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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 5 May 1966

Vol. 222 No. 8

Income Tax Bill, 1966 (Certified Consolidation Bill): Second Stage.

I move that the Bill be now read a Second Time.

The purpose of this Bill is to bring within the confines of a single enactment the law relating to income tax. The fact that the Bill is intended as a purely consolidating measure requires that it does not in any way alter existing law. This has often meant preserving unchanged the language of old enactments although in some places it has been considered permissible to seek an improvement on the original wording.

The Bill, as framed, embraces the Income Tax Act, 1918, which is the basic enactment, together with the Finance Acts 1919 to 1965. It takes account also of the various adapting orders and enactments which affect the body of income tax law.

The Bill is expressed to operate from 6th April, 1967, and in order that it may embody income tax legislation in force on that date, it is proposed to move amendments on Committee Stage which would enable any relevant provisions of the Finance Act, 1966, to be incorporated.

The Bill is, I believe, the largest ever to come before the House and I trust that the Standing Committee on Consolidation Bills, to which I will propose the Bill should be referred, will not find their task too onerous.

This is a purely consolidating Bill and, accordingly, it is not open to us to suggest any amendments in the income tax law as such on the motion today. It would be wrong, however, to let the occasion pass without saying that while the Bill is a consolidating measure, and while it will, one hopes, do something to ease the jungle of tax law in having it all in one volume, so to speak, at the same time, it will not do anything to ease the burden on those who have to pay tax, those who have to pay tax to the tune of an extra 8d in the £ by reason of the Minister's recent imposition.

One would have hoped that this Bill would have been brought in in an atmosphere in which there was some reduction in taxation rather than the increase, already onerous, which the Minister for Finance announced in his Budget and the threatened increase which he has also announced, but which he has been most careful to say will not come before 1st June. I do not think any Minister for Finance has ever been so cynical with the public as the present Minister was in that regard the other day.

This Bill has been circulated to the Members of the House under the heading Income Tax Bill, 1966(Certified Consolidation Bill). We have a large number of people paying income tax and if any one of these people, with few exceptions, were to get this Bill, what would he make of it? I have been agitating here for years that measures such as this, affecting the public, should be in readable language. Unfortunately, as Deputies can see, this Bill is more than an inch in thickness.

We are interested in the measurement of income tax, not the measurement of the Bill.

It is not in any kind of readable language and if the people were to get it into their hands, they could not make sense of it. I believe this House and the Minister responsible should send out in some kind of concise fashion what is contained in that Bill. There is a wanton wastage of words in this measure—all this old jargon which should be finished with: whensoevers, wheresoevers, whereases, so on and so forth. It is about time the procedure was changed. The Front Bench senior counsels of this House could not understand this measure, never mind others of us who have not the same brand of intelligence.

The same brand of intelligence—not necessarily superior intelligence.

I am asking the Minister and the House that there be some Committee, possibly the Committee on Procedure and Privileges which exists already, to deal with this question and change the whole system. The draftsmen responsible for drafting these Bills are continuing the old system which obtained when we had a foreign Government here. The Irish Government have taken over that system and I am urging the Minister, in the case of future Bills, particularly those dealing with such an important item as income tax, to change the old system of drafting in such a way that we can all read it and, having read it, understand it. We have all read this Bill and it is very difficult to understand. I am pressing on the Minister the desirability of making a change in the drafting of Bills in the future.

I want to ask one or two questions about procedure. I am in entire sympathy with the observations made by Deputy M. P. Murphy. The jungle of income tax law has become so fantastic now that there is no living creature who knows his way through it. I am ready to prophesy that when we pass this Bill, nobody in this House will understand it.

Most certainly not.

That a democratic parliament should get itself into that position is something about which we all ought to ask ourselves a question. We are not exceptional in this, however. The British House of Commons and the Congress of the United States have fallen into the same trap. As Deputy Murphy has said, this is a matter which now affects everybody earning more than £6 a week. Yet the situation is that our enactment, affecting his everyday life, is of such character that no living creature in the country can understand it. The Minister now consolidates it, which, on the whole, is probably a good thing to do. I wish he were in a position to say he looked forward to this act of consolidation as the departure point for an entirely new approach to income tax, with a view to its radical simplification. The fact is that on the basic Act of 1918, we have, over the past 50 years, piled up a vast superstructure of amending legislation, orders, regulations, et cetera, which now provides a jungle through which not one per cent of the population of this country can find its way.

I should like to ask these procedural questions. I understood when we established this procedure for the consolidation of Bills, the Bill was presented to the Consolidation Committee with a certificate from the Attorney General stating it represented the law as of the day on which it was presented to the Committee. But now the Minister speaks of moving amendments to this Consolidating Bill on Committee. Where are those amendments to be moved? Are they to be moved in the Committee and is it permissible to insert amendments in the Committee? I thought the purpose of the Committee was simply to check, on behalf of both Houses, that the certificate of the Attorney General was, in fact, correct and that the Consolidating Bill did not change the law. I fully appreciate that what the Minister has in mind is that, after we have dealt with the Finance Bill of 1966, he wishes to insert in the Consolidating Bill any changes which may be made in the law. How will he do that? What is the procedure? Does the Attorney General issue a separate certificate in respect of amendments submitted to the Committee and are the amendments incorporated in this Bill? Are they inserted in this House or are they inserted in the Committee?

As the House is aware, the Bill is expressed to operate as from 6th April, 1967, and, since it was apparent that by then the income tax law would have again been changed to what it was up to 1966 and what it will be in 1967, I specifically checked whether it would be permissible to move amendments to include any change in income tax law effected by the 1966 Finance Act. I was informed it would be in order to do so. I must confess I do not know fully exactly what the procedure will be but I expect that the Committee dealing with the Bill will have power to accept amendments as long as it has been certified by the Attorney General that these amendments do not change the law as it will have then stood. Therefore, when and if the Finance Bill of this year comes into operation, the Attorney General will then be in a position to certify that the law in relation to income tax is such that it can be incorporated in this Consolidation Bill. I am sorry I cannot fully answer the Deputy's question but I am assured, on specific inquiry, that this will be possible, in accordance with Standing Orders.

In reply to Deputy Murphy's suggestion that there is a jungle of income tax law—that is true, of course, and I readily admit it. There is also a jungle of a lot of other legislation which affects many people but, at least, consolidation is a step in the direction of simplifying access to the law as it stands. Unfortunately, in consolidation, we can do nothing by way of amendment of the existing law but it is a step in the right direction to have it all in one volume or one enactment. There is, of course, another step, codification, which I take it, generally, would mean rationalisation of the law as it stands. I do not know to what extent codification can change existing law. At least codification is possible but only after consolidation in the case of a Bill like this.

In reply to the point made by Deputy Sweetman, the Deputy has a habit of accusing people of callousness but he does it so often one wonders if he does it with his tongue in his cheek. I think Deputy Sweetman knew well the circumstances in which 1st June was mentioned the other day.

I most certainly did.

When asked when the Supplementary Budget would be introduced, I repeated that I did not know if it would be necessary but, if it were, I would have to do so. I must say I thought I heard a suggestion from the other side—"Would it be before 1st June"—and, realising the significance of 1st June, I said it could not be before 1st June, even if I wanted it.

Of course it could, if there were not another event before 1st June.

I answered what I thought was a suggestion. It may be that the stenographers did not hear it. I thought I heard it and that was the reason I used 1st June.

Would the Minister read the Attorney General's certificate so that it will be on the records of the House? It has not been circulated with the Bill. I know it is in Iris Oifigiúil.

I understood it was on the records of the House when it was introduced.

Would the Minister not agree that it would be advisable to have a change made in the system of presenting Bills such as this one? Surely a huge volume such as this is not the best way of presenting this important Bill?

The Deputy may not discuss that now.

Would the Minister not consider issuing some comprehensive booklet setting out in readable language all that the Bill contains so that everybody who pays income tax can understand what is in it.

That would be six inches thick.

I certainly would consider that. I have no power to present Bills other than in the present form.

The Minister can get the power.

The Deputy should bring it down to west Cork.

Question put and agreed to.