HL Deb 21 July 1910 vol 6 cc392-4

LORD MONK BRETTON rose to ask His Majesty's Government whether the notice and form to be served on persons required to make a return of their total income from all sources for the purposes of assessment to Super-Tax, and attached to the Regulations made by the Commissioners of Inland Revenue under Section 72 (8) of the Finance Act, 1910, and laid upon the Table of this House, are regarded by His Majesty's Government as part of the Regulations, and whether, in the event of the Commissioners altering the form at any future time, any revised form will be laid before Parliament as a Regulation under the Act.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the Question which I have on the Paper is of some importance considering what has been said in another place by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in regard to the reconsideration which the Regulations for the Super-Tax may require. Under Section 93 of the Finance Act the Super-Tax Regulations have to lie on the Table of your Lordships' House for forty days. I take it that the object of Parliament was to ensure that the questions which were asked by the Treasury officials should be reasonable questions, and that the period within which those questions should be answered should give adequate time for getting the answers. The Question I ask is, Arc this return and this form regarded as part of the Regulations? If not, it is open to the Treasury officials as soon as the forty days expire to tear up this paper, to issue a totally new set of questions some of which it may be impossible to answer, to fine people for not answering them, and to change the period of time within which they have to be answered. The last sentence of the first paragraph of these Regulations runs— Such notice shill be in the form hereto attached or in such amended form as the Commissioners of Inland Revenue shall approve.

Section 93 of the Act says that all Regulations shall be laid on the Table, but what I want to make sure of is whether this Regulation which enables the Treasury to make other Regulations absolves them from laving those other Regulations on fie Table of the House. If so, it would leave the matter in the same position as if these forms were merely schedules and not part of the Regulations. I merely want an assurance that these questions arc not to be changed for totally different questions at the will and pleasure of the Treasury without being laid before Parliament, as was undoubtedly the intention of Parliament when the Finance Act was made law.


My Lords, the answer to the first part of the noble Lord's Question is in the affirmative. The notice and form are part of the Super-Tax Regulations. As to the second part of the Question—namely, whether in the event of the Commissioners altering the form at any future time any revised form will be laid before Parliament as a Regulation under the Act—I am advised that any subsequent alteration of the form will not necessitate its being laid before Parliament. That is the legal position of the Treasury in the matter. But I should think it would be very unlikely that alterations of importance would be made off-hand by the Treasury without Parliament being aware of the fact; and, of course, it is always open to any member of either House of Parliament to criticise the Regulations which have been made. The noble Lord appears to think the Treasury capable of altering the Regulations merely for the purpose of having the pleasure of finding or punishing people who do not make a correct return. I must remind the noble Lord that all the Treasury want is to get the necessary information with the least possible trouble to the individual, and they are certainly not likely to take a course which will necessitate the making of further returns than are absolutely necessary.


My Lords, I cannot quite understand the noble Lord's answer. He began by telling me that both of these papers are part of the Regulations. Under the Act the Regulations have to be laid before Parliament. Consequently I presume, if there is any alteration in any part of this form, including the questions which have to be answered, that, being part of the Regulations, it would have to be laid before Parliament for forty days under Section 93 of the Act. But the second part of the noble Lord's answer contradicted that. The noble Lord said that if the Commissioners alter this form it would not be laid before Parliament. But if this form is a part of the Regulations it would be a breach of Section 93 not to lay it before Parliament. In those circumstances I do not understand the answer of the noble Lord.


I am afraid I am unable to explain the legal ground on which the Treasury have given me this information, but I have no doubt that their legal position in the matter is perfectly sound. I really do not think there is a contradiction in terms, as the noble Lord suggests, and it is obvious that it must be necessary for a Department to have this power. Very often the alteration made would be of a minor character, and it would be rather superfluous for the Department to have to lay a Paper before Parliament in every case.


My Lords, this is an important matter. I do not think any Department of the Government ought to have the power of really going contrary to the wish of Parliament owing to a technicality. The wish of Parliament evidently is that these matters should be laid on the Table of the House and be considered, but apparently it is in the power of the Treasury to get round the Act. That is, I think, a matter which the House ought very seriously to consider.