14 MARCH 1958, Page 5

Westminster Commentary

By HENRY KERBY* IT is a sad truth that millions of young Russians have grown VA/ .1,477////17//01001///1//////, up without the means to judge whether their way of life is preferable to that of the Western nations or not. It is also pretty grim that thousands of us, in the United Kingdom, are growing so accustomed to the follies, waste and anomalies of purchase tax that we take the whole falsification of values and the ridiculing of the law that this tax engenders as a matter of course. Having admonished two Chancellors for not taking drastic action to pro- tect the pound two years earlier, I hope the Three Wise Men will, in their next report, make some tart observations about productivity and taxation, emphatically purchase tax. But for the moment let us be thankful for Mr. Gerald Nabarro's timely assault, for never in the history of Par- liament has one Member managed to let off a barrage of fifty-three questions on the same sub- ject in the short space of nine weeks . . . all directed at the Chancellor.

The winning entries are : I. March 6. Tor what reason potato mashers are subject to purchase tax whatever their dimen- sions whereas egg whisks are only subject to tax if less than 12 inches long : what was the revenue * MP for Artindel and Shoreham. received from purchase tax on potato mashers and egg whisks respectively during the last twelve months for which figures are available and whether he will review at an early date the liability, or otherwise, of all wire utensils used in the kitchen.'

2. March 11. 'Whether he is aware that under the rules relating to the charging of purchase tax footwear made-to-measure for persons with slightly flat feet is chargeable to tax, whereas footwear made-to-measure for persons with severe degree of flat feet is exempt : what machinery exists to ensure fair discrimination in this matter : and what revenue was received during the last year for which figures are avail- able in respect of footwear made-to-measure for persons with slightly flat feet.'

No. 1 explains why the egg whisk in my kitchen is ln inches long and why a contrivance of smaller dimensions consuming less metal would in fact be more expensive. Question No. 2 can be evaded on the grounds that it is not in the public interest (Defence Regulations) to disclose to a potential enemy how many of the denizens of the United Kingdom suffer from slightly or very flat feet.

These two win by a short head. Mr. Nabarro is awarded the Victor Ludorum Trophy awarded annually at Easter by the Treasury, the' Chan- cellor, the Customs Department and the Conser- vative Central Office to the Member of Parlia- ment who brings the greatest happiness to those civil servants charged to root out evasive answers to questions and who also gives a Minister the most physical and mental exercise. But, of course, there is much more.

For example, 'If modom will accept tweezers 4f inches in length instead of Llf inches modom will save money as the shorter tweezers are sub- ject to 90 per cent. purchase tax, being rated the -same as jewellery, but the longer tweezers are not taxed. May I suggest that modom overlooks the extra I inch a.fu the infinitesimal additional weight?', and unless she is an even greater sucker than the law `modom' does.

The 'do-it-yourself-and-waste-time' philosophy of purchase tax is inherent in the whole build-up from false moustaches and beards to polishing cloths and electric vacuum cleaners. Buy a false beard or moustache and you pay tax. But pick out nicely shaped single hairs and stick them on one by one and you can boast that you have not con- tributed one penny towards inflating the currency. On the grander scale, insist that your wife lives in the past, before the age of electricity, and does her household chores with archaic brooms, brushes and cloths, and at the price of drudgery, inefficiency and a.- bit more dirt you will save money, for the purchase-tax boys can't bear labour-saving devices.

Perhaps those who suffer from double chins deserve their fate. At any rate, straps for correct- ing number two chin are taxed; so, too, are con- trivances for flattening prominent ears. But who is the moron who decided to exclude slide-rules from the family of scientific instruments, and by what twist of the mind are picnic baskets taxed at a lower rate than picnic cases (dustproof and vermin-proof) having the same contents?

Mr. Nabarro has performed a great public ser- vice. Were he a Rhodesian he would no doubt find a place among those 'who have deserved well of their country.' But as it is I fear the worst. He is with those who have ridden six Derby winners, dashed to the top of Everest and down to the South Pole in time for Christnias, hit Benaud for eight sixes in one over or served as a constituency chairman for half a century. Fifty-three Inter-Tory Bench Missiles (or missals) between January 23 and April 1 (of happy augury) establish, however unwittingly, his claim to the Governorship of the Solomon Islands as Baron Nabarro of the South Seas.

Yet are these fifty-three questions anywhere near exhausting the absurdities of this tax? Far from it. We are told on the highest authority that we must attract more young men and women to take up science, chemistry, physics, biology and the many aspects of electrical energy. For this is a world of intense competition and only those nations which produce top-grade scientists, technologists and technicians can hope to be in the van of progress. So we interest our small boy in chemistry and he asks for a chemistry set for his birthday. 'Certainly, sir, here is a chemistry set, practical, highly instructive and perfectly safe.' And the price?' Eighty shillings and sixpence, sir, including purchase tax, of course.' Purchase tax on an educational and con- structive chemistry set?"0h, yes, sir : you see, it is classified with teddy bears, dolls and toys, and it is taxed at 20 per cent.'

If you are determined not to be had for a mug you can succeed. You buy the various chemicals, containers, etc., separately, at some waste of time and energy, and you find a suitable box (used) and you pay no tax. On a small scale you repeat the performance of the chap who buys a panel van for his business and then

cuts holes for windows in the panels, cocking a snook at the Customs Department and pro- viding his family with a tolerable saloon car at a not too inflated price. Of course, such ruses are strictly non-U; they savour of Poujade. But John Citizen also has his methods of kicking. At Tonbridge he stayed away, believing that an ob- stinate administration would note his absence from the polls and do something. At Ipswich and Rochdale John Citizen went further. His protest took the form of active support for Manuela and Ludo.

What the Liberals would do about purchase tax I have no idea; nor, I suspect, have they. However, it is unlikely that they would tax the insoles of slippers if the fur remained on but exempt them if the fur was shaved off.