HC Deb 15 June 1954 vol 528 cc1724-7
34. Mr. Jay

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in view of the Financial Secretary's letter of 6th May to the President of the Institute of Directors, whether, in the treatment for tax purposes of directors' expenses allowances, he will continue to back the Inland Revenue in taking every step necessary to prevent tax evasion.

Mr. R. A. Butler

The answer is "Yes, Sir." On the subject of my right hon. Friend's letter to the President of the Institute of Directors, I would refer the right hon. Gentleman to the answer given to his supplementary question on 17th May.

Mr. Jay

Are we to understand that the Chancellor entirely reaffirms the assurance which he gave on the subject a year ago, and, if so, will he remain in the House and listen to the answers given by the Financial Secretary to some further Questions a little lower down the Paper?

Mr. Butler

It is always a great pleasure for me to listen to anything that the Financial Secretary may have to say, and I shall certainly do my best to listen.

Sir H. Williams

May I ask whether this inquisition is also applied to Members of Parliament in respect of their free trips abroad at the expense of this or other Governments or institutions?

Mr. Butler

I think Members of Parliament can look after themselves.

Sir H. Williams

Will my right hon. Friend answer the question?

41 Mr. Houghton

asked the Financial Secretary to the Treasury (1) whether the complaint from the Institute of Directors concerning the Income Tax questionnaire in respect of which an official apology was subsequently made, disclosed the name and address of the taxpayer to whom the questionnaire was alleged to have been sent; and what steps were taken to confirm the facts alleged before the letter of apology was sent;

(2)if he will examine the files, evidence and facts relating to the alleged issue of the form of Income Tax questionnaire in respect of which the recent apology was made by the Board of Inland Revenue, in the light of further evidence submitted to him by the hon. Member for Sowerby, and make a further statement.

(3)whether he is aware that the Income Tax questionnaire which was the subject of the recent apology by the Board of Inland Revenue was handed to a company secretary as a guide to the range of information which might be asked for by the Inland Revenue, and was never at any time issued with a demand for its completion; and whether he will take steps to ensure that in future the Board of Inland Revenue does not apologise before ascertaining the full facts.

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter)

The Institute of Directors did not, in the first instance, say which of its members had received the questionnaire of which it complained. A complaint had, however, previously been received from an hon. Member that a questionnaire in identical terms had been handed to a secretary of a company whose name was supplied. The Institute of Directors has since informed me that their complaint related to a questionnaire given to the same company secretary.

I have studied the letter which the hon. Member has sent me. My information, however, is that it was not made clear to the company that the questionnaire did not require to be completed. Nor would the questionnaire have served any useful purpose if it was not intended to indicate the information which the Revenue required in the particular case. The last part of the hon. Member's third Question does not therefore arise.

Mr. Houghton

Does not the right hon. Gentleman's reply show how unwise it always is for apologies to be made before the facts have been fully investigated? Does he dispute the statement I have made that this questionnaire was given as an aide-mémoire on the range of questions which might be asked, and was not in fact handed to the officer of the company concerned with a request that it should be completed?

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I am not concerned to argue with the hon. Member as to the particular intention—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]—wait for it—of the official who handed over the questionnaire, but, as my answer has made clear, it was not explained to the company secretary to whom it was handed that it was being handed to him by way of light entertainment. On the contrary, he was under the impression—a very human impression, it may be—that it was handed to him in order that he should complete it. That is what I have said in my answer. In those circumstances, and in view of the terms of the questionnaire, I am bound to say that I thought it right and proper that an apology should be tendered. I do not share the hon. Member's belief that it is a sign either of weakness or lack of confidence to apologise on occasions when one finds that a mistake has been made.

Mr. Jay

In that case, in view of the facts now revealed and the assurance which has just been given by the Chancellor, would it not be better for the Financial Secretary to apologise to the Inland Revenue?

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I have the highest regard for the Inland Revenue. It is because of that high regard that I think it proper, as does the Board of Inland Revenue, to express regret on the very rare occasions when its actions appear to be excessive. So far as the general issue is concerned, the right hon. Gentleman has been told on three occasions that it has nothing whatever to do with this particular case.