I move amendment No. 8:—
Before Section 6 in Part 1 to insert a new section as follows:—
Any provision of any Act or rule which authorises a claim for repayment of income-tax to be made within a specified period shall be and is hereby amended so as to authorise the making of the claim within a period of 15 years after the end of the year of assessment.
This amendment is so eminently just, so entirely reasonable in its scope and in its intendment that I have not got the slightest hope that the Minister will accept it. The Minister has taken power under the first section of the Bill to reopen all arrangements and agreements with income-tax payers—to reopen all past transactions and all previous assessments. No arrangement or agreement is binding upon the Minister. No burden of proof is imposed on the Minister before he can reopen these transactions. No burden of proof is imposed on him before he can exercise the very drastic powers he has taken under Section 1 of the Bill. The Minister can go back, in reference to any transaction dealing with income-tax with a person who is alive, from the time when that person purports or is supposed to have earned a single penny of income up to the present moment, notwithstanding the fact that the court may have made previous assessments and notwithstanding the fact that agreements may have been made and honoured for many years and that all the references and records of transactions in connection with the case have been entirely lost and destroyed. That is the power the Minister takes.
The power asked for in this amendment merely seeks that the unfortunate income-tax payer, if an error is discovered over a period more than that allowed at the present time, which, I think, is six years, should have authority and right to go back and should have the right to get that error remedied and his over-payment to the Exchequer repaid to him. The period of 15 years is put in merely to draw the attention of the House and of the public outside to the extraordinary contrast that exists at the present moment between the rights of the taxpayer and the rights of the Revenue. It might appear that 15 years is a long time to go back on a past and closed transaction. In normal circumstances, I would not have asked the House to authorise any such reopening of transactions after such a length of time. I think that, in normal circumstances, six years, probably, would be sufficient, but I think that in matters of this kind there should be some reciprocity and that the injustice is so compelling and calls out so compellingly for remedy that some effort, on the part of the Minister, should be made to remedy that injustice.
Now, there have been actual cases where errors have taken place in assessments, and admittedly so, and because six years was the period existing—although it was admitted even in law, and in justice certainly, that repayment ought to be made and reconsideration ought to be given on behalf of the taxpayer—the Revenue Commissioners took refuge in the law and stated: "We cannot do anything because of the law and because of the control of the Comptroller and Auditor-General." If the Revenue Commissioners have power, as they have been given power under Section 1 of the Act, to reopen transactions long since closed—not merely so far back as 1922, but so far back as 1913 and 1912 and subsequent to the War; any period, in fact, that the Revenue Commissioners think right in reference to a living man —I think it is a small thing to ask that a taxpayer should be entitled to reopen cases that have been closed since the establishment of this State. That is what this amendment proposes. As I have already said, I put it down without the slightest hope that it will be accepted. I have no doubt that it will not be accepted, because, as I have said, it is so fair, just and reasonable, and we are coming to the stage now, in connection with income-tax and taxation generally, in this country— and I speak here now with all the gravity I can command—that injustice in connection with income-tax is at such a point that it has become almost morally open to taxpayers to take steps to evade their liabilities. I make that statement with the full knowledge of the responsibility I have in making it— with the full knowledge that I have of the methods that are being employed to extract taxes from the people at the present moment.
The Minister ought to know, because I have made my position clear in this House again and again in connection with Budget proposals and discussions of Finance Bills, that I do not stand, and that nobody on this side of the House stands, for anything in connection with evasions of tax by methods of fraud. Of course, the amendment I wrote down on the paper to-day made that clear again. I have never stood, in this House or anywhere else, for fraud or the condonation of fraud, but the person who is best able to evade the taxes that are being imposed by the Minister and his Government; the person who is best able to evade the exactions of the Minister's officials; the person who is best able to meet the methods of those officials, is the gentleman who does not stop at fraud. The people in whom I am interested are people who, years ago, made what they conceived to be, on proper evidence, a fair return of their income-tax in the circumstances then existing, and I am advocating in this amendment that, if a mistake arose, or if a mistake is discovered subsequently—a mistake, perhaps, due to the depredations of the Minister and his officials in the exercise of the powers conferred on them by Section 1, if it becomes law—if, as I say, a mistake is made and discovered as having taken place more than six years ago, all that this amendment asks is that that mistake should be remedied and that payments made by a taxpayer, which he was not bound to make, and which he made in circumstances under which he was not liable to make them, ought to be refunded to him and that he ought to get back from the Revenue that amount.
The amount of money that will be involved as a result of the inclusion of this amendment is infinitesimal. I will say now that I am not interested in the amount of money that is going to be got back, nor am I interested in the particular people who may be affected by this amendment. I think that the number of people that will be affected by it will be so small as to be negligible. I am interested, however, again, in directing public attention to this unjustifiable exercise of governmental powers, in favour of the Government, to enable them to rake money from taxpayers who will not be able to produce the necessary evidence to rebut claims made upon them, by reason of the stale demands that will be made, and to leave, as the Government intends, such a state of affairs that on one side there is the Minister and his officials with that power, and, on the other side, the taxpayers who have not the power to reopen any transactions over a limited period of six years. That is so unjust as to require no further comment. I have no hope that the Minister will accede to this. What I have hope of doing is of so harnessing public opinion outside against this Government, or any future Government that stands over proposals of the kind embodied in Section 1, that neither will be able to stay in power one day to cause hardship, injustice, torture of mind or uneasiness amongst honest taxpayers.