§ MR. LINDSAY
, who had given notice of his intention to move a Resolution—That in the opinion of this House the assessors and collectors of taxes, both assessed and income, should be appointed by the Commissioners of Inland Revenue,said, that the subject which be desired to bring under the attention of the House was of very considerable importance, and those whom he represented, along with others, had been very severe sufferers from the present mode of collecting the taxes. Instead, however, of putting the Motion of which he had given notice, he proposed to substitute the following:—That in the opinion of this House the present mode of collecting the taxes, both assessed and income, is attended with great disadvantage and loss, and requires immediate attention.From the Return which had been ordered on the Motion of the hon. Member for Stoke-upon-Trent (Mr. Ricardo), it appeared that there were seventy-one different parishes which had been reassessed under the Income-tax Act—that is to say, those parishes having paid their income tax, and having defaulting collectors, had been called upon to pay their income tax a second time. In some instances, the amount thus claimed was considerable—amounting, in one instance, to £2,500, and his (Mr. Lindsay's) constituents had been reassessed to the amount of £1,796 15s. 4d. In 1854–55 two collectors were appointed for the parish of Tynemouth. The warrant under which those collectors were appointed was undersigned by the Commissioners, who thereby nominated and appointed two persons named 210 Briggs and Phillipson to collect the income tax, &c., and the Commissioners thereby enjoined them to collect such tax, &c., and upon payment thereof to give acquittance, &c. To the parties holding that warrant, his (Mr. Lindsay's) constituents paid their taxes and received a receipt. Afterwards Briggs became insolvent. At first it was, though unsuccessfully, attempted to make his co-collector Phillipson liable. The effects of Briggs were taken possession of and converted; but before applying the proceeds in reduction of the debt due to the Commissioners, the Board were of opinion that his creditors had a prior claim, and the sum available, after paying such claim, was £1,459, which sum was paid over, leaving £1,765 4s. 4d. to be paid, and that amount was reassessed on the parish, as it was provided by the Acts. His constituents presented their receipts, and attempted to resist the second payment, after consulting eminent counsel. The matter went on for some time, when the Board of Inland Revenue insisted that the amount should be paid, and they called upon the local Commissioners to distrain upon the parties if necessary. Two persons were appointed for that purpose; but after some delay they declined to do so, stating that they had done sufficient dirty work already; and because they so declined they were fined £50 for neglect of duty; but the amount was subsequently abated. Not being able to find a local collector, the Board of Inland Revenue sent a person down specially to make a reassessment. After resisting, but in vain, his constituents were obliged to pay the tax a second time. The law, as it stood, was extremely difficult to understand; there were a number of Acts bearing on the subject. The 43 Geo. III. gave directions for the appointment of assessors and collectors, and by 5 & 6 Vict. parishes were liable to be reassessed for defalcations; but the 17 & 18 Vict., c. 85, seemed the most important, By that Act the collectors were required to give security to the Board of Inland Revenue, if that Board thought fit to demand it; and he thought a remedy for the evil complained of would be obtained by a slight alteration of the law, making it imperative on the parties collecting the assessed and income taxes to give security. As his Motion originally stood, he proposed that the collectors of these taxes should be appointed by the Government, and that, consequently, the Government should be responsible for their defaults. 211 That would make it necessary for the Government to call on them for security; but, as there were difficulties in the way of that arrangement, he would now suggest, not to place the appointments in the hands of the Treasury, as the local Boards might thereby be weakened, but that the whole country should be divided into districts, and that the local Commissioners should appoint competent and responsible parties as collectors for those districts, but that the appointments should be subject to the approval of the Treasury or Board of Inland Revenue, by whom the collectors should be required to give security. The collectors in large districts might appoint sub-collectors if necessary, but with them the Government would have nothing to do. The Government would look to the collector, who had given security, and who was appointed by the local Commissioners, and to him alone. Should a collector become insolvent, then the parties who had paid their taxes, or the Government, could come upon their securities for the money. He hoped he had shown the House the necessity of a change. He did not wish to pledge the House to the precise form of that change; all he wished to establish was, that the taxpayer, once he had paid his taxes, should not be called upon to pay them again, and with this view he would again read the Motion.
MR. W. WILLIAMS
seconded the Motion. Many losses had occurred in the borough which he represented, and he could speak to the loss and inconvenience inflicted thereby upon individuals. In his opinion the appointments ought to be made by the Government, who should be responsible for defalcations. In the borough of Lambeth hundreds of persons had been disfranchised through the defalcations of the collectors.
Motion made and Question proposed,—
That, in the opinion of this House, the mode of collecting the Taxes, both Assessed and Income, is attended with great disadvantage and loss, and requires immediate attention.
§ SIR JOHN TROLLOPE
said, he thought there would be great difficulty in carrying out the views of the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Lindsay), and therefore, if it were pressed to a division, he must vote against it. Every person who became security would be registered as a debtor to the Crown, and this would be a charge on the whole of their estates, while, on the other hand, in a large number of 212 districts the remuneration was so small that no man would for it subject himself to the inconvenience of giving security to the Government. He had been a local commissioner for many years, and never knew a case of defalcation in any officer appointed by him. The officers who were defaulters were the officers appointed by the Government. The hon. Gentleman spoke of seventy cases, but did not say over how many years they were spread, or the amount of the defalcations. He would suggest to the hon. Member that the best course would be to propose the repeal of the statute of George III., which enacted, that in case of any defalcation the amount should be re-assessed on the parish; that was a hardship. With taxes, as with anything else, if a person paid his money to the duly qualified officer, the receipt ought to be a discharge under all circumstances. If the hon. Gentleman pressed the subject to a division he must oppose it, although he admitted the law required amendment.
contended the matter complained of was a great grievance. There could not be a greater hardship than that a man having once paid a tax to the proper officer should be compelled to pay it over again. He understood the matter had lately been under the consideration of the Board of Inland Revenue, and he trusted the Government would be able to provide a remedy. If something was not done, the effect on the revenue might be very serious.
§ MR. INGHAM
considered the suggestion of the hon. Baronet (Sir J. Trollope) a very good one, and if adopted, it would go far to remedy the grievance complained of; but if the Inland Revenue Commissioners were responsible for the collection of the revenue, they ought to have the appointment of their own officers, If that were done, a much smaller number of collectors would do the work.
THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, he thought that the hon. Member for Tynemouth was quite justified in bringing this question before the House, for it was, no doubt, one of great grievance. He (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) hardly knew any thing more severe than to pay taxes at all, but to pay taxes twice because a man whom you had never seen had run away, undoubtedly seemed a combination of grievances, which no one could be expected to bear patiently. He trusted, however, that the hon. Gentleman would not press his Motion to a division, because the matter was now under the considera- 213 tion of the Government. He did not use that phrase as one merely to meet a Motion coming from the other side of the House. The Commissioners of Inland Revenue, in their Report on land and assessed taxes, which was laid upon the table a few days ago, referred to this subject in a paragraph which he would read to the House. They said,—The system of assessing and collecting these taxes by means of officers appointed by the parishes must before long be taken into your Lordships' consideration. It is very unsatisfactory, and constantly tasks our ingenuity to provide against its inherent dangers. Yet, besides the insensible loss to the revenue occasioned by carelessness and ignorance, a year seldom elapses without some flagrant instance of default or fraud among the collectors. Improvements might no doubt be effected in the present system by the local Commissioners, but, admirably suited as they are for acting as judges of the propriety of the assessments which are laid before them, it is not to be expected that they should devote themselves to the superintendence of the details of the process of assessment and collection in the same way as an officer of the Government would. No such officer, for instance, would have allowed the violation of an essential rule in the collection of taxes by the union of the offices of assessor and collector in the same person, as is now generally the case both in assessed taxes and income tax. The facility for fraud afforded by such a practice—adopted for the sake of the poundage, and quite in opposition to the spirit of the law—has been lately exemplified in the Bassishaw ward of the City of London, where the collector, who absconded, had received and appropriated to his own use large sums in discharge of returns which he had suppressed or destroyed, the returns being made to him in his capacity of assessor. There was thus no charge raised against him for these payments.The right hon. Gentleman (Sir J. Trollope) had made a suggestion worthy the attention of the Commissioners, but the whole subject was one which could not be immediately settled. It demanded, on the contrary, great consideration, thought, and contrivance. A machinery was wanted for raising a large revenue at a slight cost, but it was natural that local jealousy should exist in regard to appointments by the Government, and this jealousy ought not to be discouraged, since it was not desirable to increase the patronage and power of the Crown beyond what the interests of the public required. He trusted that the hon. Gentleman would feel that it was unnecessary to ask for a more formal expression of opinion on the part of the House.
§ MR. LINDSAY
said, that after the distinct statement of the right hon. Gentleman that the matter was under the consideration of the Government, he would not press his 214 Motion to a division. The matter, however, was one that required the speedy attention of the Government.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.