Clause 29. — (Stamping of Foreign Bills of Exchange.)

Part of Orders of the Day — FINANCE (No. 2) BILL – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 12th June 1967.

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Photo of Mr Harold Lever Mr Harold Lever , Manchester Cheetham 12:00 am, 12th June 1967

The hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Nott) presupposes a state of enthusiastic delirium among those subject to what I admit is a minor concession on the stamp duty. If there is anyone in a state of exaltation at this minor concession, he is not to be found on this side of the Committee.

The arguments of the hon. Member for the Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. John Smith) are always listened to with great care, as he is the Member for the entire Treasury Bench, so far as I know. He is certainly my Member of Parliament, so I always listen to him with great attention, in order to feel sure that I am getting value for money. I am rarely disappointed, but on this occasion I was not so impressed. The hon. Gentleman argued that this tax brings in £9 million and the sum paid is 2d. I should have thought that this was an argument for retaining the duty rather than not. We are always talking in favour of shifting from direct taxation which, it is said, deters effort and the like, to indirect taxation. What is this tax? Not only is it indirect taxation, but it is indirect taxation at its most painless. The number of spectacular examples of malnutrition caused by 2d. having to be paid on a bill of exchange must be very limited. On the whole, I imagine that the Committee would regard it as not unreasonable to retain the duty and accept this welcome concession.

It is a concession, and, while speaking in support of it—we are discussing a concession, not the duty itself—I should tell the Committee that a right hon. Gentleman who was more well known in the House as the Chief Whip of the Conservative Party was the fons et origo of this concession. I do not know why my mood inclines to Latin on this occasion, but I should like the Committee to know that he thought of the idea of making this concession, and the Treasury, with its characteristic open-mindedness on concessions which cost nothing, decided that it was possible to make it.

What we are doing here is granting the right to pay this duty in the most convenient and least costly way, namely, by a franking machine. If hon. Members ask why we should not go further, the answer is that we would readily extend the concession, which is convenient for the Revenue as well as for the taxpayer, wherever incentive to forgery would not arise as a result of the use of a franking machine. If there are other points at which hon. Members can suggest extension, they have the excellent precedent that this proposal came from the former Tory Chief Whip, now Lord Redmayne. There is no reason why hon. Members on both sides should not make similar suggestions for extension.