Hon. Members on both sides of the Committee would agree with the hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Gooch) when he said that people living in country areas should be able to enjoy the counterparts of urban amenities. This Amendment, which was so ably and concisely moved by the hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White), deals, as everyone will agree, with an important point. It is also a very narrow point—rather narrower than some hon. Members have appreciated.
There is, of course, no question whatever of taxing bottled gas, or the cylinders in which it is contained. Nor is there any question of taxing the cookers which are used in country places. The issue has nothing to do with cooking or lighting, though in fact, cooking and lighting are the principal reasons why anybody might consider installing Calor gas or similar apparatus. This Amendment concerns space heaters and water heaters exclusively. When it is suggested that the only people who will be hit by an extra tax are those with very little money and living in cottages, I am inclined to think that some of the more expensive apparatus that may be referred to in the Amendment is at least as likely to be used by people occupying relatively expensive caravans—who are by no means the ordinary cottage dwellers—as by the cottage people for whom the plea has been made.
The hon. Lady suggested that this exemption in favour of heaters not
suitable for operation from electric or gas mains
had been made, particularly and intentionally, for the benefit of people living in remote places. That is not historically the fact. The history of this matter is. I think, interesting. All these heaters were treated exactly alike when Purchase Tax was introduced, and for the duration of the war. As the Committee will remember, in 1945, when the war was over, the Labour Government removed the tax entirely from all these electric and gas cookers and heaters. From 1945 to 1947 they were free of tax.
The curious anomaly which we are today debating arises from I think, the Finance Act, 1947, when, following the fuel crisis of that year, the Labour Government imposed a 66 2–3rd per cent. tax on all those space heaters and water heaters which were suitable for operation from electric or gas mains. When the hon. Lady and other hon. Members opposite say that the Government are acting very harshly in now imposing a tax of 60 per cent., I should like to remind the Committee that it is a less increase, and over a much less wide field than was affected by the Finance Act, 1947, which imposed the tax on heaters generally.