I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Hendry) for not being present when he' moved the new Clause. I had some work to do which I found it very difficult to postpone and I am sorry if I missed several other speeches, too. I know how strongly hon. Members feel on this subject. It is a subject which we have discussed on a number of previous occasions, and on every occasion my predecessors have not found it possible to accept the validity of the principle which lies behind this new Clause.
I found the observations of my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) absolutely conclusive. All of us must feel that we are dealing with men who are devoted to a high vocation. Further, we all agree that in most cases they are underpaid. If all of us feel that, the right answer must be to raise their pay rather than to seek for discriminatory tax treatment. That is the way to solve the problem.
On a number of occasions it has been held that voluntary offerings of all kinds are income. That has been held by courts of all levels. Coming to ministers of religion, nearly all clergymen obtain some part of their income in the form of voluntary offerings. I understand that many ministers of the free churches receive most of their income, in some cases all their income, in that form. In many cases the voluntary offerings are not made direct to the clergyman in the parish but are made to the central fund, and then payments are made out from that to clergymen whose stipends particularly need supplementing. Therefore, voluntary offerings of this kind are a more complicated matter than appears at first sight.
If all voluntary offerings were exempted, some very strange anomalies would arise in the treatment. A clergyman whose income was £800 a year, largely composed of voluntary offerings, would pay very little tax indeed, whereas a clergyman whose stipend of £800 was paid otherwise than by voluntary offerings might pay a substantial sum in tax.
My predecessor examined this question in 1957 with a real desire to find a solution. In 1958 we found one thing that we could do, and which we did, for the benefit of the clergy, namely the removal of the disqualification from charity relief in certain cases.
It may be thought offensive to compare voluntary offerings received by clergymen with the tips and gratuities received by other people, but exactly the same principle of taxation applies, and such offerings in tips and gratuities are subject to tax.