it did not vote against that step. It must be, therefore, that the Conservative Party thought that, even with Income Tax at 9s. 6d. in the £, it was appropriate to remove Purchase Tax from these items. Yet today, with Income Tax 1s. lower—in fact, in the very year in which Income Tax has been reduced—and after four years of much-vaunted prosperity, the Chancellor chooses to bring these items back into the Purchase Tax schedules. The point made by my right hon. Friend on that question was well worth making, and it is one to which we have had no answer from the Economic Secretary.
A number of my hon. Friends have pointed out the effect of this taxation addition on the cost of living. We still have not been told why, despite all the powerful arguments which have been deployed, the Government at this moment of time decided to put this range of goods into the Purchase Tax schedules. Why did they do it? Last night, in a very brief debate, we were discussing certain items which have never borne Purchase Tax at any time, but which the Chancellor at this moment is bringing into the Purchase Tax schedules. Now, we are debating a range of items from which the tax was removed at a very difficult time in this country's economic history.
Why have the Government clone it, and why do they stick to it? Is it—and we have asked the question a number of times—because they are so committed in their minds to the idea of a general sales tai; that they cannot bear to think of anything being left outside? I do not know if that is the answer or not. Indeed, I am doubtful about it, as the Chancellor has told us once or twice that he has no idea in his head of a general sales tax. I think I am fairly reporting what the Chancellor said. He said he was not committed to the general idea of a sales tax. So it cannot be that, if the Chancellor is correct.
Here is a point which I should like to bring to the attention of the Leader of the House, who I am sure will be gratified to hear it. In the debate on these Amendments, no fewer than three Conservative back benchers have supported the Government. That is unprecedented in all the days we have spent so for on the Finance Bill, and I am sure that the Leader of the House will be very gratified about it.
No, I will be fair, despite the interruption of my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman). It is true that the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) thought this was a good tax on the particular items we are now debating, and I gathered from the speech of the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) that he thought it was a good thing that the tax should be imposed on this particular range of commodities. From his speech—which went a great deal wider than you will be likely to allow me to go, Sir Rhys—it became quite clear that an important section of opinion in the Conservative Party is convinced that the future of the £ depends on a tax on clothes pegs. He made that absolutely plain.
I do not intend to follow the arguments which he deployed on the subject of devaluation in 1949, because that would clearly be out of order, but he said more than once that the reason for this step is connected with the Chancellor's speech at Istanbul on 12th September, and that the whole future of sterling, and particularly the confidence of the foreign speculators in sterling, depends on their being assured that the Chancellor is backing that speech with action such as a tax on clothes pegs, clothes posts, clothes props, washtubs, pot scourers, ironing boards, shields and all the items covered by this Amendment.
From what the Economic Secretary said in his brief intervention, I think it is the Government's hope that this tax will have some direct result, if only in reassuring financial speculators that the Chancellor meant what he said at Istanbul. It is not designed, we have been told throughout the debate, to increase exports. Does anyone believe that the result of the imposition of this tax will increase our exports of zinc baths, washtubs, ironing boards, clothes lines, clothes posts, clothes pegs and clothes airers? Most of us take "clothers airers" to be "clothes horses," and it is stated that these "clothes airers" are those which do not incorporate any electrical or other mechanical attachments.
Does anyone believe that this tax will increase the exports of any single item in this group? So far as I know, we have a very small export trade—though perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade could tell us—in clothes posts, clothes pegs and all these other items. Therefore, I think the Economic Secretary will confirm that the purpose of the tax is not to increase direct exports of these particular items.
Is it, perhaps, intended to help the export trade by discouraging the consumption of these items, so that some of the workers engaged in their production and perhaps some of the materials which are employed in producing all these items can be diverted to industries which do make a contribution to the export trade? That might be a perfectly respectable and logical argument, and no doubt the Economic Secretary would have used it if he thought it was relevant, but in fact that was the argument advanced by the hon. Member for Kidderminster. We all paid particular attention to the hon. Gentleman's speech. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] It was a very short speech, but it really was interest- ing as an indication why Conservative back benchers—tihe limited number who support the Government on Purchase Tax—actually do support the Government.
The hon. Gentleman's argument was quite specific. He entered into a discussion, through the Chair, with my right hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, and he said that if we have a tax on clothes posts, nobody will buy clothes posts any more, and we should be able to use the steel in the steel industry as scrap. My hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. Jack Jones) completely demolished that argument as far as the steel industry is concerned, but let us assume that the hon. Gentleman was right about that. He did not explain, when I invited him to do so, what people are going to use for clothes posts if they cannot use steel ones. He wanted them to use timber posts instead, but there is a tax on timber, and exactly the same rate of tax. Therefore there is no incentive, in the imposition of this tax, to get the consumer to switch from the use of metal clothes posts to timber clothes posts.
Even if there had been, it is important to spend a little time on the speech of the hon. Member for Kidderminster, though he is not able to be here to hear the reply to it, because the whole tenor of his brief speech was to suggest that by putting a tax on these essentials, there would be a smaller consumption of these goods, and, in some way or another, a release of resources for more important work. I am sorry that the Economic Secretary to the Treasury did not put his hon. Friend right about this, because I would point out that the line of argument which the hon. Gentleman put in the debate today is completely at variance with the argument which the Economic Secretary himself put, very fairly and lucidly, on an earlier occasion.
I am sorry to have to do this at such length, but the hon. Gentleman did not trouble to explain this to the Committee, so I must, if I can, put the arguments in his head and use his own words. The Economic Secretary does not believe that the case for this tax is that it reduces consumption of these items, because when we were debating at an earlier stage the whole question of the 25 per cent. on essential goods, the Economic Secretary used words which I trust I shall be in order in quoting, because he was referring to essential goods. Under the part of the Schedule which we are debating, an additional range of goods is put into this category. Therefore, I presume that I am in order, and, in any case, when you hear the Economic Secretary's words, Sir Rhys, you will recognise how relevant those particular words are to the items which we are now debating.
The Economic Secretary said:
I do not think that many hon. Members will seriously dispute that there are certain goods in the higher ranges of Purchase Tax where increased tax will result in some falling off of demand. We are not discussing these goods at this moment, but I do not dispute that there is a wide range of goods among those which we are
considering for which the demand will not be greatly affected either one way or the other by a change in Purchase Tax. I do not dispute that people will go on buying approximately the same proportion of brooms, brushes and saucepans as they might have done before.
He went on to say that the purpose of increasing the tax on these essential goods, and, ex hypothesi, the purpose of putting this new list of goods into the Purchase Tax schedules, is that we shall take purchasing power away from the buyers of those articles.
His argument was "You have got to buy these items, in the same way as you have got to buy bread. Therefore, if we put a tax on them and reduce your consumption, you will have less money available for other goods." In fact, the phrase the hon. Gentleman actually used was this:
But, as my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary pointed out earlier today, as a result of the tax being increased, or re-imposed over a wide range, there will be less purchasing power available for other things; and it is for this reason that I am sure the Budget will bring about some curtailment in consumer demand with, in the long run, a good result in relation to our balance of payments position."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th November, 1955; Vol. 546, c. 351–2.]
That was the argument of the Economic Secretary, and the hon. Gentleman confirms that I am right. I am glad that he and I are at one in understanding that argument, and that the hon. Member for Kidderminster was completely wrong in the reasons which he gave for supporting the Government. The hon. Member was supporting the Government, but for reasons diametrically opposite to those given from the Treasury bench.
The Government say that the tax on necessities cannot be avoided. What the Economic Secretary is saying—technically he is absolutely right—is that the tax on necessities is a direct tax. It is just as direct and as certain as if the Chancellor were to introduce a poll tax on every family in the country. It is a poll tax or an equal tax on all the items that we are discussing. This is a highly regressive tax, bearing much more heavily in proportion on the lowest income groups.
Why does the Chancellor have to do it? Why does he, at this moment of time and for the purpose of a beggarly amount of revenue—the Economic Secretary has not told us how much it is. Perhaps he will do so—have to put this range of household necessities into the tax schedule? He says he has to do it because the country is spending too much: we have to cut our spending down. The Economic Secretary says that we cannot make all the cuts in investment and therefore we must make them in consumption.
The right hon. Gentleman's remarks are strictly in order, but I must point out that all the general arguments will apply to each of the Amendments in turn. I would ask the Committee to limit the discussion on any Amendment to the articles mentioned in the Amendment and not to use on each Amendment the general arguments which apply to the lot.
On a point of order. We have been in considerable difficulty because the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) was allowed by the then occupant of the Chair to range over devaluation and the record of the Labour Government. With the change in the occupancy of the Chair the scope of the debate is changed again. It would be for the convenience of the Committee if we on both sides of the Committee knew how far we can go on these Amendments, because one occupant of the Chair should not direct us differently from another occupant.
I cannot make any comment upon that matter. All the general arguments are in order and they apply to every one of these things. They can be repeated on every single Amendment, but I see no point in repeating all the general arguments on every Amendment. I suggest that it would facilitate the work of the Committee if, once the general arguments have been disposed of, the arguments on each Amendment were confined to the articles referred to in it.
You have just told us, Sir Rhys, that it is advisable for us to confine our arguments to the articles under discussion. May I point out that in every one of these debates either the Economic Secretary or the Financial Secretary has said, "It is all very well to talk about these items but you must consider them within the framework of the Government's intentions"?
I understand that you have said, Sir Rhys, that it is not advisable that we should discuss on each Amendment the general situation. As the general situation is now being discussed on this Amendment, do we understand that we can continue discussion on those lines, quite apart from what we do on other Amendments?
I am sure that the Committee is obliged for your guidance, Sir Rhys, I was obliged personally to you for saying that I was not out of order in the arguments I was presenting. It will be within the knowledge of the Committee that I have been extremely careful not to follow the line taken by the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale, who took the debate extremely wide, far wider than might be customary even on the Second Reading of a Finance Bill. One might have been justified in replying to some of the hon. Gentleman's more venomous observations but I resisted that temptation because I was sure that you would desire that we should keep our observations closely related to the Amendment, which I have sought to do.
Some of the general observations, including those made in the brief intervention of the Economic Secretary, would be and have been in order on a number of the other Amendments. Indeed, practically all the Government's replies that we have had on the last ten Amendments have been the same. They have been a repetition of the argument that the Government want to deal with inflation. They have failed to tell us the relevance of what they are doing in the attack on inflation.
When the points of order began I was on the point of closing, and was referring to the necessity felt by the Government for dealing with inflation by their proposals, including this particular tax on clothes pegs and the rest. I do not know what the revenue will be. Perhaps the Economic Secretary can tell us. Apparently the Government do not know what revenue they are to get. That proves that the attack on the housewife's necessities is a doctrinaire attack. The Government do not care how much revenue they will get.
Will they get £1 million? Will they get £100,000. We really ought to have an answer to this point. I am surprised that, with three Treasury Ministers and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade on the bench, not one of them has the remotest idea whether the revenue will be £1 or £1 million. I am sure it would be desirable, and it might be in order, for me to seek to move some Motion, such as "That the Chairman do leave the Chair forthwith," or something equivalent, so that this information might be made available to the Committee. I do not see how the Committee can come to a decision on this Amendment if we do not know how much revenue is involved. I will not seek to do that, because I understand that urgent inquiries are being made. Perhaps before the Committee is asked finally to decide upon the Amendment we shall be told a figure.
I will for the moment make an assumption, and perhaps it will be corrected later. Let us assume that this range of tax will yield £500,000 to the Treasury. I have no idea whether that is correct. It may be far too much or far too little. None of the Ministers on the Front Bench has the remotest idea whether it is more or less. If they have, they should get up and tell us. Let us assume for the sake of argument that it is £500,000. It is a pity that I have to make this assumption because it takes time. If the figure is smaller, my argument is all the stronger.
We are asked to put this extremely onerous system of tax—some of my hon. Friends have shown how onerous it is—on to a wide class of the community, to cream off—if that is the word—£500,000 of excessive purchasing power, at a time when the Chancellor refuses to take any action at all to deal with the waste of purchasing power on essential building projects. I will not pursue that argument although it is very tempting. References have been made in the debate to the fact that the Chancellor has found it necessary to impose a tax on entirely wooden clothes posts in order to save steel, yet he is not willing to save the steel that is apparently going to be wasted in the building of the new Conservative Central Office in Smith Square or on the rebuilding of the Carlton Club.
On a point of order. The variations in the Rulings given from time to time from the Chair are becoming very confusing to those of us who, so far, have not taken part in any of these debates, perhaps in the expectation of having a general argument later. We cannot follow the Rulings. An hon. Gentleman says that the real purpose of this part of the Schedule is not to raise money, not to absorb purchasing power, but to save the consumption of steel. When my right hon. Friend answers that he can describe a better way of doing that, he is said to be out of order.
Further to that point of order. You gave your guidance to the Committee, Sir Rhys, on the narrowness of the debate, and for that guidance we are all indebted to you. But perhaps I could ask for further guidance as to how far we can go in a general discussion about these matters, when we have no information as to the actual saving—the actual amount in- volved—and no answer given from the Treasury bench which would enable us to limit the discussion?
From what you have said, Sir Rhys, I think it is clear that I should have been in order to take the discussion a little wider and to cite the building of the Conservative Central Office in Smith Square, and the Carlton Club as two examples of the inessential building at present going on. I shall not seek to weary the Committee by going into that at the moment, but I think that I should be not only in order but entirely relevant if I commented on one sentence from the remarks of the Economic Secretary.
The Economic Secretary seems to think that this question has been answered for all time by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) in 1946. I must say that that was not the impression created when my right hon Friend made those remarks in 1946; and certainly the present Leader of the House and many other hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite then seemed singularly unconvinced by his remarks. Nevertheless, truth has dawned on the Treasury Front Bench—even though it has taken nine years to do so—and now the only argument which the hon. Gentleman can advance in regard to this particular tax is that it must be right as a means of avoiding inflation because my right hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland said it was right in 1946.
I must point out to the hon. Gentleman that there has been a vast change in the economic position since the immediate post-war years. In 1946 the country and the world were facing a complete shortage of almost all essential raw materials. There was a vast amount of war damage to be repaired. I do not intend to develop that point, but I do say that in 1946 my right hon. Friend might well have felt that this tax was necessary in order to save steel. He could commend that proposal to the Committee then with all the greater confidence because, at the same time, he was taking every possible measure to ensure that scarce steel was not being wasted He could come here, quite rightly, to say that he was intending to maintain the tax on clothes pegs, or on clothes horses—or on anything more directly using steel than do those things. He could do so with a clear conscience, and with the full support of, at any rate, our side of the Committee, because he was able to assure the Committee that no inessential building was causing the waste of steel. For the hon. Gentleman to use that argument when the Chancellor is permitting, indeed encouraging, the most fantastic waste of steel all over the country, makes his argument entirely inappropriate.
If the Chancellor intends to intervene, I hope that it is in order to give the figures so that we can comment on them, but if he is willing to address the Committee on the matters raised by my hon. Friends and myself, my answer to him is that I have finished my observations—at any rate, for the present.
I do not want to intervene in order to prevent other hon. Members speaking, but I must point out the number of Amendments on the Schedule which remain to be debated, and if we are to get through the business it is rather important to come to a decision, at least on this Amendment. Under your Ruling, Sir Rhys, as general discussion is permitted, there are at least six or seven other debates in prospect, and if we do not come to a decision on this one I do not see any end to the work—physically—of the Committee. That, I think, would be very disadvantageous to hon. Members. It is for hon. Members to choose. I am in the hands of the Committee.
We have a great many more Amendments which raise points very similar to this, the Chair, in its wisdom, having called all the Amendments in groups so that they can be discussed. I think it really would be for the convenience of hon. Members—if we are to run our business without undue inconvenience and without sitting too late—to come to a decision on this Amendment before turning to the next matter. Perhaps hon. Members will reflect on that suggestion. I promise that it will very much affect their own happiness and welfare, because we must get the business through. I very much want to make progress and to save hon. Members trouble. We may hear more of that later, so I hope that we can make progress now.
I want to make one or two observations on what has been said, because the discussion has been so worth while that I feel that I should. I will be quite frank with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) and say that I am not in a position to give the exact costings of this particular head. I inquired before coming here. The reason is that the Amendments are broken up in a peculiar form on the Notice Paper, and in one which is not always adopted by the Customs and Excise. If I were to force the answer from the Customs and Excise it might not be an exact one, so I have decided to take the responsibility of not giving the exact figure for paragraph (r).
The big group which we discussed yesterday—pottery—was about £7 million, and that is about half of the £15 million. The figure of £15 million is what comes from this particular group of what are called pots and pans, which has been the most unpopular. One has therefore to divide roughly £7 million between the others. We can cost some of the others, such as brushes which we discussed last night and one or two other items a little more accurately, but the rest of the £4 million or £5 million must be divided among the items affected by the other Amendments.
If, by the end of the Committee's sitting, I could get what the Customs and Excise believe it could stand by as a figure I would give it, but I would rather not force my advisers to give me a figure which cannot be exact because of the way it is divided up. I think that it is my duty to defend my advisers, who have served me so well, by not forcing them to give a figure which cannot be accurately substantiated. We discussed that before coming here today. These last-minute rushes to the Box were only an attempt to see whether a last-minute estimate was possible.
The other point was about the gipsies. I thought it important that I, as Chancellor of the Exchequer of the United Kingdom, should answer the point. Under the £500 exemption from Purchase Tax they will, I think it may be said, in most if not all cases, escape Purchase Tax, partly owing to their general occupation and partly owing to the fact that the value of their wares is below the £500 exemption limit. As this paper will not be translated into the language which they are said to understand, I think it likely that many of their goods, especially in the form of clothes pegs, will escape from the Purchase Tax.
On the other general points raised, I would make this appeal. I realise that in supporting me with such vigour, clarity and loyalty, my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) ranged over some rather wide subjects. Nevertheless, the very width of the vision which he has shown indicates the depth and importance of his support of the Government. I will not follow him in his arguments because if I did so I would be out of order, but I would say seriously to the hon. Member for Coat-bridge and Airdrie (Mrs. Mann)—I have heard most of the speeches, and such time as I have been out of the Chamber has been purely on business—that when she refers to doubling the standard of living I still stand by that view. It depends almost entirely on two things: first, if we keep up our production, and, secondly, if we defeat inflation.
The object of these measures—a point which one has to repeat in every one of these Amendments—is that there is too much purchasing power about, and it is this general excess of purchasing power which is holding back our exports and, at the same time, sucking in a large volume of imports.
I must make the same appeal to the Chancellor as I made to the right hon. Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson). It is true that we can have a general debate on every one of these Amendments, but I am seeking to restrict it, and I intervened for this purpose when the right hon. Member for Huyton was speaking. I am making the same appeal to the Chancellor.
With respect, Sir Rhys, I find it very difficult to follow what is expected of the Committee. I understand that the Government's defence on every one of these Amendments will be that this tax is required because of our general economic policy and for general reasons. Therefore, it would be in order, if there were only one Amendment, for someone to say, "We do not like your general policy and it will not produce the result that you want." My difficulty is to understand how there can be two arguments, one against each other, and why, if it is in order to adduce such an argument on one Amendment, it is not equally in order on all the others. It is all very well to say that there can be a general debate on the Question, "That the Schedule be the First Schedule to the Bill," but by that time all the Amendments will have been disposed of.
I can see no confusion at all about the appeal that I have made. I have agreed that the general arguments are in order upon each one of these Amendments, but the general arguments are the same in each case. Therefore, I am suggesting to the Committee that it would be for the convenience of both sides of the Committee, once the general arguments are disposed of, to limit the arguments to particular articles, in order to facilitate business.
It was in the hearing of the Committee that the hon. and gallant Member for Knutsford (Lieut.-Colonel Bromley-Davenport) intervened when my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) rose to his feet just now, and, in those raucous tones which he uses in place of a voice, he enjoined—I do not know if it was you yourself, Sir Rhys, or my hon. Friend—to sit down. If it was meant to apply to you, I suggest that it was grossly out of order, and even though he meant to say, through you, Sir Rhys, to my hon. Friend that he should sit down, I suggest that it is not in accordance with the rules of the House that he should have done so.
I am not sure what I am to say. I simply used the Government's argument on these Amendments, and you then said that I was not in order. I therefore do not know how I am to proceed with my argument.
I raised this point first of all when the right hon. Member for Huyton was speaking. The general argument upon all these Amendments is precisely the same, so that it would be repeated upon each Amendment. All I am saying is that although that argument would be in order, it would merely facilitate the work of the Committee if it were not repeated upon each Amendment. I suggest that the argument upon each Amendment should be restricted to what is contained in the Amendment.
Further to that point of order, Sir Rhys. Is it not a fact that the Government spokesmen, one after another, have been able to advance only a general argument and not a particular argument?
I think that the best thing we can do, in the circumstances, is to call it a day on this Amendment and try some of our arguments of a general character on the next one. I think it would be impossible for me to adduce any further arguments on these items beyond the arguments which I have already adduced. As I think it will make a great deal of difference to the convenience of hon. Members if we can make a little progress, and as these issues come up on each Amendment and I am unable to accept the Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie, the most sensible thing we can do is to come to a decision on this Amendment and then try our hand at the other Amendments, some of which will give rise to other economic viewpoints than the one which I have put forward.
I do not wish to delay the Committee, nor do I wish to go into any of the wide issues upon which you have given guidance to the Committee, Sir Rhys, but I should like to press the Chancellor a little further on one or two of the points relating to this Amendment.
First, gipsies, I am sure, will be pleased with the right hon. Gentleman's assurance—one might almost say incentive—to them as to the way in which they can carry out their business. It does not seem from what the Chancellor has said that many gipsies will be likely to maintain their records in such a way as to enable Customs and Excise to get on to them.
But what this Committee is concerned with even more than with the economic prosperity of the gipsies, is the question of the yield to the Revenue of this particular form of tax. The Chancellor was honest with the Committee. He said that he did not know, and that he was not going to "chance his arm" on an estimate. He was not going to put the officials in a difficult position by giving a figure that they could not be certain about, and, therefore, he said he could give no estimate to the Committee. But he did volunteer the fact that the yield on pottery would be £7 million. We are not debating pottery, and his answer was like the case of the undergraduate who said, "I do not know the answer to the scriptural question, but the names of the Kings of Israel are as follows." It is not very helpful to the Committee to know that the tax on pottery will yield £7 million, because we want to know what will be the yield on clothes horses, clothes pegs, clothes posts and those other items which are becoming familiar to hon. Members on both sides of the Committee.
I am not going to press the right hon. Gentleman to give a figure in which he has no confidence, because that would be unfair to him and to Customs and Excise, but I do think that the Chancellor's inability to give a figure at all brings up a new point in the discussion to which we should draw attention before we are asked to vote. We have thought until now that the Chancellor needed a particular volume of new revenue in order to deal with an inflationary situation—I will not deal with the general argument—and in deciding what particular tax to apply, he looked at each one of them, and came to the conclusion that the great burden placed on the housewife and others was worth while because of the revenue it gave him and the attack which he could make upon inflation thereby.
After three hours of debate, we thought the Committee would be in a position to say, "Is this burden worth while because of the attack which it makes on inflation? "—that is, if we accept the Chancellor's general argument about inflation, which I do not. If the right hon. Gentleman could tell us that this is essential, because it knocks £10 million off the inflationary figure, that would be one good reason for it; but if he says that it will result in a saving of £10, then it would not be worth while and would impose a great burden. The Chancellor not only cannot give us a figure, but, what is much more serious, he did not have a figure in mind when he came to the decision to impose this tax.
Yes, I had the figure of £15 million in mind for the whole of the pots and pans, and I have in mind a figure of between £250,000 and £500,000 for this group; but I cannot give the exact figure. The whole figure for pots and pans is £15 million. The whole figure for Purchase Tax is £75 million, which is what I thought was about necessary—adding it to the Profits Tax which we shall be discussing early next week—to take off from the point of view of wages and incomes, and generally what is called the mopping up of purchasing power. I do know all my figures except in the case of this one, where I should not like to give a figure.
That is a pity, because it is exactly the case of this one which we are debating, and not the £15 million as a whole. But I will not press the point. It seems to me that my first wild guess, when I said £500,000, is as good as the latest one from the right hon. Gentleman.
What the Committee now must decide, whether the figure is £250,000 or£500,000, is this: whether—if one accepts the Chancellor's general view that £15 million in round terms is necessary—it ought to be £14¾ million with no tax on the housewife, of £15 million with the tax. On the basis of the arguments we have heard this afternoon, and the failure of the Government to put up any counter-arguments, I do not think there can be any doubt but that the decision should be that the smaller figure is the right one, and that we should not impose this burden on the housewife.
I have tried to attract the attention of the occupant of the Chair, so that I might say a few words in this debate. I have endeavoured to do so, because it seems to me that the main burden of this tax will fall on the country housewives. I say that it is a raid on the housekeeping allowances of those housewives who have not the advantage of modern amenities in their homes or who have not the advantage of high wages being earned by their husbands.
These thrifty housewives who do their own housework are being made to pay a tax of 30 per cent. on some of the essential things which they need to do that work. Time after time the question has been asked, why this particular tax? Surely, the answer is obvious, that the Government desire all housewives to send their washing to the laundry; that somewhere behind the Government is a vested interest in one or other kind of garment normally washed by a housewife in her home which desires that it should be sent to the laundry.
That may be all right for housewives in the towns, where there may be a laundry in the next street, but what happens in the country villages between Yarmouth and Norwich where housewives have no laundries, or, if they do desire to send these things to the laundry, they have not sufficient income to pay the laundry charges? The purpose behind this Government tax on washing and drying utensils must be to try to force housewives to send their washing to the laundry.
There is even a tax on babies' baths. The Government believe that babies ought to be sent to the laundry as well. We seem to have people in this Government who are extraordinarily inexperienced in the domestic things of life. The Chancellor, of all people, representing, as he does, a large rural part of Essex, ought to have known that a tax which may raise £300,000 in a year, but which falls more particularly upon the country housewife whose husband may have a low income, would never be worth while. Neither can it be said that these housewives are creating an extra demand upon the goods of the country because of the amount of spare money which they have to spend. The housewife who does her own washing is generally the mother of a large family, or she may have been used to doing her own washing for many years. Surely such a tax as this should not be imposed upon those people.
The right hon. Gentleman answered the question about gipsies who make pegs and sell them from door to door. But there is another important aspect of this matter. Linen posts and linen props and washboards are made by country craftsmen. We have been encouraging our country craftsmen to do this work. What will their position be? Will they have to pay Purchase Tax on the things which they have made in small workshops in the villages of Essex and Norfolk and other country districts? Has the Chancellor given attention to this point?
These people buy their timber locally and will have to distinguish between what is to be used for a linen post and what
may be used for a gate-post, and it seems to me that there will be great confusion among the small country craftsmen who supply these things in addition to many other things. We have had no statement from the Chancellor or anyone else about how these things are to be distinguished and taxed. One cannot describe one piece of timber as being for a certain purpose and another piece as being for another purpose. It seems that instead of getting somewhere between £250,000 and £500,000 from this tax the Chancellor will be losing tax, and obviously, there will be confusion about it. Is not this an encouragement to people to do what used to be done: to go by night and help themselves to a linen post from the spinney up the road?
This is the kind of thing that ought never to have been taxed. It will cause irritation to countless housewives in country districts. It is ridiculous to suggest that by putting on this tax the Chancellor is rescuing the country, saving the £, or helping the balance of payments. These people, who have been thrifty, are among the best who live in the country. To say that they should send their washing to laundries or pay this tax brings the whole idea of Purchase Tax into contempt in their eyes. That is quite clear to any meeting of women Conservatives in any part of the country. They know that the Chancellor is just being ridiculous by imposing this tax on housewives. They say—and say with emphasis—that they cannot canvass for the Tory Party in the rural districts again. That, of course, may be an advantage to certain people.
|Division No. 59.]||AYES||[6.32 p.m.|
|Agnew, Cmdr. P. G.||Ashton, H.||Barber, Anthony|
|Aitken, W. T.||Astor, Hon. J. J.||Barlow, Sir John|
|Alport, C. J. M.||Atkins, H. E.||Barter, John|
|Amery, Julian (Preston, N.)||Baldock, Lt.-Cmdr. J. M.||Baxter, Sir Beverley|
|Arbuthnot, John||Baldwin, A. E.||Beamish, Maj. Tufton|
|Armstrong, C. W.||Balniel, Lord||Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.)|
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald||Harvey, Air Cdre. A. V. (Macolesfd)||Page, R. G.|
|Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth)||Harvey, Ian (Harrow, E.)||Pannell, N. A. (Kirkdale)|
|Bidgood, J. G.||Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.)||Partridge, E.|
|Biggs-Davison, J. A.||Hay, John||Peake, Rt. Hon. O.|
|Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel||Head, Rt. Hon. A. H.||Peyton, J. W. W.|
|Bishop, F. P.||Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel||Pickthorn, K. W. M.|
|Body, R. F.||Heath, Edward||Pilkington, Capt. R. A.|
|Boothby, Sir Robert||Henderson, John (Cathcart)||Pitman, I. J.|
|Bossom, Sir A. C.||Hicks-Beach, Maj. W. W.||Pott, H. P.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. J. A.||Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe)||Powell, J. Enoch|
|Boyle, Sir Edward||Hill, John (S. Norfolk)||Price, David (Eastleigh)|
|Braine, B. R.||Hirst, Geoffrey||Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)|
|Braithwaite, Sir Albert (Harrow, W.)||Holland-Martin, C. J.||Profumo, J. D.|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W. H.||Hope, Lord John||Raikes, Sir Victor|
|Brooke, Rt. Hon. Henry||Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P.||Ramsden, J. E.|
|Brooman-White, R. C.||Horobin, Sir Ian||Rawlinson, P. A. G.|
|Browne, J. Nixon (Craigton)||Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Dame Florence||Redmayne, M.|
|Buchan-Hepburn, Rt. Hon. P. G. T.||Howard, Hon. Greville (St. Ives)||Rees-Davies, W. R.|
|Burden, F. F. A.||Howard, John (Test)||Remnant, Hon. P.|
|Butler, Rt. Hn. R.A.(Saffron Walden)||Hudson, W. R. A. (Hull, N.)||Renton, D. L. M.|
|Campbell, Sir David||Hughes, Hallett, Vice-Admiral J.||Ridsdale, J. E.|
|Carr, Robert||Hughes-Young, M. H. C.||Rippon, A. G. F.|
|Cary, Sir Robert||Hulbert, Sir Norman||Robertson, Sir David|
|Channon, H.||Hutchison, Sir Ian Clark(E'b'gh, W.)||Robinson, Sir Roland (Blackpool, S.)|
|Chichester-Clark, R.||Hyde, Montgomery||Robson-Brown, w,|
|Cole, Norman||Hylton-Foster, Sir H. B. H.||Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)|
|Conant, Maj. Sir Roger||Iremonger, T. L.||Roper, Sir Harold|
|Cooper-Key, E. M.||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard|
|Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K.||Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)||Russell, R. S.|
|Corfield, Capt. F. V.||Jennings, Sir Roland (Hallam)||Schofield, Lt.-Col. W.|
|Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne)||Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle)||Scott-Miller, Cmdr. R.|
|Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hn. H. F. C.||Johnson, Eric (Blackley)||Sharples, Maj. R. C.|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.||Kaberry, D.|
|Crouch, R. F.||Keegan, D.||Shepherd, William|
|Crowder, Sir John (Finchley)||Kerby, Capt. H. B.||Simon, J. E. S. (Middlesbrough, W.)|
|Crowder, Petre (Ruislip—Northwood)||Kerr, H. W.||Smithers, Peter (Winchester)|
|Cunningham, Knox||Kershaw, J. A.||Soames, Capt. C.|
|Currle, G. B. H.||Kirk, P. M.||Spearman, A. C. M.|
|Dance, J. C. G.||Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Speir, R. M.|
|Davidson, Viscountess||Langford-Holt, J. A.||Spens, Rt. Hn. Sir P. (Kens'gt'n, S.)|
|D'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry||Leavey, J. A.||Stanley, Capt. Hon. Richard|
|Deedes, W. F.||Leburn, W. G.||Stevens, Geoffrey|
|Dodds-Parker, A. D.||Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield)||Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.)|
|Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA.||Lindsay, Hon. James (Devon, N.)||Steward, Sir William (Woolwich, W.)|
|Doughty, C. J. A.||Lindsay, Martin (Sollhull)||Stewart, Henderson (Fife, E.)|
|Drayson, G. B.||Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.)||Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.|
|Dugdale, Rt. Hn. Sir T. (Richmond)||Lloyd, Rt. Hon. Selwyn (Wirral)||Storey, S.|
|Duncan, Capt. J. A. L.||Lloyd-George, Maj. Rt. Hon. G.||Studholme, H. G.|
|Duthie, W. S.||Longden, Gilbert||Summers, G. S. (Aylesbury)|
|Eccles, Rt. Hon. Sir David||Low, Rt. Hon. A. R. w.||Sumner, W. D. M. (Orpington)|
|Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E.||Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.)||Taylor, William (Bradford, N.)|
|Emmet, Hon. Mrs. Evelyn||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Thomas, Rt. Hn. J. P. L. (Hereford)|
|Errington, Sir Eric||Mackie, J. H. (Galloway)||Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)|
|Erroll, F. J.||Maclean, Fitzroy (Lancaster)||Thomas, P. J. M. (Conway)|
|Farey-Jones, F. W.||Macleod, Rt. Hn. Iain (Enfield, W.)||Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)|
|Fell, A.||Macmillan, Maurice (Halifax)||Thornton-Kemsley, C. N.|
|Finlay, Graeme||Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries)||Tiley, A. (Bradford, W.)|
|Fisher, Nigel||Maddan, Martin||Touche, Sir Gordon|
|Fleetwood-Hesketh, R. F.||Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir R.||Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.|
|Fletcher-Cooke, C.||Marlowe, A. A. H.||Vaughan-Morgan, J. K.|
|Fort, R.||Marples, A. E.||Vickers, Miss J. H.|
|Fraser, Sir Ian (M'cmlie & Lonsdale)||Marshall, Douglas||Vosper, D. F.|
|Freeth, D. K.||Mathew, R.||Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)|
|Galbraith, Hon. T. G. D.||Maude, Angus||Walker-Smith, D. C.|
|George, J. C. (Pollok)||Mawby, R. L.||Wall, Major Patrick|
|Glover, D.||Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L. C.||Ward, Hon. George (Worcester)|
|Godber, J. B.||Medlicott, Sir Frank||Ward, Dame Irene (Tynemouth)|
|Gomme-Duncan, Col. A.||Milligan, Rt. Hon. W. R.||Waterhouse, Capt. Rt. Hon. C.|
|Gough, C. F. H.||Molson, A. H. E.||Watkinson, H. A.|
|Gower, H. R.||Moore, Sir Thomas||Webbe, Sir H.|
|Graham, Sir Fergus||Morrison, John (Salisbury)||Whitelaw, W.S.I.(Penrith & Border)|
|Grant, W. (Woodside)||Nabarro, G. D. N.||Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)|
|Grant-Ferris, Wg Cdr. R. (Nantwich)||Nairn, D. L. S.||Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)|
|Green, A.||Neave, Airey||Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)|
|Gresham Cooke, R.||Nicholson, Godfrey (Farnham)||Wills, G. (Bridgwater)|
|Grimston, Hon. John (St. Albans)||Nicolson, N. (B 'n' m' th, E. & Chr'ch)||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury)||Nield, Basil (Chester)||Wood, Hon. R.|
|Gurden, Harold||Noble, Comdr. A. H. P.||Woollam, John Victor|
|Hare, Hon. J. H.||Nugent, G. R. H.||Yates, William (The Wrekin)|
|Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.W.)||Oakshott, H. D.|
|Harris, Reader (Heston)||O'Neill, Hn. Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Harrison, A. B. C. (Maldon)||Orr, Capt. L. P. S.||Mr. Richard Thompson and Mr. Robert Allan.|
|Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye)||Orr-Ewing, Charles Ian (Hendon, N.)|
|Ainsley, J. W.||Griffiths, William (Exchange)||Pearson, A.|
|Allaun, F. (Salford, E.)||Hale, Leslie||Peart, T. F.|
|Allen, Scholefleld (Crewe)||Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvil (Colne Valley)||Plummer, Sir Leslie|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Hannan, W.||Popplewell, E.|
|Awbery, S. S.||Harrison, J. (Nottingham, N.)||Price, J. T, (Westhoughton)|
|Bacon, Miss Alice||Hastings, S.||Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.)|
|Balfour, A.||Hayman, F. H.||Probert, A. R.|
|Bartley, P.||Healey, Denis||Proctor, W. T.|
|Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J.||Henderson, Rt. Hn. A. (Rwly Regis)||Pryde, D. J.|
|Bence, C. R. (Dunbartonshire, E.)||Herbison, Miss M.||Pursey, Cmdr. H.|
|Benson, G.||Hewitson, Capt. M.||Rankin, John|
|Beswick, F.||Hobson, C. R.||Reeves, J,|
|Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale)||Holman, P.||Reid, William|
|Blackburn, F.||Holmes, Horace||Rhodes, H.|
|Blenkinsop, A.||Holt, A. F.||Robens, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Blyton, W. R.||Houghton, Douglas||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)|
|Boardman, H.||Howell, Denis (All Saints)||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G.||Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey)||Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)|
|Bowden, H. W. (Leicester, S.W.)||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)||Ross, William|
|Bowles, F. G.||Hunter, A. E.||Royle, G.|
|Boyd, T. C.||Hynd, H. (Accrington)||Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.|
|Braddock, Mrs. Elizabeth||Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)||Silverman, Julius (Aston)|
|Brockway, A. F.||Irving, S. (Dartford)||Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)|
|Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.||Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill)|
|Brown, Thomas (Ince)||Jeger, George (Goole)||Skeffington, A. M.|
|Burke, W. A.||Jenkins, Roy (Stechford)||Slater, Mrs. H. (Stoke, N.)|
|Burton, Miss F, E.||Johnson, James (Rugby)||Slater, J. (Sedgefield)|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)||Jones, David (The Hartlepools)||Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)|
|Callaghan, L. J.||Jones, Elwyn (W. Ham, S.)||Snow, J. W.|
|Carmichael, J.||Jones, Jack (Rotherham)||Sparks, J. A.|
|Champion, A. J.||Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham)||Steele, T.|
|Chapman, W. D.||Jones, T. W. (Merioneth)||Stewart, Michael (Fulham)|
|Chetwynd, G. R.||Kenyon, C.||Stokes, Rt. Hon. R. R. (Ipswich)|
|Clunie, d.||Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Stones, W. (Consett)|
|Coldrick, w.||King, Dr. H. M.||Strachey, Rt. Hon. J.|
|Collick, P. H. (Birkenhead)||Lawson, G. M.||Strauss, Rt. Hon. George (Vauxhall)|
|Collins, V. J. (Shoreditch & Finsbury)||Lee, Frederick (Newton)||Stross, Dr.Barnett(Stoke-on-Trent, C.)|
|Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)||Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E.|
|Cove, W. G.||Lever, Leslie (Ardwick)||Sylvester, G. O.|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Lewis, Arthur||Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)|
|Cronin, J. D.||Linton, Lt.-Col. M.||Taylor, John (West Lothian)|
|Crossman, R. H. S.||Logan, D. C.||Thomas, George (Cardiff)|
|Cullen, Mrs. A.||MacColl, J. E.||Thomson, George (Dundee, E.)|
|Daines, P.||McGovern, J.||Thornton, E.|
|Dalton, Rt. Hon. H.||McKay, John (Wallsend)||Tomney, F.|
|Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.)||McLeavy, Frank||Turner-Samuels, M.|
|Davies, Harold (Leek)||MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)||Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn|
|Davies, Stephen (Merthyr)||Mahon, S.||Usborne, H. C.|
|de Freitas, Geoffrey||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)||Viant, S. P.|
|Delargy, H. J.||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfd, E.)||Warbey, W. N.|
|Dodds, N. N.||Mann, Mrs. Jean||Watkins, T. E.|
|Donnelly, D. L.||Mason, Roy||Weitzman, D.|
|Dugdale, Rt. Hn. John (W. Brmwch)||Mayhew, C. P.||Wells, Percy (Faversham)|
|Dye, S.||Mikardo, Ian||West, D. G.|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.||Mitchison, G. R.||Wheeldon, W. E.|
|Edwards, Rt. Hon. John (Brighouse)||Monslow, W.||White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)|
|Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly)||Moody, A. S.||White, Henry (Derbyshire, N.E.)|
|Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||Morris, Percy (Swansea, W.)|
|Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.)||Morrison, Rt. Hn. Herbert(Lews'm, S.)||Wigg, George|
|Evans, Edward (Lowestoft)||Mort, D. L.||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Evans, Stanley (Wednesbury)||Moss, R.||Willey, Frederick|
|Fernyhough, E.||Moyle, A.||Williams, David (Neath)|
|Flenburgh, W.||Neal, Harold (Bolsover)||Williams, Ronald (Wigan)|
|Forman, J. C.||Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon)||Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)|
|Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)||Oram, A. E.||Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)|
|Freeman, Peter||Orbach, M.||Williams, W. T. (Barons Court)|
|Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N.||Oswald, T.||Willis, Eustace (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Gibson, C. W.||Padley, W. E.||Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)|
|Gooch, E. G.||Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)||Winterbottom, Richard|
|Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.||Palmer, A. M. F.||Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Greenwood, Anthony||Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.)||Yates, V. (Ladywood)|
|Grenfell, Rt. Hon. D. R.||Pargiter, G. A.||Younger, Rt. Hon. K.|
|Grey, C. F.||Parker, J,||Zilliacus, K.|
|Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)||Parkin, B. T.|
|Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Lianelly)||Paton, J.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Mr. Arthur Allen and Mr. Short.|
I think it would be for the convenience of the Committee if, together with this Amendment, we take the other two Amendments to line 9, in the names of the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison), to leave out "(u)" and the right hon. Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) to leave out "and (v)."
These small letters are rather incomprehensible until one turns either to the Bill itself or to the Schedule. It will be found that "(t)" includes something known as a pot scourer, and also steel wool. I believe there are some hon. Gentlemen in the Committee who may not realise the significance of the pot scourer. I can assure the Committee that, small though this article may be—insignificant enough, I should have thought, to escape the Chancellor's all-seeing eye in his arrangement of the articles which were to be taxed—it is one of great value in the home. It has a magic touch, exceeding that of the much-publicised Vim. During the war, if there was any article which I was ever afraid of being without, it was a pot scourer.
Before the advent of the pot scourer the life of the housewife was, indeed, one of drudgery. More elbow grease was applied to the scouring of a pot than, probably, to any other household task. It was mainly ineffectual elbow grease until the pot scourer came along. When it came, not only could we look forward to doing the washing up, but we could, with some degree of confidence, send our husbands into the kitchen to do the washing up. I would warn the men of the community that they must watch with the utmost circumspection this design of the Chancellor upon their opportunities to help their spouses.
The housewife is a very economical person. She lets her brooms wear out until she really has to replace them, and there is a very great temptation to her to let her pot scourers wear out, until they, too, consist of merely a collection of wire, some of which is often left in the sauce- pan. A pot scourer is not a very expensive thing. Before the war, it cost about 2½d. and, in terms of present-day values, I suppose the current price of 7½d. for the cheapest copper wire one is about right. But we shall now be in danger of having another 2d. added to that price, which will make the cheapest pot scourer about 9½d. The housewife looks at every penny much more carefully than any Chancellor of the Exchequer looks at his millions. She is the nation's housekeeper, and she must have very great regard to the cost of every article which she uses.
Does my hon. Friend appreciate that although the subject that she is mentioning is a very interesting one, which affects all housewives, not one hon. Lady is sitting upon the benches opposite?
I thank my hon. Friend for pointing that out. I notice that one hon. Lady has now arrived on the opposite benches. I am sure that she will be able to bear out my statement about the importance of this little piece of magic which costs so little and which is now threatened by the Chancellor with having its price raised so that people will think twice before buying it.
I was about to say, before my hon. Friend interrupted me, that the pot scourer has been looked upon with favour by the public, to such an extent that manufacturers have branched out, so to speak, and today, instead of being made of little bits of copper wire threaded through some woven material, they are likely to consist of nylon or plastic material. These are very valuable and very lasting, although they are rather more expensive. The price varies between 1s. and 1s. 3d. I have not yet decided to go in for one of these. The 1s. variety would, naturally, attract Purchase Tax of about 3d. Housewives think in terms of such amounts. If an article costs less than 1s. we feel we can indulge in purchasing it, but if it costs nearer 2s. we look at it many times before we purchase.
One variety which gives me the greatest pleasure is called "Goldilocks." It is most attractive, and furnishes my sink, and it gives me the greatest happiness indeed to use little "Goldilocks." All these threats by the Chancellor to the pleasure of the housewife and of the pseudo-housewife when he takes his turns of duty at the sink are matters of the very greatest importance to us.
I am listening with the greatest interest to my hon. Friend, and I should like her to clear up a query for me. Whenever I am sent to the kitchen to do the washing up I am presented with a piece of stick with something which looks like wool on the end and I understand that there are other of these articles which have copper wire or steel instead. I am generally instructed not to use them in case I scratch the pots and pans and I should have thought that they would have done china a good deal of damage. Afterwards, I am presented with a cloth designed with the apparatus of a cocktail party, which, I think, must have been designed by the Ministry of Supply, if not the Ministry of Economic Warfare before it became defunct, to encourage reluctant husbands to get the pots dry. Are we taxing all of them?
As far as I can make out, almost anything the housewife has to use in her household, or which could relieve her of much of the drudgery of her work has come under the eagle eye of the Chancellor and is taxed. I think so, and I challenge the Chancellor to say that it is not so. Housewives will find the prices of these things going up—
Pot scourers are small but very useful and, therefore, valuable articles. I cannot see how our export trade will be encouraged or our imports reduced or the inflationary situation put right by the tax on these articles. I ask the Chancellor to tell me what the tax does. Can he tell me exactly what it amounts to, how much he will get out of it and in what way it will ease the economic situation or his task in dealing with it?
Pot scourers were once made from the shavings of metals, which was an excellent way of using up waste materials. Some scourers are made of metal of some kind or another. Some, for instance, are made of copper. Others are not of metal at all, and, increasingly, housewives favour the nylon varieties. If the Chancellor wants to tax those made of metal it is possible for him to do so, and still leave the nylon and plastic varieties untouched by tax. I should have thought that the value of the tax to the Chancellor would have been insignificant on these little articles of such valuable household use.
I have made some inquiries of the medical profession, and I am assured by one well-known member of it, who is also a Member of this Committee, that the proper cleaning of pots is essential to hygiene and health. I am as ignorant of medical science as the male members of this Committee are of pot scourers, but I am assured by that doctor that if food is not cleaned off a pot bacteria form upon the residue of food upon it, and that however much one may cook or boil food in that pot, and although the cooking and boiling will destroy the bacteria on the remnants of old food in the pot, the toxins are not destroyed. Thus, food cooked in an unclean pot is likely to be poisonous and to cause illness. This is a very serious matter indeed.
It is necessary only to recall the days before pot scourers were in existence to assure the male Members of the Committee—it is not necessary so to instruct the lady Members—that to cleanse a pot properly without such a scourer is almost a physical impossibility
I must challenge the Chancellor, or the Financial Secretary, whom I have known so long and with whom I have had such friendly relations, to let me know what effect the imposition of tax on steel wool will have on our imports and exports, the financial situation, and all the rest of it. It is a little device by which we can clean saucepans, especially aluminium ones, which are not noticeably responsive to metal polishers but are exceedingly responsive to a little rubbing with steel wool.
All of us like our kitchens to be brightly polished and like to know that housewives are keeping them brightly polished, and this is a useful bit of equipment for that purpose, and it would be a sorry thing if that bit of equipment were made dearer to buy than it need be. The extra cost of these articles because of the tax, although it may be, comparatively speaking, only a little in each case, adds up to a considerable amount. It has already been decided to tax many articles of the housewives' equipment.
We have just had a very lengthy debate about the imposition of tax upon some articles essential in the household. We are now considering articles which are a woman's tools of trade. A woman is entitled to have the best possible tools in the best possible state, and ought not to have to go on using tools in such condition that her work is made much harder than it need be. We concede that industry must have its tools. I ask the Committee to concede to the housewife her tools of trade.
I could, of course, go into the arguments which have been dilated upon at considerable length in the debate on the previous Amendment, but I have no wish to do so, for I think that my hon. Friends and I have a very good case for this Amendment. I would ask the Chancellor whether he intends to make any exceptions whatever in imposing this iniquitous tax levied on the housewives. Would he reconsider the matter and see whether the pot scourer, the useful, magic pot scourer, and its accompaniment of steel wool, can be exempted from the tax? If he will, the housewives, who are now prepared to use language that is anything but Parliamentary about the Budget, may have a kind word to say—especially for the Financial Secretary, if he will yield this favour I am asking. Other hon. Members will, no doubt, be talking to the Committee about pastry boards, rolling pins, seives and sifters. These are all things very vitally affecting the housewife, the management of her money, and the running of her house.
We on this side of the Committee have been taxed more than once about not giving vocal support to what the Chancellor is doing. I propose to be an exception. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) yesterday prophesied that no Member on this side of the Committee would support the Chancellor vocally any more. Actually, his prophecy has been already twice upset, and it will be upset more before the evening has gone.
As has so often been said during the debates, part of the object of these Purchase Tax provisions is to increase exports. The hon. Lady the Member for Peckham (Mrs. Corbet) has referred to objects like pot scourers. These may be small matters, but every one of the items mentioned in the schedule and the three Amendments which we are discussing use imported materials. Pot scourers use copper, pastry boards use imported timber.
There are other things named in the schedule, such as pastry boards, which are made of imported timber. It is perfectly justifiable to suggest that the industries which make these things should make some contribution to exports. When the home market for these articles is contracting, as it will no doubt contract slightly under the influence of Purchase Tax, the manufacturers are not going to take that lying down. They are going into the markets of the world to see if they cannot export some of these articles.
The hon. Member has raised two difficulties which I do not follow. First, he said, that we were using imported materials. Surely we do not import materials to make pastry boards, chopping boards and so on. I should have thought that for those things we did not have to use the very highest quality imported timber. Is he suggesting that we are helping our dollar earnings by exporting dozens of little "Goldilocks" to America where they have washing machines in pretty well every house and are quite capable of organising their washing up? If not, where can we export them to? Where does he suggest that we shall be able to send chopping boards to such an extent as to earn dollars?
If the hon. Member proposes to use a deal chopping block, I pity him. A chopping block has to be made of good, hard wood. I do not know from where he got his information.
I was talking about ordinary household goods. I was not saying that necessarily we were going to export these things to America, to the dollar area. We can export a lot of them to the sterling area, and so help with our own overseas currency. I should not like these things to be despised as earners of foreign currency.
A few years ago I went to the Ministry of Supply to see whether I could obtain more wire for a particular product in which I was interested. On the list of users of wire, when wire was in very short supply, were bird cage manufacturers. I at once asked, "Why continue to make bird cages when wire is in such short supply?" I was told that bird cages were a very good export line and were earning a number of dollars.
Although these schedules, in general terms, may be unpopular, I have no doubt that they will encourage manufacturers to seek fresh markets overseas, and in that connection I read in the Press only a few days ago:
One of Britain's biggest pot-and-pan makers has decided to send all their goods abroad because of Mr. Butler's emergency Budget…
which puts 6s. in the £ Purchase Tax on household goods.
The firm, Panette Holloware Limited, of Accrington, Lancs., turns out 40,000 aluminium kitchen utensils every week.
We are discussing pot scourers. We are not discussing pots and pans. We have already had a most interesting discussion on those things. Nor are we discussing bird cages. I cannot see any mention of bird cages in the schedule, and I should like your Ruling, Sir Charles, as to whether this discussion is in order.
I thank the hon. Gentleman very much for his assistance. I have been trying for some time to keep the debate in order. If we are to roam over the entire subject of kitchen utensils, it will take us a very long time to finish the debate. I ask hon. Members on all sides to keep to the point. We have spent a long time on these matters.
I was using this only as an example of the sort of thing that could be done by way of exports.
The article goes on to say:
So far 75 per cent. has gone for export. Now the lot will go. Mr. James Owen, managing director of the firm said yesterday that the firm does not expect to lose money by selling all its products abroad.
Is not it a fact that those are established export products, and these matters which we are supposed, and I say advisedly "are supposed" to be discussing, have nothing to do with those at all.
Those presumably were established export products because someone, in the first instance, went out and sold the goods in the rest of the world. I am suggesting that there is no reason why manufacturers of these products cannot go out and sell them in the rest of the world.
I am not saying that by itself it is a world export beater. We are discussing a much wider series of things than pot scourers. We are discussing the things mentioned in one schedule and in two or three Amendments.
The further argument against these Purchase Tax increases, put by the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Jack Jones) and the hon. Member for Northfield (Mr. Chapman), is that they tend towards inflation by putting up prices. We heard from the Chancellor that they will make a difference to each family of only 4d. or 5d. a week. I cannot see how any wage demands can be justified on the basis of such a small increase. If a demand for higher wages is based on that ground when Purchase Tax is increased, what is to happen to wages when Purchase Tax is decreased? Will there be an agreement that wages should come down when Purchase Tax is reduced?
When one puts these small increases in Purchase Tax against the £1 a week average increase in earnings last year it seems ridiculous to suggest that the new taxes will have any inflationary effect at all. It would be quite wrong to attempt to justify any inflationary wage increases on the basis of such small figures. This schedule is only an example of what is being done also in other schedules in encouraging manufacturers to contract sales in the home market and go out into the world's markets to sell their goods.
I have been amazed by the speech of the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke). One would imagine that we were going to save the whole economic future of the country by taking pot scourers from the British housewife and selling them in some market so nebulous that the hon. Member was unable even to mention it. It seems to me that the hon. Member had decided that he was going to make a speech only because he and other hon. Members opposite had been taunted a little from this side of the Committee. He then rose and did not apply his mind at all to the Amendments that we are discussing.
It is difficult to imagine that any argument could be put forward by the Chancellor to justify Purchase Tax on the household goods with which the Amendments deal. I cannot imagine any housewife having a row of pot scourers in her kitchen. She will have one only. I cannot imagine her laying in a great stock of steel wool. I rarely use a pot scourer. I prefer to use steel wool for all the jobs which my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Mrs. Corbet) described. Even then, when I use steel wool for all those things, I do not hoard it. As I am sure every housewife does, I buy only the quantity that I need.
If we accept the fact that the housewife keeps in the kitchen only the quantity of these articles which is absolutely necessary, we must conclude from the speech of the hon. Member for Twickenham that we are asked to take even those necessary items from her, send them abroad and allow her pots and pans to get filthy. In the Scottish Grand Committee we have been spending morning after morning discussing the Food and Drugs (Scotland) Bill, a Bill intended to ensure that we have clean food and get rid of food poisoning and all that that involves. How is it possible for the Government to put forward a Bill which is supposed to ensure clean food when, at the same time, they take from the housewife the tools required to ensure that that food will be clean? This tax will not help any export drive.
The housewife will insist upon having the necessary pot scourer and steel wool, but the tax might have a bad effect on the catering industry. One of the aims of the Food and Drugs (Scotland) Bill is to ensure that catering establishments provide clean food. The owners of those establishments might well try to save a little money on the articles which we are now discussing if the Purchase Tax is imposed, and we shall not then be sure that the food supplied in those establishments will be as clean as it ought to be. This is one of the most miserable taxes of the many miserable taxes that the Chancellor is imposing upon the housewife.
What is the Chancellor hoping to do by putting a tax on pastry boards, which we in Scotland call baking boards? I should have thought that in his effort to keep down inflation he would have wanted to encourage every young married woman to buy a baking board, a rolling pin and all the other articles which the right hon. Gentleman is taxing, so that she might be able to provide the best food for her family at the cheapest possible price. The tax will make that more difficult. This is a most miserable and mean thing for the Chancellor to do.
Sieves for use with coal and cinders are also taxed. I represent in the House of Commons thousands of miners. Time and again I have spoken in this Chamber about the waste of coal. I know from what I see in the mining villages of my constituency that no one should encourage the waste of one ounce of coal. It is far too dearly won. It costs so much in human misery that no Government should do anything that would lead to its being wasted. Did the Chancellor or the Financial Secretary have any discussions with the Minister of Fuel and Power?
I have no idea where he is, but I should have hoped that he would have been here to support us in the effort to have these sieves freed from tax.
I ask the Financial Secretary to consider this matter very carefully. I come from a home in which, as long as my father was a miner, we always had a plentiful supply of coal, but we always had a sieve for use on the cinders, not because it saved us much money but because we realised how dear was the price of coal in terms of human suffering.
It is a shocking thing for the Chancellor to put Purchase Tax on sieves. I am sure that if the right hon. Gentleman had consulted the Minister of Fuel and Power, sieves would not have appeared in the list of those things that are to bear Purchase Tax. I beg the Financial Secretary to say for the first time in this debate that at last he agrees that there is good sense in what is being said on this side of the Committee.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison), in a characteristically able and persuasive speech, has nevertheless done considerable injustice to the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke), for the hon. Member was making a very gallant attempt indeed to be loyal to his Government. The fact that he was batting on a sticky wicket was obviously as plain to the hon. Gentleman as it was to everybody else. He was doing his best, and if the best thing he could find to do was to divert the attention of the Chairman and of the Committee from the Amendment under discussion in order to talk about other things, maybe he was wise in his generation.
No one would attempt to say, and the hon. Gentleman himself would not attempt it, that a tax on pot scourers was essential to the development of our export trade. He knows that it is not. Otherwise, of course, there would have been a tax on pot scourers long ago. Even this Government would have put it on before the General Election, instead of after, if it had really been necessary in order to support the export trade. They did not do so because we have been told time after time that the only purpose of this emergency autumn Budget is to deal with a situation that arose after the General Election.
That is the defence of the Chancellor. But does the hon. Gentleman suppose for a moment that our difficulties in the export trade developed only after May, 1955? Of course not. He knows perfectly well that there is only one defence for the proposals of the Government. It is a plausible defence. It is even an arguable defence. It is a defence, however, that does not vary from Amendment to Amendment. It is the same defence in all of them. Neither the Chancellor of the Exchequer nor the Economic Secretary, or the Financial Secretary, has in any one of these cases sought to suggest for a moment—and one recognises their candour about it—that any one of these impositions can be justified on its own merits.
No one has said that people use too many pot scourers. No one has said that a pot scourer is a luxury which no one ought to be able to afford. No one has said that it takes too much out of our essential resources; that to conserve our manpower people must use fewer pot scourers. None of them has said that. None of them will say it. The attempt of the hon. Gentleman to support his Government on these questions was far more to be praised for its courage than for its wisdom, because he attempted to put up for them a defence of which, to do him justice, the Financial Secretary would be the first and the most eloquent and the most powerful denouncer. He does not accept a word of the defence that the hon. Gentleman put up on his behalf.
I agree that possibly I am committing what was once described as the most gratuitous form of error, that is to say, prophecy. Yet I am willing to chance my arm. Indeed I will give way if the Financial Secretary thinks I am on a false point and, when he replies to this debate, will defend the tax on pot scourers on the argument put forward by the hon. Gentleman. I will sit down and let him say so now.
That is exactly what I have just said on behalf of the right hon. Gentleman. It did not need his intervention to say that he will make his own defence in his own way and will not rely on the defence offered on his behalf.
What is really his defence? It is the same as in all the other cases. I have not intervened on any other Amendment throughout the Committee Stage of this Bill and I do not propose—as at present advised, at any rate—to attempt to catch your eye again, Sir Charles, because I know that where the Government have only one defence, and where every hon. Member on this side of the Committee knows the answer and wants to express it, it is fair that everyone should have an opportunity to do so.
While we all appreciate sincerely the great generosity of my hon. Friend, is he not aware that we know that there are few hon. Members on this side of the Committee who can speak as eloquently as he does, and that we hope he will take heart and speak on other Amendments.
My hon. Friend had better wait until the end of my speech before he ventures to praise it.
Seriously, I want to use this opportunity to examine what is the real defence of the Government to the attack made upon them in these matters and what is the answer to it. What the Government are really saying is that people are living too well and that they are doing so because they have too much money. That is putting the case of the Government in much simpler and more forthright terms than they have ever put it themselves. They talk about purchasing power and about mopping it up and they say that we are living beyond our means. What they mean is that people have too much money in their pockets and that the Government must devise a way of draining it off without giving them any advantage from it.
Again, I will readily give way if the Financial Secretary wishes to deny it. All this business of taxing household articles, not because they are luxuries but because they are not, can be justified only on the basis that people have too much, not of the luxuries of life but of the necessities of life; that the ordinary things which make life livable, the basic necessities, are now being enjoyed by too many people in this country. There may well be different opinions about whether that is true or not, but if that is the view of the Government, and if they still think that we are to be governed by a representative democracy in a Parliamentary system, it is reasonable to ask why that was not the message which they preached from every hustings at the last General Election.
I do not want to pursue that point, which has been fairly made, but I say that if the party opposite believe that people are too well off they should not go about the country claiming votes on the ground that they have made people better off than ever before. It is cheating to go to men and women and say, "Vote for me because I have made you better off than ever you were before. I have removed austerity from your lives, I have brought more goods into the shops, you are able to buy things now that you have never been able to buy before, and you are able to buy them because of the success of Tory policy. Conservative freedom works." Then, when they have obtained power on that basis, to come to the House and say, "Yes, people are better off than ever they were before. They are altogether too well off. Let us have an emergency Budget to put it right." That is hypocrisy.
I congratulate the hon. and gallant Member on having avoided the pitfalls into which every one of his colleagues fell. However, I am not talking about the individual adventures of the hon. Member. I do not think I had ever heard of him before the General Election—
Let me deal with one hon. Member at a time. The hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Farey-Jones) will have his opportunity in a moment. I am concerned with, and am attacking, the Conservative manifesto which was addressed to all the electors during the last General Election. If the hon. and gallant Member for Arundel and Shoreham (Captain Kerby) contracted out of it, so much the better for him.
The hon. Member will find it possible to understand the argument if he will have the patience to listen to it and make the necessary intellectual effort to follow it. He asks whether I admit that the people are better off in 1955 than they were in, for instance, 1945. Of course they are, but the difference between the two sides of the Committee is that this side rejoices at their increased prosperity while hon. Members opposite think that it is a catastrophe.
The Government have made no secret about it. They have brought in an autumn Budget which is expressly and deliberately to make people less prosperous than they were in April. If that is not the Government's defence for the autumn Budget, what in the world is their defence? Every single line of every single speech made by Government spokesmen since the Budget proposals were announced has been a reiteration of this very point—too much prosperity. The Government have said that we are living beyond our means and that they must attack all the necessities in everybody's home, even the homes of the poorest, because even the poorest are living too well. If the people are living too well, surely it was a fraud upon the electors to get their votes and support by representing that the Conservative Party had put them in their prosperous condition, and then use the power so obtained to destroy their prosperity.
I would say quite seriously to right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite that we are living in a world in which representative democracy is more critically on trial than it has been at any other period in world history. We all unitedly object—
I allowed the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman) to reply to interjections from the other side of the Committee, but I would remind the Committee that we are dealing with three specific Amendments, and I should be very grateful if hon. Members would confine their arguments to those Amendments.
Following the Ruling given by two of your predecessors in the Chair, Mr. Hoy, that, while the argument was equally in order on each Amendment, it was obviously undesirable to have the same general debate on each Amendment in turn. I promise that I am not going to develop the argument on each Amendment in turn. I want to do it on this occasion, and this occasion only. In doing it on this one occasion, I should like the indulgence of the Committee, in so far as I may have it, to do it at least adequately.
While we are abundantly and overwhelmingly right in attacking every system in the world which wrings power from the people by force, oppression and tyranny, we are not entitled to do that if we ourselves tolerate Governments which wring power by deceit and fraud. To swindle the people into giving one their support is no more commendable and no more democratic than to deprive them of their liberties by force.
Let it be granted—I understand that there is no serious contest about it—that the Government's real defence for the Budget and every proposal in it is that people have too much money and it is necessary in some way to withdraw the money from them. Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite talk about inflation and say that it would be very much worse—I want to state their arguments fairly— for ordinary people to allow inflation to proceed than to correct and control inflation, even by these harsh methods, that in the end ordinary people will benefit more by accepting the discipline imposed upon them in this way than if it were not imposed and inflation were allowed to gallop ahead.
That is the Government's defence. What is meant by it? What harm does it do an ordinary person with a modest income if inflation takes place? The harm it does him is to make the value of money less, because prices increase and he can buy less with his money, and the real value of his wages is reduced. The Government say, "Let us prevent inflation in order to preserve the real value of wages." How do the Government propose to preserve the real value of the ordinary person's wages? They propose to do it by taxing everything he has and raising the price of everything he will buy. To prevent the value of a man's money from being reduced by inflation, they achieve the magnificent result of reducing it by taxation. From the point of view of ordinary people, why is taxation better than inflation? Why should taxation be preferred to inflation?
The Government have chosen the worst method of dealing with the problem. One of the worst elements of inflation is that once it is allowed to proceed, it goes on apace. As prices go up, wages go up, and as wages go up, prices go up, and the inflationary spiral goes on. What is the good of trying to control inflation by a method which inevitably produces inflation? When the Government say, "People have too much money; let us drain it off by taxation," that is the concession which Tory doctrinaires make to the advance of Socialist theory. In the old days they would not have attempted to control inflation by this method. They had a much simpler method then. It was a much more direct method. They had a method which they would like to apply now but dare not. What they would like to do is to reduce wages.
I shall not be longer than a few minutes, but as far as the hon. Member for Watford is concerned, I do say, with deep grief—which, after all these years is still felt on this side of the Committee and by many hon. Members opposite, too—that Sir Stafford Cripps is no longer with us; we are dealing with the situation as it is in 1955. In an ironic way I am gratified to see how many Conservative disciples our old friend Sir Stafford Cripps now has and to remember how it would have delighted and cheered him in the most difficult times through which this country has ever lived to have heard some of the encomium now paid to him by those who most bitterly opposed him. Whatever Sir Stafford Cripps may have done, we are dealing with what the Government propose to do in these circumstances of today.
What they are proposing to do by an indirect method is what they would very much prefer to do by a direct method, if they had the guts to try. They are reducing wages, not by reducing the actual amount of money, but by deliberately reducing the amount of the things that the wages will buy. If one transfers the attack on wages from the economic sphere to the political sphere, then one has no right to complain if the defence of the wages takes the political form that one has made necessary. If one attempts to reduce wages directly in the economic field the workers now have the economic weapons with which to defend themselves.
Do not let the Government imagine for a moment that the workers will refuse to defend themselves by the weapons with which over the long years they have equipped themselves for the purpose, merely because the Tory Party changes its attack from an economic to a political attack. That is really what we are dealing with here. We shall go on as long as we may attacking each one of these additional taxes in turn, because they are mean, because they are cruel, because they are tyrannical, because they are reactionary, and because ultimately they are futile. We shall go on doing that, but let it not be thought, as we are dealing with these pettifogging imposts in turn, that we have lost sight of the wood in dealing with the trees.
We listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke). It was a tragic speech and I used the word "tragic" in its strictest sense, for Aristotle says that tragedy is that which arouses pity and terror, and the hon. Member for Twickenham succeeded in arousing pity on this side of the Committee and evident terror on the other. He addressed to the Committee one general argument to which, since he has developed it, I will reply, without transgressing the bounds of order, before turning in some detail to the subject of the Amendments.
He suggested that after all these additional taxes were not sufficient justification for any demand for wage increases. It was common form during the General Election, whenever any of the speakers for the party on the other side of the Committee referred to the constantly rising cost of living, for the stock Conservative reply to be that wages had gone up as well. The country was repeatedly instructed to believe that it did not matter if the cost of living went up, because the position could always be remedied by putting up wages.
The hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) seems to have missed my point. It was that earnings have gone up considerably more than the cost of living and so this small increase in the cost of living, if there is to be one, will be nowhere near the amount by which wages and earnings have increased.
But we have not yet ratified this increase in the cost of living. If we do, it will be a further addition and it will be impossible for the party opposite, on the line of argument they adopted at the Election, to object if anyone suggests this as a reason for a further rise in wages.
I remember addressing, towards the end of the General Election campaign, a meeting in Chelsea Town Hall, not an area usually friendly to the Labour Party. Towards its close the meeting took the form of a service, with a sentence from me and two sentences from the audience, an antiphonal response from the Conservative section of the audience and one of the most constantly repeated was, "What about wages?"
We were assured that one of the blessings of a Conservative Government was that one did not have restrictions and that everybody could ask for as much as they liked and get as much as they could.
That is the lesson which the party opposite has been teaching the nation. It is no good now complaining, if people who do not happen to belong to the social class of Members opposite, chose to listen to what they have said and better the instructions.
I will now strictly confine myself to the subjects of the three Amendments, pot scourers, rolling pins, pastry boards, and one which is very difficult to say, coal and cinder sieves and sifters. Like some other speakers, I want to give special emphasis to the question of pot scourers.
My hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Mrs. Corbet) made a most interesting and compelling speech, but I feel compelled to disagree with her on one point. She seemed to think that this was a matter of greater interest to lady hon. Members than to the rest of us. My own feeling, however, is that this is very much a husbands' as well as a wives' question. After all, in the business of preparing and clearing up meals it is generally, although not universally true, that the wife is a better cook than the husband. A reasonable division of labour, therefore, is that she should do that more skilled work and the husband should play his part in perhaps laying the table and washing up, including the saucepans.
Everyone knows, of course, that there is a great deal of difference in doing the washing up without washing up saucepans and in doing it with the saucepans included. I am bound to say that I have always taken the view that if I am to do the saucepans, I must have an adequate implement for the purpose.
If I may say so, I am acquainted with that.
It depends what the saucepans have been used for, and I want to address myself very seriously to this subject. There are, of course, certain cooking operations which do not require the use of a pot scourer. If one is boiling an egg, it is unnecessary; but if one is cooking potatoes or other vegetables, a pot scourer may be required afterwards. There are cetain other operation. I have noticed with some interest that some of the most tasty things that can be prepared in saucepans seem to be the most sticky—I do not necessarily mean sticky to eat, but with an amazing capacity for adhering to the saucepan.
Is not my hon. Friend making a rather unwarrantable assumption when he says that one does not need a pot scourer when boiling an egg? That assumes perfect success in the culinary operation, and it is probably within the recollection of several hon. Members that they have started to boil eggs, have forgotten that they were boiling and have then needed a pot scourer. I would further point out to my hon. Friend that if he looks at the affairs of the Gambols in the Daily Express this morning he will see that that is the exact fate of Mr. Gambol when doing home cooking.
I overlooked that because I have developed a practically infallible technique of boiling an egg to exactly the point to which an egg should be boile—[HON. MEMBERS: "What is it?"] I should be departing from the undertaking, which I gave to you, Mr. Hoy, if I developed that too far.
Surely it is well known that there are a number of things which, when prepared in a saucepan, are particularly adhesive, and one is then faced with the problem of how to get them off the saucepan. The pot scourer is particularly useful for that. It can be made of metal or of nylon or of plastic.
What are the alternatives to pot scourers? There is the very lengthy process of leaving the saucepan to soak, but one may well want to make further use of the saucepan before that process is complete. One may have a kitchen of limited size or have other reasons for not possessing a whole army of saucepans. There is also the unsatisfactory alternative of taking a knife to the saucepan. That is extremely unsatisfactory for it is liable to leave a scratched surface which may harbour germs.
Another possibility is that one may, with a bad conscience, put the saucepan away inadequately cleaned. For reasons mentioned by my hon. Friends the Members for Peckham and Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison), that is a dangerous and insanitary practice.
What does the Financial Secretary hope to gain by increasing the tax on an article which is so much a household necessity? Although I am developing my argument mainly with relation to pot scourers, the same line of argument applies to other articles with which the Amendment is concerned. Let us consider pot scourers, however, for a start. Is it suggested that this tax will save metal? In that case, the tax on nylon or plastic pot scourers cannot be justified. Indeed, it has been suggested, I think correctly, that metal pot scourers, being made from shavings and waste, are a by-product of the industry and that it is not true that if we devote less metal to pot scourers we shall have more for bird cages or whatever it is that hon. Members opposite think they will use to retrieve the economic situation of the country.
Is it suggested that people will not buy fewer pot scourers but, having to spend a few pence more on them, will buy less of something else? I think that might be argued, but it means that it is quite simply, in its crudest form, a regressive tax. If they used that argument the Government would say, "There is too much money about. We will mop some of it up and we will deliberately arrange the method of doing it so as to make sure that we mop some up from the smallest incomes we can find."
Is it suggested that the tax will save money? Is it seriously supposed that, as a result of an increase in the price, people will buy fewer pot scourers, less steel wool and fewer pastry boards? There are two situations in which that might happen. One has been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire, North, who suggested that very large consumers of these articles, such as catering establishments, might think it worth while to economise on them—and that is peculiarly socially undesirable.
Secondly, some families might say, "Because this article will cost a few pence more, we must be a little more careful with it and must use it until practically all the little pieces of metal have gone." if there are such families, which are they? The poorest in the Kingdom.
That applies not only to this tax but to the other items in the Amendment and, indeed, to the whole range—that in so far as the tax compels consumers to do without the taxed article or to do with less of it, that result will be at the expense of the people who already have the most imaginary share in this increased prosperity of which the Government ceaselessly remind us.
I do not believe there can be any justification for this tax. Will the Financial Secretary reconsider it? We have had no justification for it from the benches opposite—and, despite the gallant reinforcement of the hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Spearman) to the sparsely populated benches opposite, it does not look as though we shall—
On a point of order. Would it be in order for an hon. Member on this side of the Committee to move, That the Chairman do report Progress and ask leave to sit again—waiting until sufficient hon. Members opposite, who are forcing these Purchase Tax provisions through the House, show at least enough interest in the proceedings to attend?
I think it is worthy of note that although two hon. Members opposite vigorously protested at the beginning of my speech their desire to catch your eye in the future, Mr. Hoy, one of them has vanished. We shall listen to the other with great interest, if perhaps limited profit, in the future.
Will the Financial Secretary address himself to this point? If he is concerned that people should buy few pot scourers, pastry boards and the rest, does he imagine that that result can reasonably be expected on an article the demand for which is so inelastic? If his object is to say, "I will make sure they have less of something," is he not ashamed of pursuing a taxation policy which, so far as it has an impact, must have it chiefly on the poorest people in the country?
It may be said that pot scourers are only a very small item in people's total expenditure, and that the addition of the tax will not make all that difference. That can be said time and again on each article that is considered in the Finance Bill. Why do we have this long and detailed procedure over the Finance Bill? It is because the experience of centuries has shown us that unless Governments are watched all the time by the House they will pile up a little more taxation here and a little more taxation there until the whole burden is too great to be borne.
That is particularly true of indirect taxation, because it can be said of each indirect tax: "This is not very much," or, or has already been said from the Government benches in the debate, "If prices are higher the people will get used to it. They will get used to having fewer pennies left after they have equipped their kitchens with essential articles." If the matter is as small as that, why are the Government bothering about it?
They cannot have it both ways. If they think it is worth while to put these rather mean little taxes in the Bill, they must recognise that they constitute one of the instruments with which, bit by bit, this Government are continuing to push up the cost of living. That is why we are making a protest over these articles, and why I trust that others of my hon. Friends will develop this argument, not only in relation to the pot scourers of which I have chiefly spoken, but to other articles affected by these three Amendments.
The country should realise what this Government are doing. Suppose it were necessary to free more metal and more timber because our economy demanded it, what would be the proper way to go about it? Not by looking at the most necessary uses of metal and timber, but rather by looking round to prohibit the most unnecessary and luxury uses. This is a slovenly expedient on the part of the Government. They say "We do not really propose to govern—that is to say, to make a real assessment of the nation's needs and direct and control its resources where they are most required—but to sloven it along somehow." The price of that will be paid by some of the poorest in the country.
Although I do not propose to follow the arguments advanced by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) or by the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart), I must admit that, for once in my life, I agree with quite a lot that they have both said, though for different reasons. I do not attribute any dishonesty to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I think that he is not only a very honest, but a very courageous man, but I am surprised at some of the things he has taxed. A gremlin in the Treasury must have been getting under his skin. Had he remained his normal self, these proposals could never have been produced, because I am sure that he is as anxious as anyone to bring down the cost of living.
There are ugly gremlins and beautiful gremlins and kind gremlins. I do not think that the Financial Secretary is at all an unkind gremlin —but something must have got under the Chancellor's skin. I do not know how taxes on pots, pans, brooms, brushes, scourers and things of that sort ever got into this Bill. I have no objection whatsoever to taxes on luxuries, and my right hon. Friend was courageous in putting them on.
No, I shall not give way.
The Chancellor was very courageous indeed, but this taxation brings in a very small amount of money and hits all the people who should least be hit. I am referring, in particular, to Service pensioners, old-age pensioners and other people living on small incomes. Those people who draw big wages may well be able to afford the extra 5d.—or whatever it is said that this tax will mean—but there are many old-age pensioners who, though better off now than in the days of hon. and right hon. gallant Gentlemen opposite have a very marginal limit of expenditure. I do not think that they can afford these extra taxes. If the Chancellor needed the money—and the country is hardly in need of the £15 million that he hopes to get this year—I would say, "Let us have these taxes." But he does not want the money—he wants to save metal. I do not think that he will save very much metal. Whatever their status in life no one wants two frying pans if one will do. I know that my wife never goes on a shopping spree for frying pans. We buy one when we want one.
When I asked the other day how much metal it was thought this would save I was told that it was not known. If that is not known, there cannot be much wish to save metal. It might be saved on coal or coke cinder sifters—
I shall make my speech in my own way. It is a wonderful thing that the country has had four years of Tory rule, otherwise we should all, including hon. Gentlemen opposite, be "broke."
I am surprised at cinder sifters being taxed. I asked the Minister of Fuel and Power how much coal he estimated was saved in a year by people sifting their cinders and coke—
The answer was that it saved three-quarters of a million tons of coal. That represents £5 million to £6 million. I should have thought that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor would have been most anxious for people to buy cinder sifters, as such an amount of coal is worth saving. How the estimate was worked out I do not know. A gremlin may have been at work in the Ministry of Fuel and Power also, but I do not think that a gremlin is capable of calculation.
I cannot understand why these taxes are being put on. They are inflationary. They will not achieve the Chancellor's object. I think that my right hon. Friend's main taxation proposals will achieve what he wants, but I do not think that these will do anything except antagonise everyone. I cannot understand why my right hon. Friend has imposed them; I hope they will be on for only a short time, and that they will come off as soon as we have learnt that to tax essentials is not a good way of taxing the people.
I have already told my party that I shall abstain from voting on all these unnecessary taxes on essential articles—as I have done throughout the debate so far in Committee.
Never, while I have sat in this House, has there been so much agreement on both sides on the Chancellor's attitude as shown in this Finance Bill. If it is possible—and I am doubtful whether it is—that fact should persuade him that on this occasion he has been very badly advised indeed. If he looks at the speeches which have been made he will find that on only one occasion has one of his hon. Friends supported him to any extent. Another attempted to do so and made a very bad job of it.
I want to draw attention to something which the right hon. Gentleman may perhaps have forgotten, though having listened to the statements of the Chancellor, the Economic Secretary and the Financial Secretary on these Purchase Taxes I do not think that there is any possibility of their accepting any suggestions. Nevertheless, we should place on record what we think and say so that when people who are disgusted with the situation they can read what was said. I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman realises that by taxing these items he is hitting a section of the community which has been waiting for a very long time for new housing accommodation.
Many people have for years been living with their in-laws or in rooms and have had no opportunity to acquire pots and pans, bread boards, scourers, and the rest. They have used what the family has had, or what was there. Whenever a family is given housing accommodation, all these articles have to be purchased, and usually a family has a certain amount of money put on one side for this purpose. The amount of money saved is usually governed by the prices of articles as they were when it was known to the family that they were to have possession of a house. Then when they wish to buy these articles they discover that prices have risen because Purchase Tax has been added.
I think that almost everything possible has been said about pot scourers, except one thing, and I should like an explanation from the Financial Secretary on this point. I have been looking at the Customs and Excise identifications of these articles, and I have found an astonishing phrase —"Fully manufactured pot scourers." Can the Financial Secretary tell us what that means? Does it mean that if they are only half manufactured, or, if they are left in a stage of incompletion, there is no tax upon them at all?
I have always found the Customs and Excise officials very insistent upon carrying out to the letter what they say, irrespective of what anybody else thinks. If we can be told what "Fully manufactured pot scourers" are and to what extent Customs and Excise will be able to decide whether they are fully manufactured or not, it might help many people out of a difficulty.
An article to which I wish to refer more than anything else is the rolling pin. I can understand the Chancellor putting Purchase Tax on rolling pins. It is quite possible that when the effects of this tax are felt by the ordinary people who discover that they have to pay more, rolling pins might be used upon some of the Tory women canvassers who go to the doors of working-class houses. Of course, if rolling pins are much more expensive, working-class people may be persuaded not to buy them.
It is obvious that Purchase Tax has been put on to the prices of articles that the ordinary people use. There has been no attempt at all to stop the excessive and disgusting spending that goes on throughout this city and particularly in the West End. No attempt has been made to curb the expenditure of people who have so much to throw away that they can throw parties to some of the biggest crooks in the city and invite other people to attend them. There is no suggestion in the Budget that some restriction should be put on that sort of spending.
I believe I know the party to which my hon. Friend is referring. Is my hon. Friend aware that not only has the Treasury failed to cut out this kind of luxury spending but there is every reason to believe from the reports one has seen of that particular party that the Chancellor paid for at least half the expense because it would have been chargeable to business expenses?
That is quite obvious. I think that it is perhaps as well for my right hon. Friend to draw attention to that so that it can go on record, although, of course, all of us here know about it. We all know of this excessive spending by people who never go short of anything and who do not know what a pot scourer is and never have to go into the kitchen to use one. All they do is to pay the account, whatever may be the amount of Purchase Tax involved on any of these household items. The Purchase Tax does not affect by one iota such people who have the money to pay for expensive articles.
I have no objection, and I know that my hon. Friends have no objection, to tax being put on luxury articles—things that ordinary working-class people cannot aspire to. The amount that is added to washing machines and electric irons will not stop the purchase of these articles because to the people who buy them a few extra shillings or pounds will not make any difference. But the 2½d. that is added to pot scourers and the shillings that are added to various other commodities used by ordinary working-class people will cause hardship.
People were expecting prices to come down, not to go up. They accepted the word of the Tory Party that if it was returned to power it would bring down and keep down the cost of living. That is one of the reasons why the Tory Party got its majority. If the Tories had told the working-class and middle-class people that as soon as it was returned to power 2½d. would be added to the cost of a pot scourer, that 1s. was to be added to the cost of a pudding basin and that amounts from 2½d. to 9s. were to be added to the prices of essential commodities which ordinary people use the whole time, I am certain that the Tories would not be in power today. They would be sitting on this side of the Committee and doing what we are doing.
I notice that there are seven Members of the Tory Party in this Chamber and there is not one woman Member among them listening to the debate on this very important matter. I hope their constituents will be made aware of this. They are not even saying the things that their constituents are saying.
I am speaking for very many of my constituents who are finding new accommodation. They have drawn my attention in no uncertain manner to these matters. On the Sunday night before last, a meeting was hastily called by the Co-operative women in the City of Liverpool, at which there were over 250 delegates from women's organisations. They expressed very strong resentment indeed and asked me to convey to the Government their resentment at the tax which has been put upon the prices of these necessary commodities.
The amount that is to be drawn from these items is very small indeed. It is said that the Chancellor does not want the money but that he wants to prevent spending. He wants to prevent people buying these things so that the inflationary situation may be dealt with. I should like to be told how pot scourers can interfere with inflation. If anyone can tell me how rolling pins, bread boards, pots and pans can affect such a situation, I should be interested.
Let us be honest. Let us put the position quite clearly. It is obvious that the Tory Party resents ordinary working-class families having a better standard of life and having additional money to spend. They resent that. They dislike it. They hate the fact that ordinary people enjoy these things, because of six years of Labour Party legislation. When dealing with these matters hon. Members opposite should not run away with the idea that they are responsible for full employment. They inherited it from the legislation put into operation by the Labour Party between 1945 and 1951, and they have taken advantage of it to impose this tax instead of taxing the profits resulting from increased productivity.
I am told, and I have no reason to disbelieve it, that in the first eight months of this year increased profits resulting from increased production amounted to £166 million. Would it not be better to get the amount which the Chancellor wants from those increased profits, instead of puting this paltry, mean, miserable, and, as I said the other day, obscene Purchase Tax on the ordinary commodities used by ordinary working people?
I think it was the right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) who said on one occasion that he had a song in his heart, and I have a little of the same feeling now. I have always hated Purchase Tax, and now some hon. Members opposite seem to have joined me in my opposition to it. In the Budgets produced by Labour Chancellors of the Exchequer, Purchase Tax was a major weapon of economic policy. Now that we have hon. Members on both sides of the Committee who are opposed to Purchase Tax, I think that we stand a reasonable chance of getting rid of it altogether in the near future, which would remove one element which leads to squabbling across the Floor of the Chamber.
I wish to be fair in my criticism of Purchase Tax. In my view, it is inflationary in the long-run, but that does not mean that it is inflationary in the short-run. In the short-run, Purchase Tax is deflationary—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] —because it reduces the spending power of the population. It is rather like those fairground machines where you are asked to get a hammer and hit a thing and send something up to the top of a pole. If you ring the bell, you get your money back. But because we are working in an economy of full employment, I believe that the repercussion of the blow with the hammer has an immediate de- flationary effect, but the long-term effect is to send things up the ladder until we ring the bell.
Would the hon. Gentleman explain what he means by "immediate"? How short a time has he in mind? Most of the wage demands now resulting from the Budget will be settled in the next few months. Would he term six months a short or a long term?
Order. I do not want this discussion to get too wide again. We are discussing three specific Amendments and I should be grateful if the hon. Member would devote his arguments to them.
I should not think of disputing your Ruling, Mr. Hoy, but I have sat through the whole debate, and as there was an attack on the Government by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), who ranged very widely, I think it would be unfair to tie me down too narrowly in this matter.
It is not my intention to tie the hon. Gentleman down too narrowly, but he will remember that I called the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne to order on two or three occasions and that is what I am now doing to him.
May I draw your attention, My Hoy, to the fact that your predecessor in the Chair dealt with this point and said that while he understood and accepted that we could have a general debate on all these matters, he hoped, without instructing the Committee to do so, that hon. Members would respect his desire that we should limit our discussions? In view of that, I think you will agree that the hon. Member was in order.
I shall certainly try to keep in order.
Prior to several interjections, the hon. Member for Northfield (Mr. Chapman) asked me a question. Taking the nation as a whole, I will quote the Purchase Tax as having a deflationary effect for approximately twelve months. While we get some wage claims there would be an inflationary effect, but if we take the whole economy I think that the maximum period is about twelve months.
Had I been fortunate enough to be called during the debates on the Budget or on the Finance Bill, I should have put forward suggestions to my right hon. Friend about how this might have been tackled, but as I was not, I shall be out of order if I mention them now. Although there is a great question mark in my mind, I have supported the Chancellor's proposals because I think that in the short-term they will achieve the object which he wishes to achieve.
I should not like it to go from this Committee that the vast experience obviously possessed by hon. Gentlemen opposite in these matters is unique. I reckon that I have had as much experience of pot scourers, mops, and dish cloths as they have, and on a proper occasion I will go into the merits or demerits of them with hon. Gentlemen opposite.
I am sure that the women of Britain—if they feel it is right—will loyally carry out the wishes of the Chancellor, but I think the Chancellor ought to look again at the tax on things like pot scourers. A pot scourer is a most miserable thing to use if once it gets beyond its working life. If one has ever tried to wash a plate with a mop which gets all soggy and messy one knows that with a new clean one the job is cleaner, easier and much more hygienic. When we are trying—as we are—to put the emphasis on a rise in hygiene, I think it unfortunate to try to reduce expenditure, by however small an amount, of things which are necessities in the house.
As I have already told my hon. Friends, I propose supporting the Government in the Lobby, as I have done throughout the debate on the Finance Bill, but I have grave doubts whether the long-term result of this proposal will not, in fact, be inflationary. I think that before Report stage my right hon. Friend could well have a look at the tax on things like pot scourers, which are a necessity in every house, whatever the income or status of the occupier.
I am grateful to have caught your eye, Sir Rhys, after having listened to two interesting speeches from hon. Members opposite. I can understand the interest of the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth, West (Brigadier Clarke), who is no longer with us—
I realise that you are not interested in where those hon. Members are, Sir Rhys, and I hastily move to the rest of my speech.
I come from a part of Wales where people are house proud. They like to have in their houses all the things which make for cleanliness. The working women of Wales, no doubt the working women of England, also—
It is a long time since so many hon. Members ran through the Lobbies when they knew I was on my feet. I appreciate more than I can say the zeal with which they came in, but I am sorry for the haste with which they left.
Two arguments have been advanced against the Amendment now before the Committee. Right hon. and hon. Members opposite have been at pains to indi- cate that the burden put on the housewife by these special increases is not very much and that, after all, it will not be a very severe increase in the expenditure of any individual home. I think that that is putting fairly the argument that has been advanced from the Treasury Box in favour of the general principle. On the other hand, the argument has been advanced that it will have such an effect upon the economy of the home that the housewife will not buy a pot scourer when she needs one and will not buy a rolling pin, a cinder sieve, or sifter, when she requires one.
I would remind the Committee that the people affected by this Amendment are those who more than others place a moral obligation on us to watch over their well-being. The other day a Minister told us that today the old-age pension is worth 26s. 8d. in terms of 1945 values. That is 8d.—only a matter of coppers—more than it was in 1946.
On a point of order. Before you came into the Chair, Sir Rhys, our debate upon the Amendment ranged over a wide field, including the theoretical justification of Purchase Tax. Points which we have raised have been partly answered. I submit that it is most unfortunate for the Committee if different occupants of the Chair keep changing their minds as to how widely the debate should range.
My hon. Friend was merely referring to old-age pensioners by way of illustration. Presumably, they will use pot scourers. Surely, if they use these articles and the price is likely to be raised in consequence of the imposition of Purchase Tax, such an illustration is quite appropriate, Sir Rhys.
I am well aware that when you hear the remainder of my argument, Sir Rhys, you will realise how anxious I was to make that point. My argument is that if this tax is now imposed it will wipe out 8d. of the value of old-age pensions, and it may lead the Minister to a position where he is unable to refuse an increase in old-age pensions. To that degree, the tax is inflationary.
The Chancellor has been ill-advised upon this question. The Amendment deals with a cowardly proposal by the Government. It is cowardly because an attempt is being made to reduce the purchasing power of the working people without reducing their wages. The trade unions are too strong for the Government to feel able to reduce wages directly, and their only way of doing it is by this mean and miserable method of adding on a halfpenny here and a penny there; devaluing the £ without acknowledging that they are doing so.
I now turn to the question of cinder sieves and sifters. We all know that it is a matter of anxiety to the nation that our coal supplies shall be conserved, and that we should use our fuel resources to the best advantage. In my constituency, most of the people who will use these cinder sifters are anxious to save a few coppers because they cannot afford to buy much coal. They have to use their cinders, and are only to glad to have sifters. The Minister is now telling them to do without sifters and to buy more expensive coal. It is difficult to realise what rhyme or reason lies behind his policy in this regard. I am sorry that the Financial Secretary always seems to be left to do the impossible in replying to these debates.
I am not particularly anxious. I only want to know whether the Financial Secretary believes that one less cinder sifter will be bought next year because of the few coppers he is putting on to its price. Can he imagine one housewife in Britain saying, "I will not buy a pot scourer because of the 2½d. extra that has been put upon its price?"
My hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mr. Moss) interrupted my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West, (Mr. G. Thomas) to ask him whether he was under a misapprehension and whether he understood a certain matter and my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden tried to explain to him what the objective of the Chancellor was. Surely that was to clear up a mis-statement.
I am very sorry to interrupt these interruptions. It is quite clear that this is one of the most effective speeches I have been able to make in the Committee, although I do seem almost to have emptied the benches opposite.
I have two questions to address to the Financial Secretary. How much metal does he anticipate will be saved, first, on the pot scourers and, secondly, on the rolling pins and, thirdly, on the cinder sieves and sifters? Will he also tell us how many people he anticipates will be prevented from buying necessities simply because he has put up their price?
I feel I have not only the right but the duty to remind the Committee that it is not long ago since the people of Cardiff were being told by the party opposite that it would bring down the cost of living. This Amendment is aimed at helping the Government to fulfil the promise they made. Does the hon. Gentleman wish to interrupt?
The hon. Gentleman is always so kind to me, probably kinder than most Welshmen. Is it not normal medical practice, when a doctor interviews a patient who has a high temperature, to make the patient hotter to get the temperature down?
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Glover) is not as helpful as my hon. Friends, and I am sure that his remarks about other Welshmen and me will be resented by the Committee.
I have the obligation to say here that there are people in Cardiff who will be seriously affected by the proposals the Government have put before us. It is a gross betrayal of what they told the people but a short while ago, in May. This is the price of Tory rule. This proposal, and the others in the Bill, are all part of the price we have to pay because the Tory Party succeeded in misleading the nation at the General Election.
I have listened patiently and with interest to the whole of this debate, and I do not think that I have ever before heard the Government lashed with such ridicule as they have been throughout these hours on both sides of the Committee. If the Government were susceptible to any form of shame at all, they would by now have announced their willingness to withdraw these ridiculous and foolish proposals. It is only too obvious that the Government are not prepared to make any move at all to meet the arguments raised on both sides of the Committee and, therefore, the members of the Government and the supporters of the Government have only themselves to blame if they suffer weariness during the hours of the sitting of this Committee when matters of this kind are being raised and debated.
It has been an astonishing experience to listen to speech after speech from both sides of the Committee, in which the only attempt to justify the proposals from the Conservative benches was made by someone with a great deal of experience—the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke)—of the motor car industry, who made interesting proposals about the possibility of increasing the export of bird cages by means of the tax which is proposed. That is the sort of level of argument which we have had from the one defender of the Government's proposals up to now.
The real fact is, as some of my hon. Friends have pointed out, not so much that these proposals will limit the number of pot scourers—and other implements covered by these Amendments—which are to be bought in the shops, because they have to be bought in any case, but rather that they are going to build up a psychological atmosphere which I should have thought it was the Government's main object to prevent. If the Government wanted to do anything which would cause great annoyance about petty issues, they have done it by imposing this form of taxation.
In every shop in the land housewives are making comments about all these classes of articles, and it is foolish for hon. Members to imagine that this is merely a matter of the actual number of pence which may be added to the cost of purchases by a particular individual at a particular time. These stupid, irresponsible proposals are built up in such a way as to infuriate ordinary people in the country and make them feel that there is no reason at all why they should give any co-operation to the Government of the day.
I do not believe that the Government have yet attempted to justify any of the detailed proposals which have been made in this Committee—never once. They have attempted some vague justification on general grounds which have been torn to shreds and destroyed utterly by my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), as is apparent to anyone who had the pleasure of listening to his arguments. Never once has the Financial Secretary or other occupants of the Treasury Bench attempted to justify these specific proposals with which we are really concerned. It seems to me to be fantastic that the Committee should be presented with a situation in which apparently it is impossible to make any progress and to move the Government at all in spite of the logical arguments which have all the time been advanced on these issues.
I had hoped to have seen the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) in his place. Hon. Members on both sides of the Committee have explained their personal interest in pot scourers. I have shared the experience of some of my hon. Friends and of the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Glover). We have all had a good deal of experience in this matter. One point, which I thought would have appealed to the hon. Member for Kidderminster, is that by using pot scourers, whether made of metal or nylon, which I prefer, or of plastic material, it is possible to clean a pan efficiently without hot water. Indeed, there are some who argue that it is possible to clean more efficiently if the cleaning is done immediately with cold water, provided that one has an efficient scrubber.
It should appeal to the hon. Member for Kidderminster, who is properly anxious about the use of coal, that there is no need to waste hot water on some of the pots and pans if the proper equipment is available. I regret that we have not had the usual intervention from the hon. Member for Kidderminster, who might have been able to detail to us, as he is so capable of doing, in statistical form how much coal the country would save by the provision, possibly free to every householder, of proper pot scourers.
After hearing the speeches on the Amendments, the Financial Secretary must realise the futility of these proposals and must at last show some grace by agreeing to the withdrawal of this tax.
At an earlier stage in this very interesting debate some doubt arose as to whether I was a gremlin. I hope that the Committee will at least grant that I am a patient and courteous gremlin. I have heard every word of the debate on the Amendments, and I want to try to answer specific questions. I hope also that the Committee will forgive me if I bear in mind your suggestion at an earlier stage, Sir Rhys, and do not roam over the whole universe in dealing with the somewhat narrow Amendments, for there were occasions in the debate when I wondered whether we were discussing rolling pins or space travel.
The hon. Lady the Member for Liverpool, Exchange (Mrs. Braddock) said about an hour ago that she judged that by then almost everything possible had been said on the subject, but she asked why specific reference was made to fully-manufactured pot scourers. That reference is in the former Purchase Tax schedule, issued before the Budget, in which the scope of exemptions was defined. It was intended to make clear there that the article that was exempt was a fully-manufactured pot scourer, not a part of that article or a partly manufactured article which might be turned into something else.
The three Amendments which we are discussing must be viewed against the general intention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to raise about £75 million by additional Purchase Tax. As my right hon. Friend explained, he felt that it would not be right to confine the additional tax to articles which happened to be taxed already, and he deemed it proper to bring within the scope of the tax household goods which happened to be outside the tax. I stress the word "happened" because, as I will show in a minute or two, the line between the taxable and the non-taxable is a narrow and sometimes a curious one.
The plan to impose tax on household goods generally is estimated to bring in about £15 million. The three Amendments with which we are dealing now embody the intention of the Opposition to carve out artificially from the range of household goods these seven or eight articles such as pot scourers, steel-wool, and so on.
The hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) asked me how much metal would be saved. This is not a matter of saving substantial quantities of metal or of bringing in a heavy revenue. It is a matter of seeking to avoid anomalies created by leaving out of tax one small group of articles which would naturally fall within the general definition of household goods.
The same hon. Gentleman and possibly other hon. Members asked me about the estimated revenue. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor explained earlier that it is exceptionally difficult to give a precise figure attached to each of these Amendments. This is because, when the Customs is collecting the revenue, it does not foresee Amendments that will be used in the House of Commons at a subsequent date, nor does it call for detailed returns of the tax on each separate article.
I have listened to the debate. I have not interrupted hon. Gentlemen opposite who sometimes make provocative remarks, and at this moment I am trying to give the Committee some information in order to help it make up its mind.
So far as we can measure it—and I speak subject to all that the Chancellor has said already about the difficulties—we judge that the additional revenue likely to come in from the three groups of articles in these Amendments is of the order of a quarter of a million pounds. In other words, it is not a triviality, as some have suggested, neither is it a major contribution to the total national Budget.
Hon. Members who have exercised their mathematical faculties on the figure which I have just given will be able to calculate from it that, by imposing tax on this small group of articles, it is likely that the cost of living will rise by one-fifteenth of a penny per week. Having said that, I hope I have demolished the suggestions—[HON. MEMBERS: "NO."] Let me at least finish my sentence. I have waited for two hours to make this speech.
By giving the Committee that figure I hope I have demolished the argument used by a number of hon. Members that tax on this group of articles would substantially raise the cost of living and give rise to wage claims. I agree that there is a big question to be discussed on the wider range but I want to confine myself to this Amendment, as you have asked, Sir Rhys, and I do not think anyone would seriously suggest that, whether or not we impose it, tax amounting to one-fifteenth of a penny per week will have a major effect on the cost of living.
The right hon. Gentleman is making a fair point but I think he has missed the main point made by my hon. Friends, namely that it is not the amount but the particularly irritating point at which the tax is being imposed. It provokes wage demands because it is so irritating.
I can imagine myself being irritated more greatly by other things than pot scourers. I am not seeking to pooh-pooh anything that has been said in the debate; I am simply stating my side of the case and trying to quantify some of the arguments which have been used.
know that the Opposition is concerned to plead that these items are essentials, and I certainly regard them as essentials—it is extremely awkward to be without a rolling pin—but hon. Gentlemen opposite accompany their plea with the argument that their policy would be to tax only luxuries. Though they may not be aware of it, all these years, and throughout the time of the Labour Government, pastry cutters have been taxed. I seek to analyse these things as carefully as I can, but it seems hard to conceive of a major difference in essentiality between a pastry board and a pastry cutter.
I am putting my point of view, and I put forward that argument to prove the case that I am making, that it is not a fact that hitherto in this field of household goods all the essentials have been free and all the non-essentials have been taxed. The line between them has been a very wiggly one. If tax is imposed on all these articles, it will mean not the creation of anomalies but the removal of a number of discrepancies which are certainly regarded by shopkeepers as anomalous.
I do not wish to weary the Committee with a lengthy speech on this matter, and I do not think that would be the Committee's desire at this time of night. I simply want to say that the tax on these articles is a small part of the general plan in the Budget to check inflation. It would be strange, curious and anomalous to omit these few articles. If the general plan to which I have referred succeeds, it will do more than anything else to assist the people referred to in the debate, people living on small and fixed incomes, whose interests, as an hon. Member said, we have a special obligation to watch.
I do not suppose for a moment that the Committee would have objected to a lengthy speech from the Financial Secretary if only he had put up a reasonable defence for the tax. I must confess that I have never heard a weaker case presented.
The reason for the imposition appears to be that the Chancellor, having two objects in mind, one being to prevent inflation, or, at any rate, to reduce it and the other being to raise revenue by imposing Purchase Tax, decided that he must raise £75 million. Then he looked round for something to tax, and seized upon pot scourers and a number of other items.
The Financial Secretary referred to pastry cutters. I do not know why he made that reference, because anybody who has any knowledge of the domestic sphere is well aware that pot scourers are in much greater use than pastry cutters, and, indeed, are much more useful. I doubt whether there is a single household in the country, at any rate where the housewife is houseproud and is concerned with the hygiene of the household, where a pot scourer is not in use.
The right hon. Gentleman said that he would not be irritated by a pot scourer, but if his wife tried to use one on him, I think that he would be very much irritated. I have the impression that he knows very little about pot scourers. For example, he talked about fully-manufactured pot scourers. But there are different kinds of pot scourers. There are fully-manufactured pot scourers and half-baked pot scourers and there are pot scourers in embryo. Apparently, those in embryo do not bear tax. Will someone be good enough to explain why embryonic pot scourers do not have to pay tax? Why should tax be paid only on fully-manufactured pot scourers? Why should it be fully-manufactured pot scourers upon which the Chancellor pounces to impose this obnoxious tax?
Perhaps the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) did not hear the whole of our earlier debate. I was speaking about the situation before the Budget when fully-manufactured pot scourers were exempt, but it is important so to define the Purchase Tax Schedules that there will be no means of wrongfully claiming exemption.
In order to escape from the imposition of this obnoxious tax, there will be an attempt to produce half-baked pot scourers instead of fully-manufactured pot scourers and the Chancellor will not be able to raise his £75 million. He will look around for other worlds to conquer. This is ridiculous.
I heard the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth, West (Brigadier Clarke). If I may say so, it was the first sensible speech I have heard him make in the House of Commons.
I do not know, Sir Rhys, how far you will permit me to go into that matter. I had occasion, when I was Secretary of State for War and when the hon. and gallant Gentleman committed what could be regarded only as a most undesirable faux pas, to have him transferred from one part of the country to another, and he has never forgiven me for that.
We must return to the pot scourer which, by the way, is a form of armament. It is a very useful weapon and I have frequently used it myself. May I explain to the Committee the use of a pot scourer? One takes a pot—I will come to rolling pins in a minute—and, if the pot is not very clean, one takes the pot scourer, whether fully-manufactured or half-baked, and hot water—boiling water, if available—and scours and scours and scours. One of my hon. Friends argued with me that a mop was better than a pot scourer, but I have used both and I am bound to say that I come down on the side of the pot scourer.
No. I have used the embryonic form frequently—bits of wire, steel wool; one turns it round and round in the pot.
The hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth, West was quite right when he said that the pot scourer, like the sieve for retrieving cinders, contributes in a large measure to fuel efficiency and fuel economy. A Daniel come to judgment. I suggest that we are likely to suffer much more in the loss of coal because of this tax than we shall gain in revenue, and I am astonished that the Chancellor should be so pettifogging as to produce this tax. It ought to have its throat cut at the earliest opportunity. I do not know whether one can cut the throat of a pot scourer, but hon. Members will understand the illustration.
Let us come to the question of the sieve for retrieving cinders. I am an expert on this subject because many years ago, not for bogus company promotion or picking pockets or anything criminal, I was a guest at one of His Majesty's institutions. I was a stranger and he took me in. While I was there they gave me the job of retrieving cinders, shovelling them into a sieve and riddling them. A large amount of coal was saved. Now the Chancellor intends to impose a tax on this very useful article, as a result of which we shall suffer a great loss in coal.
Numerous suggestions are being conveyed to me from my hon. Friends, and I am at a loss which one to use. Now that the Chancellor is here perhaps I may briefly repeat the point which I put to the Financial Secretary. The Chancellor wants £75 million, and he is seeking to reduce inflation. He looks around and says, "Where shall I get the £75 million?" He imposes a tax on pot scourers. He might have imposed a tax on some of the pot boilers which we receive from the United States in the form of films.