Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

HC Committee [Finance (No.2) Bill]

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [748/851-904]
Editorial comments: Around 1900-2138. MT spoke at cc851-59, 872, 882, 892, 895-98, 901-04. The whole of the debate on these successive amendments is included on the disc.
Importance ranking: Minor
Word count: 16818
Themes: Industry, Taxation
[column 851]


(1) Where a royalty or other sum to which section 169 or 170 of the Income Tax 1952 applies is paid in respect of the working of any mine or other source of mineral deposit, the person receiving the payment shall be entitled, for any year of assessment in respect of which such payment is made—

(a) to an allowance in respect of the depletion of the mine or other source of mineral deposit, the allowance being equal to the fraction mentioned below of the payment so made in that year, that is to say—

(i) where the first working of the source to which the payment relates was less than ten years before the end of the year of assessment, one-half;

(ii) where that first working was less than twenty years but not less than ten years before the end of the year of assessment, one-quarter;

(iii) in any other case, one-tenth; and

(b) to claim the like relief as he would be entitled to claim by virtue of the provisions of Schedule 6 to the Finance Act 1963 if the payment were a premium required under a lease the duration of which is the period over which the right to work the mine or other source has been granted, and as if the chargeable sum, for the purposes of that schedule, were the amount of the payment after deduction of the allowance referred to in paragraph (a) of this section:

Provided that no claim shall be made under this paragraph unless the income of that person from such payments in the year of assessment exceeds by more than thirty per cent. the annual average of such income in the preceding four years.

(2) Any allowance or relief under this section shall be made or granted by repayment of tax or otherwise—[Mrs. Thatcher.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

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The Deputy Chairman (Mr. Sydney Irving)

With this new Clause we may discuss new Clause 30, entitled— “Non-ferrous metal mines in United Kingdom” :

(1) The profits of a trade commenced after the passing of this Act and consisting of or including the working of a non-ferrous metal mine situated within the United Kingdom being profits arising from the working of the mine and so arising during a period of 36 months beginning with the day on which the mine is first brought into commercial operations shall be exempt from the corporation tax.

(2) For the purpose of this section a mine shall be deemed to be brought into commercial operation as soon as substantial quantities of ore are extracted from the mine for any treatment and for disposal and such substantial quantities shall not be taken to include ore extracted in the course of searching for, discovering or testing mineral deposits, or winning access thereto.

Mrs. Margaret Thatcher (Finchley)

On a point of order, Mr. Irving. We would appreciate it very much if we could have a separate Division on new Clause 30.

The Deputy Chairman

Yes, the Chair has agreed that it is possible. It will be taken, of course, when we come to that new Clause in the Notice Paper.

Mrs. Thatcher

I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.

The Clause is concerned with the taxation of minerals and mineral rights. This subject has been frequently discussed, and over the last 20 years there have been many changes in the legislation relating to it. During those discussions analogies have often been drawn between mineral rights and other forms of property, and I [column 853]stress at the very outset that there is no parallel at all to a lease over mineral rights. There are certain other transactions that have characteristics in common with the lease on mineral rights, but there is no strict parallel.

When one gives a right to work minerals one is giving a person the right to consume that mineral, not to use it, but to consume it—to use it up completely, so that it disappears. One is selling a capital asset in parts, and parts are being used up year by year. I stress that aspect now even though I shall probably call in aid analogies with certain other transactions, but I will know that they are not complete. I know that J. Diamondthe Chief Secretary will probably equally call in aid analogies which I shall not consider complete. So, at any rate, we will start on a similar basis in that respect.

The history of the subject is that, originally, capital allowances were given only for the actual working of the mine or the working of the mineral right—the operation of extracting the mineral. They were not given for the acquisition of the mineral at all. After 1955, when the Royal Commission had reported, a further change was made which was embodied in the 1963 Finance Act. That is, I believe, the last time this matter was extensively discussed. Then, for the first time, a depletion allowance was given in respect of the minerals themselves. It was given to the operator who was extracting those minerals for sale or for use.

There have since been many changes in the taxation system, a number of which are relevant. I need scarcely remind the Chief Secretary that a full Capital Gains Tax was introduced in 1965, we have just had through the House the development levy, and we have just made changes in the Finance Bill relating to the capital levy. The ownership of minerals is concerned with the Capital Gains Tax and, particularly when the right is given to work minerals, with the development levy. Both of these are capital taxes. One would have expected and hoped for some relief from the full rigours of taxation on those who had minerals and let them out to operators to be used up. One would have hoped that there would have been some corresponding tax relief to the new very considerable tax penalties that have been imposed. [column 854]

This Clause is concerned, first, to treat part of the royalty payment as subject to a capital allowance. My thesis there is that the entire mineral is capital, and that when the mineral operator extracts part of it the initial capital, as such, is being depleted and, therefore, at any rate part of the payment which the operator makes to the owner should be treated as capital. The operator is not using the mineral, but is using it up.

That is why I say that the use of minerals is quite different from the use of any other asset. When one has used the minerals there is nothing to hand back—they have gone—so the operator in using them up makes certain payments to the owner, part of which, in the hands of the owner, we feel should be treated as capital and should therefore be subject to a depletion allowance. When the suggestion was made in 1963 a number of answers were given from the Treasury Bench and, naturally, I shall have to examine their validity.

The second limb of the new Clause is concerned with spreading the royalty income over a number of years. This is where analogies come in with which I am sure the Chief Secretary will be familiar. There are a number of assets which can produce moneys coming is, which moneys do not come in evenly, but in one year are concentrated with, perhaps, not so much coming in another, with a lot again in a third year. Patent rights can produce that effect, and so can copyright and a number of other things. There are provisions in the taxing Acts for spreading that income over a number of years.

In the working of mineral assets it so often happens that one can get a very concentrated amount of money during one year. Sand and gravel is a good example. The workings of the assets occur quickly, and then the operator moves on to other sources. One can thus get a great concentration of royalties which gives a very high taxable capacity during one year, and a very high tax liability during one or two years.

There are, therefore, two parts to the Clause, one seeking to treat part of the royalty as a depletion allowance because the asset is being used up as a kind of capital payment, and the other being to [column 855]spread the income allocation over a period of years—preferably over the time that the mine is being worked.

The capital suggestion was first raised in the Finance Act of 1963, when my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. More) made, if I may say so, an excellent speech which I can adopt in almost every particular. In fact, I confess that I would rather take his speech than the answer from the then Treasury spokesman. Then I go to the new position and see how it has changed; and whether and how I can succeed in introducing some doubt in the mind of the Chief Secretary about the validities of the replies given on that occasion.

That debate took place on 26th June. 1963, and the answer was given by Edward Ducannthe then Economic Secretary to the Treasury. He seemed to base his arguments on a number of propositions. The first one he related to the specific Clause then under discussion to which this Amendment was made. He said this:

“Relief under Clause 37 is at present limited to a person carrying on the trade of working a source of United Kingdom minerals who incurs capital expenditure on its acquisition. … the total relief … is limited to the net cost of acquiring the source.”

There are two things there. The first is that the relief was limited to the operator. That we know and are seeking to extend. The other argument seemed to be that relief would attach only to a person who had spent money on acquiring the asset. Therefore, it would be assumed that a mineral owner who had not spent money on acquiring the mineral asset, but who was just realising it as an asset was not entitled to a depletion allowance, which is a capital allowance.

First, we are seeking to extend it to the person who has an asset and who lets it out. So the fact that Section 37 was on a more limited scale does not apply here. The second point is that the other argument is true, namely, that a capital allowance applies only to a person who has spent the money. It would follow that a person who did spend money on purchasing mineral assets as an investment should be entitled to a capital allowance because he had incurred the expenditure. That argument could be turned against the person who made it. [column 856]

There is another reason why I would not accept that particular argument. As the Chief Secretary knows, the right to capital allowances is not limited to the person who incurred the expenditure. Capital allowances are given to the person who has the relevant interest. The relevant interest may pass from the person who incurred the expenditure to a second party by means other than by purchases. So I hope I have made it clear that I would not accept that there was very much logic or good reason in that argument.

The second reason which was advanced against the capital section of this proposal was that the owner merely allows the operator the

“temporary use of an asset which he owns in return for income” .

It was because of this reason that I spent a little time at the beginning of my comments on stressing that this is quite a different transaction from merely letting somebody else use the asset and its then being handed back. It is quite different. The owner is not allowing somebody to use the asset. He is allowing somebody to consume it and use it up so that at the end there is nothing of that mineral to hand back.

Therefore, I would not accept that argument anyway. What happens is that the operator has the right to use the surface of the land so that he may extract the mineral and use up the mineral from the land. The income element, therefore, would go to the use of the surface of the land and the capital element would go to what he was purchasing from the land. I could not possibly accept that second reason.

The third reason for rejecting the Amendment then put forward was that there are no grounds for making an allowance for

“a wasting asset simply because it wastes” .—[Official Report, 26th June, 1963; Vol. 679, cc. 1490–91.]

If that were the argument which was being advanced, I would agree, because there are a number of things—certain industrial buildings, certain commercial buildings—which do not attract the allowances and which could be said to be wasted, but I fail to see how it can be said that a mineral asset wastes away. It does not just waste away. It is positively extracted, to be used for positive [column 857]purposes. It is not a question of wasting away in any regard.

Perhaps this argument came from the very extensive mineral deposits of coal which were usually the subject of taxation and of tax legislation in the early history of working minerals. Coal is one thing, perhaps, which we are not considering on the Amendment, for obvious reasons. But a mineral asset does not waste. It is positively used. 7.15 p.m.

Perhaps I may here invoke another analogy. Even industrial buildings which are subject to particular vibration—they do not normaly waste, but they are subject to some vibration because of some particular energetic process or dynamic process taking place within their walls—have special capital allowances because it is not merely wastage. It is some positive use of the asset which attracts the capital allowance. So I could not accept that argument as being a valid one for rejecting the Amendment either.

The fourth argument, or the fourth thing just thrown in by the way, seemed to be that most leases gave restoration provisions anyway and therefore—I am not sure that there was any “therefore.” That was just a gratuitous piece of information, or perhaps it would have gone on to say that the land was handed back. But the mineral asset could not be handed back, because it had gone. The land was handed back, often restored, because, as the Chief Secretary knows, there is a restoration levy in respect of these things.

In fact, the restoration levy on royalties in respect of ironstone works, for example, in pre-war leases could amount to as much as 50 per cent. of the actual royalty payment. The land was handed back. That for which the royalty was mainly paid—the mineral—could not be handed back. The land was handed back. Often its current use value has been reduced for a number of years, because, although it may apparently be restored to agricultural use, it cannot possibly come up to full agricultural use for a number of years. I do not make any particular play with that, because that would be a matter for Capital Gains Tax and, perhaps, adjustment of development levy. For these reasons, I do not think that the view advanced by the Economic Secretary in 1963 consisted of reasons [column 858]such that I could accept them for the time being.

The other section of the Amendment is that which asks for averaging. Frequently in the working of minerals, particularly sand and gravel, as I have said, a lot of moneys come in over a short time. It seems very unfair indeed to tax them as the entire income or capital in one particular year. The form of averaging selected in the Amendment is about equivalent to the kind of averaging or spreading which occurs in a premium for a lease. There is also spreading in patent cases. In patent cases there is both the capital allowance and the spreading of income. I know that it is not entirely on all fours, but this case warrants on its own some spreading over a number of years.

I mentioned earlier that there have been a number of changes since 1963, of which the development levy is one. The development levy falls very heavily indeed on those who let out or lease their mineral rights. As J. Diamondthe Chief Secretary knows, the levy is calculated at the beginning of the lease and is payable before a single royalty has been paid. So even the capital element of the royalties which I am proposing the Chief Secretary should give would be used up to pay the development levy. It would not go scot-free by any means, if the Chief Secretary is worried about that.

At the moment, the mineral owner is liable to very heavy tax indeed—Capital Gains Tax, a heavy development levy, Income Tax and Surtax, and often a restoration levy. Indeed, there are cases where the net amount received from the sale of the minerals is less than the outgoings in tax and restoration levy, so high is it at the moment.

I therefore hope that the Chief Secretary will think of giving some particular relief, either on capital lines, or along income spreading lines, or preferably on both. I need scarcely tell the right hon. Gentleman, because he is used to dealing with taxation on land matters, that land law in this country has always provided for the capital content of mineral royalties. The Chief Secretary must know, from the many trusts and settlements he must have handled tax-wise, that, if a tenant for life is entitled to money from the workings of minerals, he is not entitled to it all as income. [column 859]Twenty-five per cent. must go to the trustees, because that portion belongs capital-wise to those entitled in remainder. In the United States depletion allowances are given to owners as well as to mineral operators.

I do not wish to delay the Committee for an undue length of time. I hope that the Chief Secretary will not advance the arguments which were advanced in 1963. I hope that I have said enough to make him realise that I do not fully accept them. Considerable taxation has been imposed since then for which there has been no corresponding relief, and this alters the whole picture.

I shall not deal with the other new Clause, because I know that some of my right hon. and hon. Friends, particularly those from the West Country, have special arguments to advance, and they will do it more cogently than I can.

Mr. John Nott (St. Ives)

I fully agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) said about new Clause 21 and the reasons which she advanced in support of it. If I use the term “wasting asset” in what I have to say, I hope that she will appreciate that I agree entirely with her definition. In the case of minerals, one is speaking of a substance which is actually consumed, which is very different, as she rightly said, from the wastage on land and certain types of building. I shall, however, use the term “wasting asset” , doing so in the way which she defined it as an asset which is consumed.

I shall address myself to new Clause 30, “Non-Ferrous metal mines in the United Kingdom” . Hon. Members will recognise this new Clause. It has, I believe, been tabled on every Finance Bill each year since 1961, when it was moved by the right hon. Gentleman the present Prime Minister, then in opposition. Although the right hon. Gentleman originally proposed it, we have seen no action on on it since the present Government came to power, but I hope that we shall not need to divide on new Clause 30, as I have every hope that the Chief Secretary will accept the arguments which I shall put.

The arguments in favour of a concession of this kind have been often stated in the House, so I shall be brief. [column 860]During the last century, this country produced a substantial proportion of the world's tin and about half its copper. We are not suggesting for a moment that it could ever produce enough to make this country anything life self-sufficient in tin again. Britain now imports about 95 per cent. of its tin requirements, and, even if new Clause 30 and the one proposed by my hon. Friend were accepted, the percentage which this country would produce for itself would be raised by only a small amount. Nevertheless, the development of our natural resources, which at present lie fallow and unused, could do at least something to lessen our dependence on imported minerals, to the benefit of our balance of payments.

Tin affords the most striking example of my case, and I shall direct my argument to tin. Cornwall has one of the very few undeveloped areas of tin mineralisation in the world. There is a serious world shortage of tin, and the price fluctuates widely. In fact, the price of tin is only held relatively stable at present by releases from the United States stockpile.

When this stockpile runs out, which it is likely to do in the early 1970s, the price of tin will almost certainly rise astronomically, and this country could have an insufficient supply of this material because the main tin producing area of the world are in relatively politically unstable parts. Moreover, it is difficult to envisage substitution for tin in the way in which, for example, there can be substitution for oil and other materials.

At present, Union Corporation, Consolidated Gold Fields and Guggenheim Exploration, some of the greatest mining houses in the world, are prospecting for tin in Cornwall. These great international mining houses are able to prospect in most countries of the world. They recognise that tin is there in Cornwall, but they almost unanimously agree that at present the incentive is not there to mine it.

The world is, as it were, an oyster for these companies. They can go anywhere. But they know that, although the gross cost of extracting tin from Cornwall is fairly comparable with that in any other country in the world, the net costs, after taxation, of extracting this mineral out of the Cornish granite is very much [column 861]greater than in most other countries. The reason is to be found purely in our taxation system.

Practically every other country in the world—this goes for the United States, Australia, Canada, Ireland and South Africa—has the type of depletion allowances which my hon. Friend mentioned in connection with Clause 21, and a number of them have the type of tax holiday which we propose in new Clause 30. Eire, for instance, now has a 20-years tax holiday. I am not suggesting that the Treasury would ever agree to that, but that is the arrangement in Eire, and Consolidated Gold Fields, Union Corporation and the other mining companies are free to exploit minerals there. Canada—I sent the Canadian income tax laws to the Chancellor about four months ago, with the relevant sections underlined—has a three-year tax holiday similar to that which we suggest here, and it also has substantial depletion allowances along the lines proposed by my hon. Friend.

Taking the position on a discounted cash flow basis and comparing Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and other countries, we find that the taxation arrangements in Britain are, almost without exception, far worse than in any other country of the world. That is the simplest example one can take to show how adversely the United Kingdom tax system bears upon a particular industry. An O.E.E.C. report a few years ago on mineral legislation in Europe said that Great Britain

“would seem to have the best developed negative attitude towards metal mining of all the O.E.E.C. countries.”

Thus, that official report confirmed that our negative attitude towards the exploitation of minerals in Britain far surpasses that of any other country of Europe.

We do not by the new Clause involve the Treasury in its nightmare of precedent. We know how frightened it is of creating a precedent. What we suggest will not lead to a precedent and will not lead to widespread demands for tax holidays from other industries. We propose putting mining operations on a taxation footing similar to that for other comparable wasting assets. I shall later explain how I define a comparable wasting asset.

The sinking of a shaft and exploration through granite involves immediately a [column 862]huge loss of capital if tin is not discovered in recoverable quantities. Where tin is found, the capital is lost over a relatively short period by depletion of the wasting asset, by consumption of the tin. As my hon. Friend said, there is no ground whatever for comparing mining and non-ferrous metal exploration of this nature with land or with buildings. There is no comparison between industry and commerce and mining and mineral depletion.

The only conceivable comparison—I suspect that the Chief Secretary may try to use it—is with natural gas and oil exploration in the North Sea. I can imagine the Treasury being fearful of demand from the North Sea companies following a tax holiday granted to non-ferrous metal mining. But I dissent even from that comparison and assert that non-ferrous metal mining is in a position quite different from that of mineral exploitation on the Continental Shelf.

The difference between tin and oil exploration and, more especially, natural gas exploration is that tin is not persistent in its incidence. The lodes are extremely narrow and very spasmodic. This is shown by the fact that the two working mines in Cornwall, which have been working for 60 years, have never known for more than three years ahead that they had sufficient reserves to continue working. In other words, the tin is extremely spasmodic, it is non-persistent, it is found scattered over a wide area, and in extremely narrow lodes. This cannot be said of oil and natural gas. The risks are far greater and the cost of exploiting tin out of granite is far greater than the equivalent cost of exploiting oil.

There is also the important factor that the major oil companies—the “Seven Sisters” , or whatever one might like to call them—are in a position very much to influence world prices, by virtue of what I consider to be cartel agreements. But it cannot be said that the tin producers can influence the prices of tin on the London Metal Exchange. The only way in which prices for tin are influenced on the London Metal Exchange is by releases from the American strategic stockpile, which I said earlier is likely to run out in the 1970s at the present rate of release. Then the price of tin will [column 863]rocket upwards and this country's supplies will be in great danger. Through agreements among themselves, the oil companies can influence the prices for their products and thereby ensure that they will get a certain minimum return. The tin companies cannot do that. Their margins are of necessity very much narrower because the industry is far weaker.

I hope that the Chief Secretary does not resort to the argument of precedent, and say that the Government cannot grant the concession because it will set a precedent, and other people will make similar demands. That argument is certainly not true to only a very limited extent with oil and natural gas.

If he does not advance that argument, I fear that he will mention the 45 per cent. cash grant. Originally of 40 per cent., it was introduced for the development areas many months ago, and there is still great uncertainty about it in the mining industry. Even after this vast time, the tin-mining industry still does not know whether the 45 per cent. cash grant is available to it for the exploitation of new shafts. I have corresponded with the Board of Trade for months to try to find out whether the mining industry is eligible for the 45 per cent. cash grant for exploitation and development. Although the legislation was brought before the House months ago the question is still being debated by the Board of Trade.

This is a serious matter for the tin-mining industry, which still does not know where it is. Even if the Board of Trade agrees that the 45 per cent. cash grant is available for exploration and the sinking of new shafts, the financial position is still considerable worse than under the old system of free depreciation and capital allowances.

I can give the Chief Secretary the figures, thought I shall not do so now because I do not want to delay the Committee. They show quite clearly that the advantages for the tin-mining industry are considerably less under the present system of 45 per cent. cash grants and Corporation Tax than under the old system of free depreciation, Income Tax and Profits Tax. The principle reason is that capital allowances are based on the 55 per cent. residue after the 45 per cent. [column 864]cash grant. It is this element which, on a discounted cash flow basis, makes the return to the mining industry less. Therefore, we ask for the 45 per cent. cash grant to apply to exploration and development and also for a three-year tax holiday, for the reasons I have previously explained.

Finally, may I enter a plea for good sense on the regional aspects of the case? It so happens that tin is concentrated almost wholly in Cornwall. Cornwall is a development area and is the county with the lowest incomes in the country, according to last year's Inland Revenue Report. It has lower incomes than the average for Scotland and for Wales, and it has some of the highest unemployment in the country.

We ask that the Government should recognise that tin-mining is an indigenous industry of the poorest county in the country which could be brought back into use, given the same tax advantages as are available in Canada, the United States, South Africa and practically every other country. This would cost the Treasury not a penny, as the present Prime Minister was well aware when he moved a similar new Clause in 1961.

According to the Mining Association of Canada—and I think that its figures are right—for every person employed in mining six people come into employment in the ancillary industries. Therefore, this concession, which would cost the Treasury nothing, would bring more employment to Cornwall through Cornwall's natural industry.

Yesterday, we discussed the £100 million regional employment premium. We want light industry in the West Country, but why cannot we have a concession, which would cost the Treasury nothing, to exploit our indigenous industry which has existed there for 900 years and which could be brought back into play again with the help of Union Corporation, Consolidated Gold Fields and all the other companies. They are great international companies which are searching there now, but which will not open up mines because the tax concessions are less good in this country than in the others to which they can turn.

I repeat the words used by my hon. Friend. We are talking of a wasting asset of a very special nature that is consumed, but the Government and the [column 865]Treasury insist upon treating this industry as if it were a commercial or industrial undertaking. There is no kind of comparison between an industrial undertaking and a mineral resources of this nature which is consumed, as my hon. Friend said. It is in part a repayment of capital. We want the Government to look at the Canadian and American income tax laws, and those of practically every other country, and treat this country on a similar basis.

Mr. Jasper More (Ludlow)

I want briefly to support the two admirable speeches by my hon. Friends on these new Clauses. I saw with astonishment in Hansard that four years ago I made a speech on some of the technical taxation aspects of this matter which would now be far beyond the resources of my ageing brain. But there are some matters of broad principle about which the Committee should be told, because things have altered even in the four years which have passed since then.

What we are saying to the Chief Secretary this evening is that it is time we brought this sphere of taxation into the second half of the 20th century. This has been one of the longest delaying actions ever fought by the Treasury, aided, I am sorry to say, by a Royal Commission which said in 1920 that if anything were done on the lines of the new Clause the Treasury would lose a lot of money. We have moved on from that kind of consideration since then.

I want to stress two things. As my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) said so convincingly, we are now in the sphere of capital taxation, and granted that we are dealing with what partly has income character and partly has capital character, the capital character is taken care of by development charges and Capital Gains Tax, which puts the matter into a wholly different context from when it was discussed in 1963. One could call in aid some of the words of Professor Kaldor in the memorandum of Dissent in the Report of the Royal Commission on the Taxation of Profits and Incomes in 1955. That is the first great consideration which should be borne in mind.

Secondly, my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Nott) has referred very pertinently to the great international [column 866]corporations into whose hands mining enterprises all over the world are becoming increasingly confined. One result is that mining is acquiring the character of a short-term operation. When our Income Tax laws were drafted, mining was viewed as something which, practically speaking, went on for ever. When a gentleman called Jevons produced a book in the 19th century suggesting that there might be a time when coal would run out, Mr. Gladstone, in particular, had many sleepless nights, and thought that the whole taxation system and the basis of our economy would have to be changed. Now mining is no longer viewed as something that goes on comfortably for ever.

Mining is a proposition in which, where possible, the prospects are sized up, in particular by these corporations, and it is viewed as a short-term operation, the object being to assess the mineral content of a particular area, work it as quickly as possible and then move on. Obviously, it has financial results completely different from the old-fashioned way of just working on a royalty basis. For that reason, the second part of new Clause 21, in particular, should be carefully considered by the Chief Secretary. I hope that he will bear these two factors in mind for, apart from the taxation technicalities, they have completely altered the whole character and atmosphere of the subject.

Mr. Peter Bessell (Bodmin)

It is fair to say that this discussion is a hardy annual and that Amendments and Clauses on these lines have been moved year after year during the passage of Finance Bills. The hon. Lady the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher), supported admirably by the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Nott), referred to the fact that the last time there was a full discussion of this subject was in 1963. There has, of course, been a discussion on the matter in every year since the war on almost every Finance Bill, and in the 1940s, the 1950s, and the 1960s right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the Committee have sought to introduce new Clauses to put right this ridiculous situation, which is hampering the development of tin mining in this country.

I am addressing myself chiefly to new Clause 30. Earlier today, the hon. Lady [column 867]the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) suggested that it takes ten years to obtain a piece of legislation in the House of Commons. It is quite clear from the long history of this subject that it can take 30 or 40 years, because it has been under discussion for at least as long as that.

Looking back at the list of those who over the years have moved new Clauses and Amendments to various Finance Bills, one finds that they included my own predecessor as Member for Bodmin, Sir Douglas Marshall, the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Geoffrey Wilson), the predecessor of the hon. Member for St. Ives, Mr. Greville Howard, and the late Mr. Harold Hayman, who was Member for Falmouth and Camborne. But I am going to address myself to the remarks made in 1961 by the present Prime Minister because, during the passage of the Finance Act, 1961, he made an impassioned plea for the adoption of a new Clause which would fulfil the objectives contained both in new Clause 21 and in new Clause 30 tonight.

The Prime Minister, when opening the debate in that year, said that the purpose of the new Clause he was moving was to provide special tax treatment for a single industry. He said that he thought it incumbent on him, therefore, to show that there was a special case for doing this. He concluded that the case was to be found in the fact that it was a matter of national importance that Britain should produce the maximum possible amount of tin and make the fullest use of the indigenous resources of the country. He made the point that the production of tin in Britain and the possibility of exporting it, apart from the fact that we should be able to use it in our own industries, would considerably assist our balance of payments problem in 1961.

If the right hon. Gentleman were here tonight, I am sure that he would agree with me that our balance of payments problem in 1961 is at least as grave, and if he considered that, for the benefit of our balance of payments, this tax holiday should be granted to the mining industry in 1961, it is abundantly clear that there is a much stronger case now.

The Prime Minister went on to explain the peculiar difficulties associated with [column 868]mining and he continued his argument by a quotation from The Times in support of the case he was making. In fact, I cannot do better than suggest to the Chief Secretary that he reads again the columns in Hansard—column 1513 onwards in Vol. 642—containing the eloquent speech made by the Prime Minister.

Among other things, the Prime Minister paid tribute to the skill of Cornish miners over the years and assured the Committee of that day that the skill still existed and should be utilised. I entirely agree with those views. His arguments were sound and there is nothing about them that one could possibly refute now. In column 1522 of Vol. 642, in the course of a long and impassioned speech, the Prime Minister drew attention to the fact that the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) had, shortly after the war, set up a very important Committee, which produced a report. This was the Westwood Committee and in its report the argument was put forward for precisely this kind of measure and he commended it to the then Government. He based a good deal of his argument upon the case which had already been made by the Westwood Committee. At the end of his speech he said:

“Therefore, I hope that the Government will answer that they do take the tin shortage seriously, that they are concerned with developing home production of other metals and minerals where the production can be made more economic, and that they do not propose, because of perhaps outdated ideas of where our materials might come from, to allow this essential development, essential for this country and, I believe, for the world, to be held back any longer by systems of taxation which may have been appropriate in their day but are certainly not appropriate to the world mineral shortage we are now facing.” —[Official Report, 21st June, 1961; Vol. 642, c. 1526.]

The Prime Minister made a strong, cogent and well argued case and it is one which must commend itself to the Chief Secretary. But there is much more to it than that.

Mr. More

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the reform of this branch of the tax law had an even more august supporter than the present Prime Minister, namely, in 1963, the right hon. Gentleman the [column 869]Member for Southampton, Itchen (Dr. Horace King), whom we know as Mr. Speaker?

Mr. Bessell

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. That is so. There are other interesting names in the Division Lists to which I shall draw attention. But what happened in Committee in 1961 was nothing compared with what happened on the Report stage. On the assurance of the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd), then Chancellor of the Exchequer, that he would look into this matter seriously before Report Stage, the Prime Minister agreed to withdraw his Clause. But on Report stage the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral found, for reasons that I shall not delay the Committee with, that he could not accept such a provision after all.

The Prime Minister was outraged and when he moved an Amendment on Report stage he expressed his grave disappointment. He went on to say that not one hon. Member had produced an argument against the Amendment, and added:

“… we have a duty, not only to ourselves, but to the world …” .—[Official Report, 3rd July, 1961; Vol. 643, c. 1085.]

This is stirring stuff. This is the kind of thing which one expects to hear from a potential Prime Minister—a man who takes seriously the potential wealth of the country and is determined to do everything within his power to see it is developed.

Then he went on to refer to the Treasury Ministers of that day, and I ask the Chief Secretary to take careful note of these words. He referred to them as being.

“… like putty in the hands of their officials …   .” .—[Official Report, 3rd July, 1961; Vol. 643, c. 1088.]

Having read those exciting words I naturally turned to the Division List, and I am glad to be able to tell the Committee that among those who voted for the new Clause, which was so admirably put forward by the present Prime Minister, was the Chief Secretary himself. He went into the Division Lobby. So, too, did a number of Members of the Conservative Party, who were then the Government, and the more credit for them for doing so. They did not on that occasion obey their Whips. They were impressed by the eloquence of the debate which had preceded the vote—the speeches not only of the present Prime Minister, but of my [column 870]predecessor, Sir Douglas Marshall, who, incidentally, produced new Clauses and Amendments dealing with this subject to almost every single Finance Bill during the whole of the 19 years he was in the House.

This is a very serious matter. It is serious on two counts. First, because of the arguments which have been advanced by the hon. Member for St. Ives. He has drawn attention, as I sought to do yesterday and as I did last Friday, to the peculiar problems of Cornwall—the fact that it has high unemployment, an ageing population, and an absence of work, but that it has enormous potential wealth which could not only be used to provide employment and prosperity, but could contribute to the economic stability of the country by helping in our balance of payments problems.

The hon. Member for St. Ives mentioned that there are a number of international companies which are prospecting at the moment. He is absolutely right in his assessment of the future when he says that no company will involve itself in the kind of capital expenditure which is necessary to sink shafts unless they have comparable tax concessions to those which exist in Canada. The hon. Member for St. Ives mentioned that Canada has a three-year tax holiday and that Ireland has a 20-year tax holiday. I am glad that he did not suggest a 20-year tax holiday, because we should not get that from the Treasury. The proposal is entirely reasonable. That is one of the reasons why these two new Clauses are amongst the most important which will be considered by the Committee throughout the whole of the discussion on this Bill.

But I have a second reason which I cannot stress strongly enough. There are three possible courses of action open to the Chief Secretary. First, he can endorse the words of the Prime Minister in 1961 an accept these Clauses; secondly, he can reject them, as he rejected similar proposals last year; thirdly, he can give an undertaking that he will move on Report a Clause which will be suitable to meet the requirements of this but which might be phrased in slightly different terms to satisfy the requirements of the Treasury. If he does not undertake to introduce his own Clause, or if he does not accept the [column 871]proposals which are before him, then I believe that the people of this country will be entitled to say that politicians who advocate one thing in Opposition but who do something totally different when they are in Government are to be regarded with some suspicion.

Mr. Diamond

This is a very safe line for the hon. Gentleman to pursue.

Mr. Bessell

I am glad that I have aroused the indignation of the Chief Secretary. His conscience is heavily burdened. He is a man who voted for these proposals and in a few moments, unless my guess is wrong, he will get up and reject them. If he rejects them is he saying that his right hon. Friend, the Prime Minister, and he himself were simpletons in 1961? If he does not say that, then he has to say that he is not prepared to accept these Clauses for totally different reasons. I cannot guess what those reasons will be, but if they are the same reasons as he rehearsed to the Committee last year and the year before, then he will be on a very sticky wicket indeed.

There is an issue at stake here. For far too long politicians have been told by the electorate that they are dishonest because when they are in opposition they say one thing and when in Government they do a different thing.

The record of Her Majesty's Government in opposition is clear. The words of the Prime Minister are there to be read by everyone. If these words are to be denied, then a new question will appear in the minds of many of the supporters of Her Majesty's Government. I believe, therefore, that when the Chief Secretary rises to his feet, if he is to reject these proposals, if he is not to give an undertaking to produce proposals of his own on Report, he will carry a very heavy burden.

Mr. Marcus Kimball (Gainsborough)

Such is the eloquence of my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Nott) and my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. More) that I am frightened that the Chief Secretary will think this is a matter which affects only tin mining in Cornwall. However, I ask the right hon. Gentleman to bear in mind the far greater burden which is suffered by people mining [column 872]ironstone in my constituency and throughout Lincolnshire.

Miners of ironstone already bear an additional levy of 1⅛d. per ton for the restoration of their surface soil under the new leases. Much of the ironstone in my constituency still mined under old leases and the levy in north Lincolnshire in many cases is as such as 2½d. to 4d. a ton. Therefore, before considering taxation on workings, I hope the Chief Secretary will bear in mind that the people working ironstone are already paying 50 per cent. of much of what they get towards restoration. This is a very important point and it is a very serious burden.

My hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) made the point that since 1965 we have reached the position when the whole of capital taxation has been changed by the Finance Act of that year. Therefore, I hope that the Chief Secretary in reply will not just think of tin in Cornwall, but will bear in mind the particular hardship of ironstone in North Lincolnshire because, owing to other Government policies, the demand for this or is in one of its troughs and ironstone owners and the people mining it are enduring hard times.

Mr. Diamond

I am very glad that the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) has widened the debate, but although he is much better informed on this topic than I am, I thought that we were talking about non-ferrous metals and I thought that ironstone was not such a one. In all events, he has made his case and I am sure that that is a situation which we ought to bear in mind.

Mrs. Thatcher

On a point of order. New Clause 21 is not confined to non-ferrous metals.

Mr. Diamond

I thought that the hon. Gentleman was making his point on new Clause 30, which is.

The Deputy Chairman

We are discussing new Clauses 21 and 30 together.

Mr. Diamond

I was not seeking for a second to suggest that there was any question of anyone going out of order. I thought that the hon. Member was relating his remarks to new Clause 30 and I was saying that ironstone was not a [column 873]non-ferrous metal with which that Clause is concerned. If he had said that it was a non-ferrous metal, I would have accepted what he said, because I do not claim his expertise in these matters.

Three major requests are made. One is for tax holidays, the second is for depletion allowances, for part of the royalties to be treated as depletion allowances, and the third is for spreading the income so that the rate of Surtax would be reduced. As we all know, these topics have been discussed many times. They were thoroughly discussed in 1963 and have been mentioned every year since. Therefore, unless we are to go over all the arguments again, which would take an unnecessary amount of time, I think that we should concentrate on what has happened since that date to justify a new and different approach.

The hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Bessell) did my party a great service by drawing attention to the extremely felicitous, forceful and cogent way in which the Prime Minister, then the Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, performed his duties, a model for anybody seeking to discharge that function. He was performing the duty of an Opposition fully, and I support everything which he said in the circumstances in which he said it. I do not share the view of the hon. Lady, who astonished me by suggesting that the Chairman of the Conservative Party did not know Conservative philosophy. I shall return to that later.

The Prime Minister was doing what every hon. Member of an Opposition has to do—to seek an opening and to make whatever case he could to help a particular situation which he wanted to help within the powers of an Opposition, which are not the same as the powers of the Government. In the circumstances of that time, it seemed to him to be a suitable opening on which to base the case, and he made a great impression on all who heard him. But many things have happened since then. The Prime Minister was then concerned with measures which would enable new strength to go to the tin mining industry in Cornwall.

Since then, we have had the allowances which the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Nott) mentioned, which for tin mining, [column 874]which, so far as I know, is almost exclusively concentrated in the development area of Cornwall, have meant a 45 per cent. cash grant.

Mr. Nott

No, it does not.

Mr. Diamond

It has the cash grant of 45 per cent., which is an enormous inducement, for all the physical assets involved in mining. There is an area, about which there are now discussions between the industry and the Board of Trade, concerned with the labour element in certain new works associated with mining. This is a matter for discussion to draw a precise line, but in terms of hard physical assets there is not question but that the mining industry gets this 45 per cent. grant. It used to get the free depreciation allowance. Those were advances since the matter was last discussed, and the situation has therefore considerably improved.

Mr. Nott

The free depreciation and the 30 per cent. investment allowance were available for exploration, for new shafts. The 45 per cent. cash grant is not yet available for new shafts, and this is the point. It is not related to the Clause, but we would be gratified if the Chief Secretary could clear up this matter.

Mr. Diamond

This is not a suitable arena in which to clear up an area of doubt about whether an allowance of a kind should be given to a particular kind of work. I am giving the hon. Gentleman the general answer. He has used an expression which would incorporate both physical assets and labour, and there may be a division to be drawn. However, we cannot sort that out here. I am aware of the point he is making and I am saying that the present intention is to give, as the Industrial Development Act provides, 45 per cent. Investment grant for the new physical assets invested in mining. This is a tremendous advance and it takes the place of other allowances which, again, were an advance on the situation which existed in 1963.

So successful is the general improvement in the approach since 1963 that we now have a situation in which I am told that there are two major tin producers in Cornwall—Geevor and South Crofty—both very prosperous according to their published accounts—I am not referring to any confidential information—and some 20 companies engaged in exploration, or [column 875]in trial drilling for tin in Cornwall. The situation has been completely changed and we have reason to believe that there is no case for special treatment—special to this industry—because new benefits are being introduced into the development area, and we agreed to one of them only yesterday—the regional employment premium, which, of course, will benefit the development area and help in the general economic activity in the area.

All of these things are helping, and I repeat that we have no reason to believe that any further special help is needed to get this one industry on its feet so that it can make the contribution which is can make and which we want it to make.

Mr. Bessell

The right hon. Gentleman's assumptions are incorrect. He has quoted two companies which are now undertaking tin mining in Cornwall. But they have been doing so for 60 years and their existence is not the result of any change since 1963. He mentioned the grants which the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Nott) has questioned. Certainly, they are not yet available, but, even if they become available, one of the richest deposit areas in Cornwall, the Gunnislake area, is outside the development area and would not qualify anyway, so both the right hon. Gentleman's arguments are demolished.

Mr. Diamond

The hon. Gentleman must not try to ride off in that way. First, if a particular area which is being prospected is outside a development area, although the grant would certainly not be as high as 45 per cent., which is the rate applicable to a development area and although this area will not get the immediate benefit although it is contiguous, in due course it will get some benefit from R.E.P., and the fact remains that it still gets an allowance.

Mr. Bessell

indicated dissent.

Mr. Diamond

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman would care to listen to my remarks with one-tenth of the attention which I gave to his, but if he would he would be much quieter.

Mr. Bessell

Of course I was listening to the right hon. Gentleman's remarks. What astonishes me in their utter inaccuracy. He has said that the premium would [column 876]be available for non-development areas. We argued this yesterday; that is not the case.

Mr. Diamond

If the hon. Gentleman would listen, he would realise that that is not what I said. The hon. Gentleman is getting so excited that he is forgetting to listen. I did not say anything like that. I will repeat what I said.

I said that if the area to which he is referring, outside the development area, is contiguous—I do not know the geography—then it is likely that the effect which the R.E.P. is bringing to the development area will spill over into the contiguous area. That is all that I said in that respect. I further said that the grant under the Industrial Development Act was available to all investment of this kind, but at a lesser rate outside the development area than inside. I am not saying anything other than what is a wellknown fact.

Mr. Nott

I apologise for interrupting the Chief Secretary again. The R.E.P. will be available on top of the old premium available for manufacturing industries, and the R.E.P. is not available for service industries, nor, as I understand, was it available for industries in the middle layer, which did not receive the premium. If the Chief Secretary is saying that the tin-mining industry is a manufacturing industry, entitled to the 7s. 6d. premium and the 30s. R.E.P., then this is now information for the tin-mining industry, of which it will be most grateful to hear.

Mr. Diamond

With the greatest respect, I did not say that. I did not suggest it, and everyone knows that it is not the case. I am sure that hon. Members are interested in the development of tin mining in their constituencies, and I am sure that this is an important issue. We are ad idem on the objects. I do not know why there should be so much heat. If hon. Gentleman would listen, they would realise that I have never said anything of the sort.

This industry does not get the S.E.T. premium and, therefore, it does not get the R.E.P. payments. But it is a development area, and the point that I was making was that we yesterday passed a Clause which will have the effect of [column 877]benefiting development areas, and everyone in a development area will share in the general benefit through economic activity.

The common objective is to obtain a reasonable increase in tin mining, in particular in Cornwall where it is almost exclusively carried out. This is being achieved by methods which the Government have adopted. We believe that there is no reason to seek out special inducements, which are not available to industry or mining elsewhere in order to achieve this objective. It is being done, and it is for that reason that the speeches that have been made in past years, drawing attention to tin mining, were wisely made and have achieved their purpose. It follows from that that the Government are not proposing to recommend acceptance of this new Clause, because we do not see the need to create a special benefit.

The hon. Lady the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) dealt with two other reliefs which she is asking to be granted, spreading and the depletion allowance. I do not accept what she has said about spreading, that there is an exact parallel here with the cases which she gave. Spreading and top slicing, which is the method that she was proposing, arise where there is not a concentration of income in a particular year but where, broadly, a large sum is received in anticipation of income coming in over a subsequent number of years and it therefore is of a different character.

It would be wholly unreasonable to regard that as income of that year. This is no different from many professions. The Bar, as far as I am aware, is such an example, where one can have tremendous variations between one year and another. One might get a very good case in one year, producing high fees, quite different from the normal run of income. There is no reason, in circumstances like that, to seek to alleviate the tax burden by spreading it in some way or another, and I am afraid that I cannot recommend to the Committee that the proposal should be adopted.

I recognise that there is something in the case that she made for the depletion allowance, that there is an element of the royalty which is received for the consumption of the asset rather than for the [column 878]use of the asset. The asset is wholly consumed. That is perhaps a little confused, because the asset in that case is not the land that we are talking about, it is something which has been found underneath the land, and something for which normally no special expenditure has been incurred. The reason that I referred to special expenditure is because the whole function and purpose of the capital grants is to encourage investment.

It is for that reason that attention has to be drawn to whether special expenditure is incurred, and there is no special expenditure incurred in those cases. The land is used, the use of the land is restored, and there is no difference between this and many other things which she said she does not accept as an exact parallel, but about which her colleagues—I do not know whether she was a member of the Government at the time, discussing this matter—took the same view as myself.

It is true, as she says, that we have since had additional taxes, but it is not true to say that Capital Gains Tax is involved here so far as royalties are concerned. It may be that if there were an arrangement of the kind she suggests, we would have to alter Capital Gains Tax so as to bring in liability the element which she seeks to exclude from Income Tax liability. There is no such provision at the moment, and I am bound to say that as it is not the subject of Capital Gains Tax, it is excluded because it is liable to Income Tax.

There is not sufficient weight to the arguments which she has put forward, although I accept that there is a point, to suggest that there should be this rather artificial means of segregating a portion of this, which might be differently regarded, and to treat it as liable to Capital Gains Tax instead of liable to Income Tax. I come, therefore, to the same conclusion as her colleagues came to in an earlier year, that this is not a new Clause, and these are not the proposals, which we could recommend to the Committee.

Mr. Bessell

I do not want to delay the Committee, but we could not possibly accept the speech which we have heard from the Chief Secretary tonight without protest. I have a great personal regard [column 879]for the Chief Secretary, as I am sure everyone on all sides of the Committee has. He carries the weight and burden of the Finance Bill year by year, and he is always most careful in all his statements to the Committee to be accurate and to make certain that the briefs with which he has been provided, or with which he had provided himself, will be received with respect, and not be subject to questioning.

Yet the arguments which he put to the Committee tonight were, and I say this with respect, not only ludicrous in respect of tax but they were in many parts woolly and inaccurate. It is regrettable that he should have slipped from his high standard. I appreciate that he is in a very embarrassing situation. He is in the position of having to say to the Committee that that which he and his hon. and right hon. Friends advocated, voted for in 1961, campaigned for in Cornwall between 1959 and 1964, the things which they promised to do, they are not now prepared to do. He has to find an excuse and a reason for breaking his word, and it is no less than that.

One has only to read the speech of the Prime Minister when he was the Shadow Chancellor to realise that this is a breach of faith. Having said that, it is understandable that the Chief Secretary should find himself in great difficulty in answering the debate tonight.

Mr. Diamond

I am not embarrassed. There is no question of breach of faith. It is far from being a question of not having carried out what we think should have been carried out. We have gone further, and tin mining is showing signs of prosperity, which is quite different from the previous situation.

Mr. Bessell

The right hon. Gentleman talks about mining showing signs of prosperity. That is not true. If he would do what his right hon. Friends the Minister of Housing and Local Government and the Board of Trade have done, namely, visit Cornwall, he would know that that is not an accurate statement.

There are only two tin mines in Cornwall. Both have been operating for at least 60 years. No new mining venture has commenced since 1963. It is true that a certain amount of exploration is in progress. There has been mining [column 880]exploration in Cornwall for as long as I can remember; and I have known Cornwall since I was 5 years old, which was 40 years ago. There is no material change in the situation. I am sure that the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Nott) will support that statement.

The Chief Secretary mentioned investment grants. He may be right. But if he is saying that the investment grant of 45 per cent. is available to anyone developing tin mining in the development areas of Cornwall, this is news which the hon. Member for St. Ives has been trying to extract from the Board of Trade for at least six months. I know that that is so: I have been trying to extract it myself. If that is the case, it is welcome news. But it still does not meet the case.

There are sections of the former mining areas in Cornwall where prospecting has been taking place for some time and where it is thought that there are specially rich deposits but which come outside the development area. But they will not get the benefits of the Industrial Development Act, 1966; they are ruled out. This has been a matter of correspondence between the President of the Board of Trade and myself and other hon. Members for the last few months.

The Chief Secretary has put forward an argument which, as I am sure he will find when he considers it carefully, is incorrect in detail. Therefore, if he finds when he reads Hansard tomorrow that the argument which he put forward is based on fallacy, I ask him to give an undertaking that he will reconsider the case with a view to introducing on Report an Amendment which will meet the requirements of the two Amendments which we are discussing and the Amendment which was proposed so admirably by his right hon. Friend in 1961.

Mr. Nott

I support what has been said by the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Bessell).

I have not been a Member for long. I have heard the Chief Secretary answer admirably a vast range of Amendments and new Clauses on two Finance Bills. But I have never heard an answer to a new Clause which contained so many basic inaccuracies as the answer which he gave tonight. It just is not true that the tin mining industry of Cornwall has benefited since 1963. The cash grants which he mentioned must be worth less [column 881]than 50 per cent. of what they were worth before 1963 under the Conservative Administration. There cannot be any argument about that. Even if the 45 per cent. cash grant is made available for exploration and development of the mines, the amount is still less than it was under the previous arrangements of free depreciation and investment allowances.

It is not good enough for the Chief Secretary, on a new Clause which is concerned with non-ferrous metal mining, to mention the regional employment premium. That is not available for metal mining. It is just as useful to talk about some completely different tax altogether. The regional employment premium is completely irrelevant to what we are discussing.

I am shocked by the Chief Secretary's description of the function of an Opposition. I am shocked that he should say that is was the function of the Opposition in 1961 to propose Amendments and new [column 882]Clauses the wording of which was precisely the same as the wording of the proposals which we are considering today and reject such proposals when they come to power. It is the function of the Opposition to probe the Government. But we are dealing with a quite different matter. I think that the Chief Secretary's words will tend to bring public life into disrepute.

Mrs. Thatcher

I have the only crumb of comfort, for J. Diamondthe Chief Secretary said that there was something in what I said about a capital element in royalties. I hope that he will consider that carefully, and particularly the heavy impost of a development levy. Perhaps one day he will be converted. Perhaps it would be better if we got to the barricades now.

Question put, That the Clause be read a Second time:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 113, Noes 149. [column 883]

New Clause No. 22.—(Child allowance.)

In section 212 of the Income Tax Act 1952, as amended by section 12 of the Finance Act 1963, for the references to £165, £140 and £115 there shall be substituted references to £175, £150 and £125.—[Mr. Dean.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Dean

I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.

The Temporary Chairman

If the Committee agrees, with this Clause we can discuss new Clause No. 23— “Child allowances for widows” .

Mr. Dean

Thank you, Sir Beresford.

The Clause deals with a subject on which there has been much discussion in recent months, namely child allowances. It proposes to raise child allowances by a token amount of £10, and new Clause 23 proposes to raise child allowances for widows, again by a token amount, in [column 884]this case £20. These allowances were last raised in the 1963 Finance Act, when they were also graduated according to the age of the child. They were then raised from £70 to £115 for children under 11, to £140 for children between 12 and 16, and to £165 for children over 16.

To justify this increase in child allowances I ask the Committee to consider what these allowances are designed to achieve, and I hope the Government will welcome this opportunity to state their views and their intentions in this respect. There is considerable confusion about the Government's intentions. There have been surveys, and indeed a good deal of discussion, during the last 18 months or so which have focussed attention on the general problem of child poverty. The Government have told us on a number of occasions that action is urgent, but no action has yet been taken, and we [column 885]have had no indication from the Government of what action they propose.

No doubt hon. Members read in the Press last weekend that the Government intend to introduce a Bill to increase pensions and other cash benefits, but there was no clear indication in these announcements whether the Government intend to act on family allowances, or child allowances. I therefore ask the Financial Secretary to say whether, in this forthcoming legislation, the Government intend to increase family allowances and or child allowances. If the answer is “No” , I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will tell us when the Government intend to act, because it will be very difficult to decide on these new Clauses without this information.

What is the Government's attitude to child allowances in general, and to these new Clauses in particular? There was a very interesting debate in the House on 20th April on the subject of family poverty. At the end of the debate many of us on this side of the Committee were confused about the Government's attitude to this problem. In her opening speech the right hon. Lady the Minister of Social Security suggested various methods of tackling the problem. It was quite clear that her sympathies lay with increasing cash family allowances, and reducing the child tax allowance to pay for them. Yet the Minister without Portfolio, when winding up, dwelt on the disadvantages of this method. Only yesterday, in answer to an Oral Question, the Chancellor drew a clear distinction between cash family allowances and child allowances through the tax system.

It looks as if there is a good old battle raging in the Government about what the policy should be and I have no complaint if they find it difficult to decide on their action on this difficult issue, but, the longer they delay, the less action is being given to what they admit is an urgent problem. This confusion about their policy on child allowances should be cleared up as soon as possible.

We believe that there is a strong case for the allowances and for increasing them and we should be strongly opposed to their reduction or abolition. This is one of the methods of getting equity in taxes and of recognising the necessary expenses of a family man. If they were reduced, it would be a back-door increase [column 886]in taxation of the worst kind, as it would fall on the family man and not on the bachelor.

It would penalise the highly qualified young executive of the kind who is already leaving Britain in the brain drain in disturbingly large numbers, and most important of all, it would bring within the tax bracket large numbers of people who are not paying Income Tax at all. A man with three children can now earn nearly £1,000 a year without paying tax, whereas without child allowances he would start paying on an income of £437. Finally, increased Budget problems would be involved were these arrangements made through cash allowances. These are strong arguments for maintaining child allowances.

These proposals are very modest, involving an increase of £10 for most people and £20 for widows. They have not been increased since 1952, since when costs have risen substantially. The proposal to treat widows preferentially is in line with the National Insurance cash benefits and recognises that widows are both breadwinners and the housewives to their families. Their earnings are mostly lower than those of their late husbands, but their expenses are often as great, if not greater. They must still pay the cost of home maintenance, fuel and rates. They are usually in the same house as when their husbands were alive because the children need the space.

This subject has great topical interest. This is a probing Amendment to give the Government a chance to state their policy over the future of child allowances clearly. We have waited many months for such a statement on what they regard as an urgently important matter. There have been confused and conflicting arguments and I hope that the Financial Secretary will give us a clear statement of the Government's intentions.

Mr. MacDermot

The hon. Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Dean) said that the new Clause are intended as probing, so as to raise wider questions. New Clause 22 proposes an all-around increase of £10 in the child allowance, which he described as a token increase. I do not know whether he realises what sums are at stake in these allowances. Rising prosperity has meant that increasing numbers of people can and do [column 887]claim them. An increase of £10, which is apparently modest, would cost £33 million in the current year and £41 million in a full year. In the light of my right hon. Friend's Budget statement and cost of this Budget, hon. Members will realise that he could not accept that this year.

Naturally, there is sympathy for any proposal to increase child allowances, but we must consider them in relation to other allowances as a whole. They are not unfavourable, particularly when compared with the wife element in the married man's allowance, which is £120 more than the single person's allowance and thus is less than that for a child over 11. If we raised child allowances by £10, the allowance for a child under 11 would be above that for a wife.

The hon. Gentleman said that the intention of the second new Clause was an all-around increase of £20 in child allowances to widows, single women and separated or divorced wives. I think that there has been a typing error and that one would be raised by only £10 and not £20, which I think is not the intention—

Mr. Dean

indicated assent.

Mr. MacDermot

—as the hon. Gentleman confirms. The cost of this would be much less because it would apply to only a relatively narrow class of taxpayers. It would cost about £1 million in a full year.

I have no doubt that this new Clause is prompted by Clause 16 of the Bill, which proposes a higher dependent relative allowance for this category of taxpayers. When considering Clause 16(3) in Committee, I said that it gives a bigger child allowance for the first child of a widow, single woman or separated or divorced wife who has the sole responsibility for a child or children. In those cases, under that subsection, an additional personal allowance of £75 will now be due, whether or not a resident child minder is employed to look after the child—provided that the conditions in regard to employment or incapacity are satisfied in the case of a single woman or divorced or separated wife.

This is a substantial recognition of the extra difficulties that women face when [column 888]they are left with the single-handed responsibility of a young child, and I suggest to the Committee that it would be going too far to give them a bigger basic child allowance as well.

On the more general question to which the hon. Member for Somerset, North referred, I am afraid that this is not the occasion for me to satisfy his request for a statement of Government policy on this matter. He indicated that this was partly a probing Clause, to probe the Government's intentions about how they intend to handle this admittedly difficult problem of child poverty in large families.

This matter was debated on 20th April. The whole problem, and the suggestions made for tackling it, were discussed by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Social Security in that debate. One suggestion was what has been called the “give and take” scheme for financing additional family allowances by withdrawing some child allowances. That is one of the proposals being examined and, as my right hon. Friend said, this whole problem is being thoroughly examined by the Government; and an undertaking has been given that an announcement will be made about it this summer. I am not in a position to do so. Nor am I the person, nor this the occasion, on which to make such an announcement. I must, therefore, ask the Committee to be patient and await the promised announcement. In the meantime, I must advise the Committee to reject the new Clause.

Mr. Douglas Houghton (Sowerby)

This is a subject in which I have a close interest and about which, as Minister, I did a great deal of work. The hon. Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Dean) has not succeeded in getting much additional information. I am not surprised at that, but it surprises me that here we are in June without any decision from the Government about what is to be done to solve this problem of child poverty.

This is an intricate subject and there are many considerations to be weighed in deciding the policy to adopt. However, we said how urgent the matter was and how devotedly and continuously we were giving attention to it. It is a matter of deep disappointment to me that we are still without a decision on policy. If we are to have a tax scheme which combines [column 889]Income Tax and child allowances with family allowances, the timing, for administrative and other purposes, is of great importance. One would have to change the child allowances, which would mean changing the coding for P.A.Y.E. purposes.

I discovered when I went into the matter how difficult it would be to change the amount of child allowances for tax purposes in the middle of a tax year. The conclusion I reached was that it was almost inevitable that, if we were to vary the amount of child allowances, that would have to be done at the beginning of the tax year. To do it then would mean that either the amount would have to be decided before the main work of coding was done in November, before the beginning of the tax year, or it would involve a massive recoding operation following a budgetary change after the introduction of the Bill in April.

It is desirable, in these circumstances, to reach a decision in time for the job to be done in the normal course of pay-as-you-earn coding, which is this autumn, rather than have a big rush recoding job done between April and June of next year. This points to the need to decide before next year's Budget if Income Tax allowances are to be brought into the scheme introduced. This would suggest that there must be a decision in the summer—and if we are taking of summer, I think we are having it now.

It is probably the only bit we shall get, and the Government should hurry up to catch the summer while it is here. But if we are to have a decision in the summer we must also have a Bill in the autumn. This is important. If it is left over to next year, we shall have this very big recoding job being done in extremely difficult circumstances in the early part of next summer.

These are very important considerations. If we are improving personal allowances, a recoding operation can be undertaken after the introduction of the Budget bringing in the improved allowances in June without any serious difficulties, because people then get the benefit of the delay in accumulated tax reductions which lead to a mini-tax holiday in the week in which the improved allowances first come into operation. But what no Chancellor of the Exchequer has been able to do since pay-as-you-earn was [column 890]introduced has been to reduce personal allowances with a delayed coding operation and an accumulation of tax debts instead of an accumulation of tax credits.

That is why it is so important that if Income Tax child allowances are to be reduced as part of an interlocking scheme for family allowances the job should be done in readiness for the new coding, so that the changed allowances can come into operation at the beginning of the tax year.

The Committee will remember that when the Chancellor of the Exchequer increased the standard rate he made provision for it in a Bill in the autumn preceding the beginning of the tax year in which it was to operate. Otherwise, he would have been confronted with exactly this problem. The tax tables providing for the increase in the standard rate would have come into operation in the June, with an accumulation of tax debts leading to a stiff increase in pay-as-you-earn on the new rates of tax. We must understand that we not only want an announcement in the summer, but, if it is to be done in this way, must have legislation in time for the coding to be done on the new basis at the proper time so that the new levels of taxation, if such there be, may be introduced at the beginning of the tax year.

It may be questioned whether this is the way to do it at all. There are strong opinions held both ways about a scheme of this kind, as to what it would involve if there were to be some element of self-balancing, for there are many permutations in such schemes. But if, so to speak, there is an element of compensation for improving all the family allowances by reducing the Income Tax child allowances—

The Temporary Chairman

I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but he has been long enough a Member to know that he is going a bit wide of this new Clause.

Mr. Houghton

I have been so long out of Finance Bill debates that I had not realised how narrow the debate could be on matters of this kind. I appreciate that I am getting on to a rather wider aspect of the Clauses. I was perhaps [column 891]misled by the ease with which the hon. Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Dean) got away with probing into the Government's social security policy.

However, I think that I have said enough, not only to reveal my own anxieties but also to show that it is necessary for us to have a decision in good time if changes of this kind are to be made. I therefore conclude that this is not the moment to improve Income Tax child allowances. While consideration is being given to a system of linking Income Tax child allowances with a change in the level of family allowances, this is not the moment to tinker with Income Tax child allowances. If the two things are to be done together in an interlocking way, one does not improve child allowances if part of the combined operation would be to scale them down to give additional benefits elsewhere or in some other way.

On child allowances generally, it is always difficult to make out a case for improving the personal reliefs under the tax system. I tried this many times when in opposition. How is a higher allowance for a wife, dependent relative, house-keeper, or children, justified? No longer is it related to assumed ability to pay. The Radcliffe Commission, in 1955, discounted that idea and said that there were almost outright final judgments. There was no longer a sophisticated method of adjusting the tax burden to any ascertained financial responsibilities that the taxpayer had. It would be difficult to justify them on any precise basis.

The hon. Member for Somerset, North based such proposals as he made on very much the same grounds as I used to employ, that it is so many years since they were last improved. This is always a very good argument— “Nothing has been done with them for three or four years” I remember one Chancellor saying, “Last year I improved the personal allowances. This year it is the turn of the standard rate” . This shows how empirical the whole fiscal judgment has become.

If the hon. Member presses the Clause to a Division, I shall not be able to give him my support, because I think that it would only complicate the sort of plan that I know is under consideration and which I want to see emerge from the [column 892]Government's study of this problem. I hope that next time we discuss the matter we shall know what the Government's plans are and that we shall be able then to make our judgment on whether they are suitable and whether they will meet what we believe to be the needs of many families.

Mrs. Thatcher

We shall not be pressing the Clause to a Division, but we do not wish to withdraw it, because we wish to register a protest at the fact that we have not got anything out of the Government spokesman about future plans.

The speech of the right hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) is the best we have had from the Government side during the whole of the debates on the Finance Bill. Most of us regret very much that his speech had to be made from the Front Bench below the Gangway instead of from the Treasury Bench. We should feel very much happier about the taxation handling of these matters and about the future of social service provisions if the right hon. Gentleman were still a senior member of the Government.

However, I do not wish to embarrass the right hon. Gentleman too much by telling him how devoted to him we all are. We shall not divide on the Clause, but we shall not withdraw it.

Question put and negatived.

New Clause No. 30.—(Non-Ferrous metal mines in United Kingdom.)

(1) The profits of a trade commenced after the passing of this Act and consisting of or including the working of a non-ferrous metal mine situated within the United Kingdom being profits arising from the working of the mine and so arising during a period of 36 months beginning with the day on which the mine is first brought into commercial operations shall be exempt from the corporation tax.

(2) For the purpose of this section a mine shall be deemed to be brought into commercial operation as soon as substantial quantities of ore are extracted from the mine for any treatment and for disposal and such substantial quantities shall not be taken to include ore extracted in the course of searching for, discovering or testing mineral deposits, or winning access thereto.—[Mrs. Thatcher.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Clause be read a Second time.—[Mrs. Thatcher.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Clause be read a Second time— [Mrs. Thatcher.]

[column 895]

New Clause No. 33.—(Amendment of section 5 of the Income Tax Management Act 1964).

At the end of section 5(3) of the Income Tax Management Act 1964 there shall be added the following proviso:—

‘Provided that where a person has made in his return of income a full and true disclosure of all the material facts necessary to make an assessment and an assessment is made after that disclosure no amendment of the assessment increasing the liability of that person shall be made except to correct an error in calculation or a mistake of fact’.—[Mrs. Thatcher.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mrs. Thatcher

I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.

We notice that the Government's majority is rapidly dwindling. At the end of this debate it will no doubt dwindle even further.

The heading of this Clause sounds dull, but this is one of the procedural new Clauses which affect every single person who pays tax. J. DiamondThe Chief Secretary will be aware that subsection (3) of Section 5 of the Income Tax Management Act, 1964, deals with the power of an inspector of taxes to make additional assessments. For most of us, the original assessments are enough,but in fact the subsection gives the inspector very extensive power to make further assessments.

It could, of course, be argued that a good deal of what is in the subsection was contained in any event in Section 41 of the old Income Tax Act, 1952, which preceded the 1964 Act. A number of the powers were in the old Section 41, but Section 5 of the Income Tax Management Act, 1964, goes further than the old Section 41 because the old Section 41 was limited by reference to first assessments, whereas, under Section 5, this power is not limited in that way at all. So Section 5 gives the inspector rather wider power than he had before. [column 896]

Bearing that in mind, perhaps we can examine a little more closely subsection (3) of Section 5 of the 1964 Act. All lawyers and chartered accountants are familiar with some of the phraseology in it, because it gives an inspector—formerly it gave it to the Commissioners of Inland Revenue—power to make a further assessment if he discovers—and “discover” is the crucial word—either that a relief has been given in excess or that in-insufficient tax has been charged. There have been a number of cases about the meaning of the word “discover” , from which it has emerged that that, too, has a very wide meaning.

It can, for example, mean that the inspector himself discovers that he has wrongly interpreted the law. It can mean that a new inspector discovers that his predecessor wrongly interpreted the law. So one can have a case where the poor taxpayer, having made a full disclosure of every relevant factor to enable the Inland Revenue to make the correct assessment in accordance with the law at the time, has paid his tax and then gets a new, further assessment—and not only one but perhaps two—because a new inspector has gone back over the case and has made a different interpretation of the law.

On this side of the Committee, we have now concluded that this is wrong and that the subsection is taking the powers a little too far. I know what the answer will be—that the inspector could, of course, discover that a relief has not been given. He could discover a relieving provision for the taxpayer. How often this has happened, I am not sure, but the right hon. Gentleman could argue that if the taxpayer is entitled to a relief, the inspector should also, as some kind of quid pro quo, on the Revenue side be entitled to impose a further penalty.

I do not necessarily accept that argument. I think that when an assessment has been made after full disclosure and the taxpayer is happy in the knowledge [column 897]that he has paid all his liabilities and has disclosed all relevant factors, he should then be able to allocate the rest of his income accordingly. So far the cases I have mentioned have not been on my side. They have all been on the side of the Inland Revenue. The inspector cannot just act on a hunch. He must have some information brought to his knowledge which is a question of fact to enable him to raise an additional assessment. Nevertheless, he can still look at everything with a different interpretation of the law.

What we propose in the new Clause is that there shall be added a proviso to Section 5 to say that where a person has in fact made full disclosure he shall not be liable to an additional assessment, except where the arithmetic has been wrong or in certain cases where there has been a mistake of fact. This would cut out those cases where an inspector looked at the case and remembered a statutory provision of the kind put in last year's Finance Act and which only operated for one year, and applied that. In other words, where he has discovered that previously he had forgotten the law, he can make an additional assessment. We want to cut out that circumstance altogether and provide that where there has been made there shall be no power to make a further assessment on this kind of discovery.

There is one other line of cases which I would put to the Chief Secretary. The right hon. Gentleman ought not—I should not refer to him in that way, for I do not yet entirely regard the Chief Secretary as the arch-ogre of the Inland Revenue, although perhaps by the end of the Finance Bill I shall. If the tax-payer raises an appeal or queries the assessment and the appeal is decided in the usual appeal way or, in the absence of an appeal, there is a settlement which both the inspector and the taxpayer regard as binding, then a further assessment should not be made. That I think is right. However, it would seem by analogy that one ought to say that an assessment following full disclosure is tantamount to a settlement by the inspector of that claim, and once that settlement has been made he shall not have power to go back on it. This would be of great advantage to the taxpayer and I do not think it is asking a great deal. [column 898]

Many of us are disturbed that relations between the Revenue and the public are not as good as they might be and not as good as they have been. This would help to put them on a very good footing again. It may mean that the Revenue has to forgo a little tax, but if any tax has been forgone it has not been the fault of the taxpayer in the kind of case which the new Clause is intended to cover.

I hope that the Chief Secretary, who must have suffered from many a discovery on the part of his clients—I am sure they streamed to him for advice in by gone days—will know the difficulties and problems that it can cause and that he will help to give some relief of the kind suggested in the new Clause.

Mr. Diamond

It may be convenient for me to reply to the hon. Lady at once and I shall do so in the tones in which she spoke. I share her view that almost as important as the law itself is the practice of assessing and collecting revenue. If we did not have a good relationship on the difficult matter of a taxpayer paying his taxes to the State we should be in considerable difficulty. I think that the country can pride itself not only on the attitude that the public takes in the matter by and large, but also on the understanding of the Inland Revenue in the way it carries out its difficult duties. We are on common ground in our desire that no unnecessary irritation should be caused concerning the machinery of tax assessment and collection.

The hon. Lady touched a tender spot when she referred to the question of a practitioner and this wretched problem of discovery. Every practitioner feels somehow or other that the dice are unfairly loaded against his or her client and in favour of the Revenue. Therefore, I think it would be helpful if I were to say a word or two on how this power is interpreted and whether it should exist and then come more closely to the proposal.

It may should a little unacceptable, but we are bound to start on the basis that Parliament puts on the Revenue responsibility for collecting this tax. To begin with, the taxpayer knows all the facts and the Revenue knows none and never knows as much about the taxpayer's affairs as the taxpayer does. The taxpayer acts as he thinks fit whereas the [column 899]officers of the Inland Revenue are in a general way susceptible to the views of the House, the Revenue being a Department of the Treasury and I a Minister very susceptible to the views of the House, in spite of what is sometimes suggested to the contrary.

It is, therefore, not unfair or likely to breed a sense of injustice for the Revenue to have a slight edge, but only a slight edge, over the taxpayer in terms of corresponding powers and rights. The taxpayer has the right to have an assessment varied and the Revenue has a right to have an assessment varied. A fair reading of the law and the practice would be that there is a slight advantage in favour of the Revenue which is appropriate so long as it is slight and exercised with care and moderation.

Discovery is a very wide power. An inspector can almost wake up one morning and say that he has discovered something. It is not quite that and it has to be some substantial rethinking, but if he finds that, in practice, in fact, or in law, he was wrong in the way in which he made the assessment in the first place, he can make an additional assessment to put the matter right, or, as the appropriate Section describes it, he can give any necessary relief which has not been given.

I mentioned those three—practice, fact and law. There is no dispute between us about fact, because the new Clause includes the right to vary if an error has been made by either the taxpayer or the Revenue. There is no reference to a mistake of law.

As for the practice, if the circumstances are such that an assessment was made in accordance with the practice of the time, although it is subsequently discovered—for example, by a case going to the House of Lords—that, although it was thought to be, it was not the right practice and that what was thought to be the law, was not the law—no additional assessment will be raised because it is then known that the practice was wrong at the time and that the inspector should have raised an additional assessment and would have done so had he known what the House of Lords would decide in a particular case affecting similar cases. [column 900]

Therefore, when the Revenue discovers as the result of subsequent information of that kind, it does not raise an additional assessment. The only difference between what is being suggested and what is the practice concerns the question of discovery based on an error of law.

Mr. Barnett

What happens when there is a mixture of law and fact? For instance, if one inspector decides to settle a case on the basis that it is a trading company and another inspector later decides that it is not a trading company and reopens the assessment, would that be a matter of fact, or of law, or a mixture of both?

Mr. Diamond

The hon. Member has described this as a matter of fact, plain fact, and these two do not mix. They both arise, often in the same case, but they do not mix. My hon. Friend has asked what happens when they mix, but it is fair to say that this does not happen.

I now return to the question of what happens if there is a mistake of law, where there is a slight difference of opinion between the two sides, where there is a mistake in the law. The hon. Lady says that if a taxpayer has made an accurate return in good faith, and an inspector makes a mistake and under-assesses, then that taxpayer should, on paying that tax, be finally cleared of any further liability arising out of that return. What we want to happen is that every-one should pay his tax according to the correct facts and the correct interpretation of the law.

If, because of a human error of a civil servant, this has not happened, I should have thought that we would want it to happen nevertheless. I would not have thought that it was sufficient to say that the inconvenience and irritation, and certainly disappointment, to the individual taxpayer is sufficient to outweigh our desire, and the general desire of the majority of taxpayers, that each one of us should pay his tax according to his correct rates and the correct interpretation of the law. I would have thought it difficult to put forward a proposition that, just because an individual has made a human error, an inspector of taxes has made a mistake, there should be no opportunity for him to put that right.

That is the only difference between us. I do not want to be heavy-handed [column 901]about this, because I accept what the hon. Lady has said, that it is worth going a long way to achieve improvements in the relationship between the Revenue and the taxpayer, and the professions acting on both sides. I think that she would share with me the view that what she is arguing for is not so very different from the practice. It is different in one respect, that of a mistake in law. As to that, it is likely that the majority of taxpayers would wish to see, not necessarily for themselves, but for the other person involved, that he is called upon to pay his correct amount of tax, according to the facts and to law.

I hope, therefore, that the hon. Lady will not press this new Clause unduly.

Mrs. Thatcher

I differ from J. Diamondthe Chief Secretary in his interpretation of this matter. The dice are heavily loaded in favour of the Inland Revenue. He says that the taxpayer knows the facts, but one has to select the relevant facts. What he did not say was that the Revenue knows the law, or is deemed to know the law. Once the Revenue has all the facts it is deemed to be capable of applying the law to those facts. What he is saying is that when the Revenue is incapable of applying the law to these facts, it should have a second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth and so on, ad infinitum, chance. I disagree, because the dice are already far too heavily loaded in favour of the Revenue. We are asking that the balance be redressed to some extent.

May I take up the Chief Secretary on one other thing? If his argument is correct, that even if the Revenue discover a mistake of a law it should be able to go back and open an assessment or raise further assessments, that argument would follow where there had already been a settlement on one aspect which had settled the entire assessment. His argument would read that he would still want powers to reopen that assessment on another matter.

This is so, because if there has been a wrong application of law on one thing, it would follow that one would want an additional assessment. He and I both know that where there is a dispute on one matter with reference to an assessment, and the whole assessment has been settled as a result of that, the matter does not go any further. That is the only case in [column 902]which an additional assessment could be raised.

A full disclosure should be tantamount to a settlement, bearing in mind that the Revenue then has all the facts as known to the taxpayer and the Revenue has all the law. In this case, any mistake of law should operate in favour of the particular subject, who has great trust in the Inland Revenue. The ordinary, average person still has—those of us who know a bit more, perhaps, have not got so much trust. Basically, the average person has great trust in the Revenue. This proposal would help them tremendously. They are entitled to assume that the assessment is correct. Perhaps this would not go the whole way, but it would cut out an abuse against the taxpayer.

Mr. Diamond

I am not a lawyer. The hon. Lady knows far more about these things than I do, but in the case of a settlement a different situation arises. Now considerations come in, in a sense, compared with the situation in which there is no question of a settlement but a return is sent in and the inspector says, “I think that the taxpayer owes so much and I make it up as follows.”

In the case of a settlement, there are considerations moving from both sides. Each side may take a different view about the correct figure, but there is an agreed settlement with one side saying, “In consideration of your saying so-and-so we will leave the position which I thought was right and we will say so-and-so” . That is a sufficient additional factor distinct from the situation which I am otherwise describing.

It would not be right to suggest that the general body of taxpayers should be called upon to bear an additional amount of tax because one individual or a series of individuals who are the beneficiaries of the mistake in law have had a lower assessment than is due in law. In these circumstances, I hope that the hon. Lady will not think it necessary to press the new Clause.

Mrs. Thatcher

The Chief Secretary is saying that if there is a deuce of a lot of mistakes by the Inland Revenue and a lot of extra assessments raised, the body of taxpayers would be called upon to bear the consequences if the new Clause were passed. But I am assuming that there are not many errors. In that case, the [column 903]body of taxpayers will not be called upon to bear any consequences.

This is something which the Chief Secretary should look into. When the United States internal revenue had a close look at the matter with the aid of modern machinery and computers, it found that about one-third of the people were over-paying tax because they trusted the Revenue to make the correct assessment. I hope that the right hon. [column 904]Gentleman will go further into this matter. Over-payment of tax does not happen very often, but when it does the taxpayer should have the benefit of the doubt, which would not affect the general body of taxpayers very much. I hope that we shall proceed to a Division.

Question put, That the Clause be read a Second time:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 109, Noes 146.