HC Deb 14 June 1944 vol 400 cc2000-2

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

Mr. Benson (Chesterfield)

When the Financial Secretary moved the Second Reading of the Finance Bill, he remarked that I should probably approve of this particular Clause and so, in a mild and restrained way, I do. It goes one more step towards the abolition of the ancient machinery of Income-Tax assessment and collection, introduced at the time of Pitt's original Income Tax Bill, and it certainly does remove one of the major troubles and inconveniences of that old machinery. But there are others left. I am rather surprised that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who, himself, is an expert on Income-Tax matters, has not taken the bull by the horns, and has not modernised his machinery completely instead of having a piecemeal process. I am not referring to Income Tax law, but merely to the machinery. I have a new Clause later on the Paper with regard to the collection machinery, but there is still left the curious anomaly of the assessor who had an important function 150 years ago, but who to-day has no function whatever, except putting a formal signature to a few papers during the course of the year. Assessors are appointed by the local general Commissioners and the majority of Commissioners throughout the country have agreed to accept the Board of Inland Revenue suggestions of assessors, who are normally collectors under the Inland Revenue. But there is a small group of Commissioners who have steadily refused to accept this method of appointment of these sinecures and still claim the right to appoint in their own areas.

These assessors, in a number of cases, receive very large salaries for doing nothing whatever. There are 25 assessors in England who receive from £300 to £1,000 a year for a purely nominal job. The Commissioners in these areas still insist on retaining this power to appoint, and it is well to know who these Commissioners are. The Commissioners in London appoint eight of these entirely unnecessary assessors, in Leeds the Commissioners appoint three, in Leicester two, in Coventry one, Cardiff one, Stafford one. In Holborn they appoint six, and in London altogether there are nine. These men are drawing salaries varying from £300 to £1,000 a year, or an average of £500 a year for sinecures, and the general Commissioners refuse to give up their rights of appointment because they can appoint their friends and relations to these entirely unnecessary jobs. In regard to Scotland, there are five important ones, who receive on an average £900 a year. They need to know nothing, and they do know nothing about the Income Tax machinery and they play no part. The general Commissioners in Edinburgh still retain the right to appoint two of these assessors, in Glasgow they appoint two and in Dundee one. It is desirable that the country should know that there are certain towns and areas where the Commissioners insist on maintaining the giving to their friends of large salaries for doing nothing. I want to know why the Chancellor of the Exchequer has not taken this opportunity of clearing away this piece of jobbery?

Sir J. Anderson

My hon. Friend is right when he says that there are certain features of the Income Tax machinery which are archaic. There are certain features which are a survival from an earlier state of things. Much has been done to modernise the machinery. I remember very well, when I was myself Chairman of the Board of Inland Revenue, taking a hand in the matter. I remember also that I had the support of the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the day, but, when it came to making proposals in draft legislation, certain difficulties were encountered, and, in the end, the changes that were made embodied some element of compromise, as very often happens in our public affairs. The re forms that have been made serve to bring into greater prominence the anomalous nature of certain of the survivals which still exist.

My hon. Friend asked me why I had not taken this matter up since I have had an opportunity of doing so. The answer must be that I have had a great many things to do, and one must put one's tasks in wartime in some order of priority. This is not quite so high in my list that I find it possible as yet to give attention to the matter, but I can promise that, as and when opportunity offers, I will look into the whole matter with my advisers and see what can and should be done.

Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.