HC Deb 30 June 1864 vol 176 cc514-6

said, that he was desirous of putting a Question to the Chancellor of the Exchequer with the view of clearing the honour and character of a public servant. On a former occasion he had referred to a document emanating from the Inland Revenue Department as a proof of the demoralizing effect produced by the operation of the Income Tax. That document, dated the 1st of March, 1849, directed the collectors who received the drainage rent charges in Scotland not to suggest to the payers that they were entitled to allowances for Income Tax, but to make the allowances only in case they should be asked for. He had chacterized the document as discreditable, and he understood that Mr. Fletcher, at the head of the Inland Revenue Office in Edinburgh, feared that he might be supposed to be involved in the censure then expressed. He, therefore, wished to state that he had been informed that Mr. Fletcher, so far from being implicated in drawing up that document, had taken the earliest opportunity of remonstrating against its tenour, and had suggested that the instructions should be reconsidered. He believed that they were reconsidered and withdrawn, and he, consequently, thought it right to I state what had come to his knowledge I with respect to Mr. Fletcher; but he regretted that in a matter of this kind, when I character was at stake, there should not be the possibility of acquitting every one; of the public officers concerned with the document, and he would be glad to see all of them eagerly rush, one after the other, to disclaim any responsibility with regard to the document in question. He was unwilling to fasten on any one the responsibility of a paper so discreditable. Holding very high the character of the public servants, he would be the last to cast any imputation on them. He believed that the country was singularly happy in having public servants distinguished for their high character and integrity, and, therefore, the blame was to be thrown, not on any one of the public servants, but upon the miserable law which the officers of the Inland Revenue Board were the unhappy instruments to carry into execution. In order that Mr. Fletcher's character might be entirely cleared, he would now beg to ask Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Whether it be true that Mr. Angus Fletcher, the head of the Inland Revenue Department in Edinburgh, is in no way responsible for originating the Circular to Collectors of Drainage Rent Charges, dated the 1st of March, 1849; that, on the contrary, Mr. Fletcher remonstrated against the tenour of the Circular, and obtained authority for the Collectors to allow the Income Tax legally due to the parties paying the Drainage Annuities, whether they claimed it or not; and if he will lay upon the table of the House the instructions of the Board of Inland Revenue for the issue of the Circular, Mr. Fletcher's Remonstrance, and the Reply of the Board?


had great pleasure in answering the Question, as far as regarded the character of Mr. Fletcher; but he confessed he was sorry that his hon. Friend had thought it necessary to give utterance to the highly fanciful doctrine that the vice of the document he had referred to had actually affected the moral tone of the officers of the Inland Revenue Board. When he first heard that doctrine he thought it might have been broached in the heat of debate, and he regretted to find that it was the hon. Member's permanent and serious conviction. The fact was, that the Board of Inland Revenue made a mistake, to the effect of requiring that the burden of applying for the deductions should be thrown on the parties, instead of the deductions being allowed at once without application; but to imply that that proceeding had a connection with any moral deterioration was a wholly unnecessary and gratuitous assumption. It was simply an error, and nothing but an error; and it was in the' nature of Revenue Boards, as it was in the nature of all persons engaged incessantly in business, occasionally to make errors. His hon. Friend could not have been so fortunate as never to have made a mistake. For his own part, he committed many mistakes himself, and found that others did the same. It did not, therefore, produce such marvellous astonishment in his mind when he learnt, that those performing such difficult duties as the Board of Inland Revenue once perhaps, in a thousand years, fell into an error. There was no necessity for making such a charge as the hon. Gentleman had done. A circular was issued to the effect that deductions would be allowed only to those persons who made application. Mr. Fletcher, so far from being responsible for it, no sooner learnt what had been done, than he wrote to the Board of Inland Revenue pointing out the error, and the Board immediately corrected it. That was the whole affair, and he could not help thinking his hon. Friend's charges were out of place. His hon. Friend had acquitted Mr. Fletcher; and he might have extended the acquittal to all parties concerned. As to the papers, he would have no objection to produce them if his hon. Friend moved for them; but he trusted that, after that explanation, he would not deem it necessary to do so.


said, he wished it to be understood that he made no attack on the officials. It was the system which they had to administer that was to blame.

Main Question put, and agreed to.