§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the TREASURY (Mr. Ronald McNeill)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
This Bill is a Bill that used to be fairly frequently brought before the House in former times—as a rule every four or five years, which in practice was once in each Parliament. But as it has not been reintroduced since the year 1906, and there are comparatively few hon. Mem- 265 bers who were in the House at that time, perhaps the House would like me to give a short explanation of the Bill and the procedure that is applied to it. As a rule in former times, when the House was fairly familiar with the Bill, it was regarded as entirely uncontroversial, as it is, and indeed practically a formality. I believe that when it was last introduced in 1906 there was hardly a word said upon it in either House. The object of the Bill is to appoint Land Tax Commissioners. These Commissioners are a very old portion of our administrative machinery, and they are appointed by this House. The Bill is commonly known as the "Names Bill" because its purpose is to secure names of those who are to serve in the office of Land Tax Commissioners. The duties of these Commissioners, so far as the Land Tax is concerned—that, as hon. Members know, is a very ancient form of taxation—are not of very great importance, although they would require to be replaced by some other machinery if they disappeared. But they also have another function, and that is that Land Tax Commissioners are charged with a duty of appointing the local Commissioners of Income Tax.
The practice has been from time to time to appoint a number of these Commissioners from every part of the country, and, just as it happened to be convenient and as there was a depletion of their ranks, to pass this Bill again in order that the body of Commissioners might be replenished. They were so fully replenished in 1906 that there has been no necessity for a Bill from that time until now. It is not surprising, after that lapse of time, that information should have been received by the Treasury from various parts of the country that there is a lack of Land Tax Commissioners, and consequently it is my duty to bring the Bill before the House. I should like to say something regarding the procedure which is followed in connection with this Bill, because it is rather curiosity. If the House gives a Second Reading to the Bill, a considerable interval will elapse before the Committee stage is taken. Hon. Members may have observed on the Paper certain Resolutions which stand in my name to be passed, I hope, after the Second Reading of this Bill. When the Bill has been 266 read a Second time, and these Resolutions have been adopted, intimation will be sent to the Land Tax Commissioners throughout the country, who will thereupon prepare lists in their respective localities of persons whom they consider suitable to serve in this position. These lists will be sent to hon. Members, who will then have to exercise their discretion upon those lists. Their discretion is quite unlimited. They will be able to strike out names which have been submitted and to add any names which they think fit, or, if they like to do so, they can practically tear up the lists sent from their own localities and make out fresh lists of their own. Having done so, it will then be the duty of hon. Members to deliver their lists to the Public Bill Office in this House, and when time has been allowed for that process to complete itself, the Committee stage of the Bill will be taken, and the names selected or proposed by hon. Members will appear as the Schedule to the Bill, and will be published in the "Gazette." By that process, which rather savours of old-time methods, we shall succeed in replenishing the lists of Land Tax Commissioners available for the duties I have already described. I wish to repeat that, in former times, this was quite a familiar procedure in the House, and I think this Bill was always regarded as a mere formality. I have not thought it right to treat it merely as a, formality to-day, because, through disuse, the House is no longer familiar with it, but I hope the short explanation I have given will be satisfactory, and that hon. Members will allow us to have the Second Reading.
§ Mr. WILLIAM GRAHAM
The House is indebted to the Financial Secretary for his explanation of this Bill, which I confess is one little known to any Members of this Chamber, save those who were here in 1906 and preceding years. I agree that in existing conditions it would be impossible to regard this Bill as controversial in character, but even if it were controversial, as the right hon. Gentleman has pointed out, we have ample time in which to marshal any objections we may have to the Measure, owing to the long procedure which must be followed before the Committee stage can be taken on the Floor of the House. Accordingly, so far as we on this side are concerned, all that need be said at 267 the moment is this, that the structure of the administration of the Income Tax, the Land Tax, and the rest was considered very carefully and in great detail by the Royal Commission on Income Tax in 1919. Our Report was presented in the succeeding year, and I believe it is true to say of that Report, that, apart from certain reforms which we recommended, which have since been applied, and apart from the concession of the portion of the Report relating to exemptions and allowances and so forth, no alteration of any importance has been made in the administrative structure. The speech of the Financial Secretary, as I think he will be the first to agree, makes it plain that there are old-world elements it this structure which are very interesting, but are hardly appropriate in existing conditions, and the time must come very soon when this House will require as a matter of efficiency—when the Income Tax with Super-tax is producing £360,000,000 a year—to look at the administrative side. Clearly, we could not do that in a small formal Bill of this kind. My view, for what it is worth, is that we are obliged to go on with this Measure under existing conditions, but that the House should be reminded of the very great importance of undertaking at the earliest possible moment those administrative reforms in the general structure of the tax, which were recommended by the Royal Commission in 1920.
§ Sir HENRY CAUTLEY
This Bill is described as a Bill to appoint additional commissioners for executing the Acts granting a Land Tax and other rates and taxes, and we find in Clause l that the Commissioners are for putting into execution the Acts for granting an aid to His Majesty by a Land Tax. The Minister has explained that part very fully and clearly, but the Clause then goes on to say:and the Acts for continuing or granting to His Majesty rates and taxes"—I should like to ask the Financial Secretary what is the exact meaning of this reference to continuing or granting to His Majesty rates and taxes.
§ Mr. McNEILL
I think this is redundant language, taken from the old Act, and describes the levying of the Land Tax.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for To-morrow.—[Mr. R. McNeill.]
That the Members for counties do prepare lists of the christian names and surnames of Commissioners for executing the Land Tax Acts for their respective counties.
That Members for boroughs and places having Commissioners exercising exclusive jurisdiction within the same under Die said Acts do prepare similar lists of Commissioners for executing the said Acts within such boroughs and places, respectively.
That Members for other boroughs and places do prepare similar lists of Commissioners for executing tie said Acts for the counties in which such last-mentioned boroughs and places are situate."—[Mr. R. McNeill.]