HC Deb 06 August 1918 vol 109 cc1307-9

Order for Second Beading read.

The SOLICITOR-GENERAL (Sir Gordon Hewart)

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a second time."

This is a Bill which has the modest, the useful, and the necessary purpose of consolidating the various enactments relating to the Income Tax. Nobody in these days entertains any longer the pleasant dream of our fathers—the complete abolition of the Income Tax. It has become, together with its unattractive offspring, the Super-tax, a permanent, though a painful, feature of our financial system. But I think that everybody, whether layman or lawyer, has long since come to the conclusion that the vast and tangled skein of Income Tax law should at last be unravelled and made orderly, coherent, and intelligible. It has been said that "to be intelligible is to be found out." Perhaps that is not a bad thing either. A clear and connected statement of the law may well be a step towards amendment. This Bill, with its 232 pages, its 239 Clauses and Schedules, is a monument to the patience, the care, and the skill of Mr. Bertram Cox, the Solicitor of Inland Revenue. It does not alter the law. But it makes the law less confusing and more accessible. It performs, indeed, not merely a useful but an indispensable task. The Bill has been fully considered by a Joint Select Committee of both Houses, and has been passed through all its stages in another place.


I am glad to learn that the Bill makes the law less confusing, because the Income Tax law was certainly extremely confusing. But it is an enormous Bill to introduce at the present moment, at the very fag end of the Session, in a very small House. I do not know whether hon. Members have noticed that during the last few weeks a new form for Bills has been introduced, so that the Bills now appear in book form. I do not always approve of innovations, but I think this is a very good innovation. If the Bill had been printed in the old form it would have been still more formidable. It is now a very heavy weight to hold in one's hand, and it contains 239 Clauses, irrespective of the Schedules. It has always been my habit to go through these consolidating Bills to ascertain whether or not any new Clauses altering the law have been introduced, because during my experience of Parliament there have been occasions, not very often, when new Clauses have been slipped in. It is impossible for me at the present moment to go through this Bill to see whether or not any new Clauses have been introduced, but I understand from the right hon. Gentleman that nothing new has been introduced, and that it is merely a consolidating Bill. On that assurance, though it is a formidable looking affair, I have no objection to the Second Reading.


In reference to what the hon. Baronet has said, I assure him I was not serving on this Bill. But I have served on these Consolidation Committees before, and the recollection of his occasional objections to Consolidated Bills is always very present in the mind of the Committees. I am sure they are extraordinarily scrupulous in not introducing any change in the law unless they point it out very plainly to the House of Commons, and that is the only conceivable way in which a huge measure of that kind can go through. The point I wanted to make was this: I have been interested in the form of these Consolidated Statutes, and it does seem to me a pity that when this enormous work has been done it cannot be kept up to date from time to time. That can be done if you take power in a printing clause to reprint the Act from time to time as it gets amended, putting into the Act the alterations you make. That, I think, has been omitted in this case. I suppose the Income Tax is very likely to be altered and modified. I cannot help thinking that it is a pity, when you have a great code of this kind, not to keep the law clear and collected, instead of going on with the process of amendment which is certain to take place in the future without making such provision. In a very few years I suppose we shall get the Income Tax law in the same kind of confused tangle as at the present time. There may be technical objections, but I think they ought to be got over. They do it in the case of Indian legislation, and I cannot think that it can pass the ingenuity of the draftsmen, not only to get the law from time to time clear, but to keep it so.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a second time.

Resolved, "That this House will immediately resolve itself into the Committee on the Bill."—[Mr. J. Hope.]

Bill accordingly considered in Committee.

[Mr. WHITEY in the Chair.]