§ Section twenty-six of the Finance Act, 1919, shall cease to have effect, and the sixth day of September shall be substituted for the sixth day of May, in Section eight of the Income Tax Act, 1918, and in rule seventeen of the general rules as the date before which an application for separate assessment of husband and wife must be made under those provisions; and an application for the purposes of those provisions may in the case of persons marrying during the course of a year of assessment be made as regards that year at any time before the sixth day of September in the following year; and those provisions shall have effect accordingly.—[Mr. Pethick-Lawrence.]
§ Brought up, and read the First time.
§ Mr. PETHICK-LAWRENCE
I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."
The object of the proposed New Clause can be explained in a few words. In 1914, the Finance Bill gave, for the first time, a general right to husbands and wives to have separate assessments for the purposes of Income Tax. It did not alter the total amount that the married couple had to pay, but it enabled them each to have a separate assessment for dealing with his or her own income, separately, and the total tax was apportioned between them according to certain rules. The Finance Act of 1914 fixed 6th May as the date by which the claim for the separate assessment had to be made. The Act of 1919 postponed the date until 6th July, and I propose in this new Clause to extend the period still further until 6th September. I think it will be generally agreed that, if this option is to be given at all to married couples to choose whether they will be assessed together or separately, the date should be put as late as it can conveniently be put. On the other hand, it must be put sufficiently early to enable those who have to make up the assessments to prepare them at the proper time. I suggest that 6th July is unnecessarily early, and that where circumstances arise which mean that either the husband or the wife desire or require a separate assessment after 6th July there is no reason why the date should be rigidly adhered to.
It seems to me that 6th September is quite a reasonable date for this purpose, but, if the Chancellor of the Exchequer considers that too late, and thinks that those who make up the assessments will 1308 be inconvenienced thereby, and in some cases have to make up an assessment again, I suggest to him that some concession might be made in this matter. I should be satisfied if he could give an assurance that the rule would not be as rigidly enforced as it is at the present time. Some of these rules are very rigidly enforced, and others are treated with a certain amount of latitudinarianism. If the date which I propose cannot be adopted, will the Chancellor give an assurance that this rule will not be interpreted as strictly and rigidly as it has been in the past, and that when-for some special reason circumstances arise perhaps after this date, whereby a husband or wife desire to have a separate assessment, this rule will be construed leniently and not strictly enforced. If that be done, the exact date in this new Clause need not be carried into law.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
The hon. Gentleman asks us to choose between 6th July and 6th September, but it would cause a great deal of difficulty to alter these dates. The question we have to ask ourselves is: Is there any hardship in the present system? Under the present system, the husband and wife can claim to be separately assessed for Income Tax by giving notice by 6th July in the year of assessment, or, when marriage takes place in that year, giving notice before the 6th July in the following year. So they have at least three months to make up their minds. We think that, upon the whole, that is a sufficient period. After all, even if you went to the 6th of September you would still have seven months before the end of the year in which some event making separate assessment desirable might arise. I am advised that the proposal would cause a great deal of difficulty in the ordinary administration of the tax. This question of the date when husband and wife should elect to be assessed separately to Income Tax is bound up with the much larger question of the pooling of the incomes of husband and wife, and that is a very large question. Undoubtedly arguments could be adduced to show that, whereas men and women living together in the bonds of holy matrimony have to pay on the joint income, they could sometimes escape part of the burden if they were not married. No doubt there are cases of hardship, but that change would cost a very large sum of money to the revenue.
I think our labours will be prolonged if hon. Members are tempted to go into those considerations, which I do not think arise under this Clause.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I beg your pardon, Mr. Chairman. The only reason which led me to mention it was to show how very small was the hardship which the Clause sought to remedy as compared with the much larger issue. We cannot accept this proposal.
§ Question, "That the Clause be read a Second time," put, and negatived.