HC Deb 01 October 1909 vol 11 cc1605-7

Upon the hearing of an appeal before the Special Commissioners against any assessment for Income Tax, it shall not be lawful for the Special Commissioners to act upon any evidence other than evidence given on oath or affirmation in the hearing of the appellant or his representative, and the appellant or his representative and the surveyor or other representative of the Crown shall be given an opportunity of cross-examining any person giving evidence before the said Commissioners.

This and another Clause which I have on the Paper further on deal with practically the same subject. The purport of both Clauses is to insure that the Special or General Commissioners, as the case may be, shall act only on sworn evidence given in the presence of all the parties, and that the representative of the appellant or the appellant himself shall be enabled to cross-examine upon it. At present appellants have a great grievance. They are called before the Commissioners to give their evidence, the Commissioners hear what they have to say in the presence of the Surveyor, and then they are asked to withdraw. After they have withdrawn it is pretty well known that the Surveyor puts his case before the Commissioners in the absence of the appellant. That is a great injustice, and it will become more unjust, because, undoubtedly, as a result of this new scale of duties, there will be a considerably greater number of appeals in the future than there has been in the past. There will be appeals with regard to the definition of what is earned and what is unearned income; there will be appeals, too, as to when the Super-tax shall become applicable, and for the first year or so, until a workable basis is arrived at, it may be expected that appeals of great importance will be entered. It is absolutely necessary, where we limit appeals to questions of fact before the Commissioners, that those facts should be brought out, not only by the appellant himself, but that he should have the option of being legally represented, and that his representative should be enabled to cross-examine the witnesses. May I point out to the Chancellor of the Exchequer that this is not a question of revenue. It is a matter of sheer justice, and I think that these appeals should be decided in a manner similar to that adopted in courts of justice. I think this Clause will commend itself to every right-thinking man, and I appeal to the justice and fair-mindedness of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to give it favourable consideration.


I am very sorry not to be able to respond to the appeal of the hon. Member, but perhaps he may find it possible to respond to my appeal and thus set a good example. I will tell him why I do not think his proposal is a very desirable one. At the present moment the procedure before the Commissioners is not like the procedure before a court of law, and I doubt if any one would really desire that it should be. It is a question of the best way of getting at the facts. Now the business is conducted in a more or less conversational way between the parties. It is not as though there were an appellant and a respondent, with counsel appearing for each, documents put in, cross-examination allowed, and points of law raised. I do not think it is desirable that the business should be conducted in that way. In the long run it would be to the disadvantage of the subject, for the State would always be in a position to employ the best counsel, and the subject might not be able to do so. I, therefore, hope the hon. Member will not press the Amendment, as it really is not in the interest of the parties chiefly concerned.


I think there is a good deal in what the Chancellor of the Exchequer has said. The investigations before the Commissioners are not conducted in accordance with law court procedure. But the real grievance which I found to exist at the time I had the honour of acting as Solicitor-General was that appellants were well aware that, after they had been asked to leave the room, the surveyor was allowed to put his case before the Commissioners, and they had no opportunity either of hearing it or answering it. I would suggest to the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the Commissioners should not be entitled to hear anything from the surveyor of taxes, or anyone except in the presence of the other party. That is simply a matter of administration, and I think it would be an enormous improvement and give great satisfaction to people, because they do feel that after they have gone out statements are made to the Commissioners. It is a recognised practice, although I do not say that anything improper takes place, but a man states his case and goes out, and then the surveyor of taxes makes a statement in his absence. The man, therefore, goes away with a sense of injustice, because he has had no opportunity of answering the objections made. If the right hon. Gentleman would make that simple change in the procedure, he would remove a grievance, although I do not in any way impugn the action of these Gentlemen.


I think that is a suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman which deserves consideration. I think it is undesirable that the surveyor should, after all the evidence is put in, then suggest some kind of information to the Commissioners to which the subject has no opportunity of replying. I do think that is unfortunate, having regard to the fair and impartial judgment of the question. It is, however, not a matter of legislation, but of regulation and of procedure, and I shall be very glad to inquire into it and see if something cannot be done to put the matter right.


I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman, although in Scotland nothing is said either on the part of the Commissioners or the surveyors except in the presence of the subject. Therefore we have no matter of complaint in Scotland, but I am quite sure that if the plan adopted were for the surveyor, after the subject had left, to give the Special Commissioners information, we should complain. If such a procedure obtains in England I hope it will be put right.

3.0 P.M.


I am perfectly satisfied with the statement of the right hon. Gentleman. The real grievance is, as has been stated, that after we have left the room the surveyor of taxes remains with the Commissioners, and, undoubtedly, we are of opinion that the information that he gives influences them. If the right hon. Gentleman will consider the matter I will withdraw.

Clause withdrawn.

Mr. HILLS moved the following:—