HC Deb 07 July 1965 vol 715 cc1609-12
Mr. MacDermot

I beg to move, Amendment No. 8, in page 7, line 4, at the end to insert: (7) Where a person is a registered blind person within the meaning of section 9 of the Finance Act 1962 (relief for blind persons) during part only of the year of assessment. that person, or, as the case may be, that person's husband, shall be entitled to relief under subsection (1) or (2) of that section in any case in which he would have been entitled to such relief if that person had been such a registered blind person throughout the year, but the amount of relief granted by virtue of this subsection shall be calculated in accordance with subsection (8) below. (8) For the purpose of calculating the said amount, the said section 9 shall have effect as if—

  1. (a) for references in subsections (1) and (2) of that section to the amounts of any tax-free disability payments receivable by a person in the year of assessment there were substituted references to the amounts of any such payments receivable by him in the part of the year during which he was a registered blind person within the meaning of that section; and
  2. (b) for references in the said subsection (1) to £100 (relief for one blind person) there were substituted references to that proportion of £100 which the period in the year of assessment during which the person in question was such a registered blind person hears to one year; and
  3. 1610
  4. (c) for references in the said subsection (2) to £200 (relief for blind couple) there were substituted references to that proportion of £200 which the sum of the periods in the year of assessment during which each of the persons in question was such a registered blind person bears to two years.
This Amendment gives effect to an undertaking which I gave during our debates on the new Clauses in Committee, when I accepted in principle a proposal put forward by the hon. Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Dean), which found widespread support, that a registered blind person should not have to wait until, in effect, the second year after he became registered before he would be able to claim the benefit of the tax allowance.

As the law stands at present, he can claim the allowance only in respect of the year in which he had been registered for the whole of the year. The Amendment provides that the allowance should be available where a registered person is registered for part of the tax year. This will apply not only in respect of the first year in which he is registered, but also in the case of a person who, through one of the wonderful operations which is done nowadays, recovers from his blindness and, therefore, is registered for only a part of the year. He will also be able to claim a proportionate part of the allowance in respect of the terminal year as well.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

I thank the Financial Secretary for tabling the Amendment. It is in line with the powerful arguments which were adduced by my hon. Friends in Committee. The concession will benefit a very small number of people who are in great need, as was well illustrated by my hon. Friends.

The Financial Secretary will be aware that I am particularly anxious about one class of case. Will registered blind people who were registered for a part of the year previous to the passing of the Bill be included in this concession? Very few people can be involved in this class of case, but they may be in the unfortunate position of losing a year's allowance, in regard to the 1962 concession. If the hon. and learned Gentleman cannot give me an answer immediately, I trust that he will look into the matter and perhaps let me know in writing. I thank him once again for the concession.

Mr. Paul Dean (Somerset, North)

I, too, thank the Financial Secretary very much indeed for the concession which is made in the Amendment and which fulfils 100 per cent. the undertaking the hon. and learned Gentleman gave in Committee. On that occasion he undertook to extend the special tax relief which is available for blind people. I am sure that all hon. Members and the public generally will be extremely grateful to him for this concession. He has, by the Amendment, crowned the special relief for blind people which was introduced in the 1962 Act. I am sincerely grateful to him for having met his undertaking 100 per cent.

Mr. MacDermot

The answer to the question posed by the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Scott-Hopkins) is that the Amendment will have effect in the tax year 1965–66 and subsequent years of assessment. It will not operate retrospectively. As the House knows, it is our general principle not to make retrospective alterations in the tax laws. That applies both in the case of reliefs and impositions of taxation. It applies also in cases like this, where there are not, as has been pointed out, a great many people involved.

The House may remember a case which is familiar to lawyers and which arose some years ago. A husband and wife were killed simultaneously in a car crash. Because one was deemed by the then law to have pre-deceased the other and there was a double liability to Estate Duty, in the subsequent Finance Bill the law was altered. The same question was raised and argued as the hon. Gentleman has raised, but the pleas for retrospection were rejected. That was done in the 1958 Finance Act and, even in the case itself which gave rise to the change in the legislation, the old law had to run its course.

There are various reasons for this. One is that any past date that is chosen would inevitably appear arbitrary. It could be argued here that as the allowance itself was imposed in the 1962 Finance Act, one could make it retrospective to that date. It sounds attractive, but it is still arbitrary. Whatever date in the past one chose there would still be people in the year before. They could still say, "Why should not we have the benefit of this?"

There are other reasons, too, but I regret that we have felt it right to adhere to the precedents and make it operate from the current year.

Amendment agreed to.