I move amendment No. 1:
To add a new subsection as follows:
"(3) The appeal commissioners shall be appointed by the Government and shall hold office during good behaviour."
The purpose of the amendment is to secure that another of the recommendations of the Commission on Income Taxation shall be carried into effect in this measure. The explanatory memorandum to this Bill states:
The section and section 3 implement recommendations of the Commission on Income Taxation to the effect that the Special Commissioners should be and appellate body only;
It does not, however, go on to implement the remainder of the recommendation relevant to this particular topic. In fact, the proposal in this Bill is in the teeth of the recommendation of the report. At paragraph 775 of the Report of the Commission on Income Taxation, page 243, we read:
The title "Special Commissioners" is not an apt one for an appellate body on income taxation, the adjective "Special" is not appropriate. We recommend that they should be designated "Appeal Commissioners";
To the extent that I have read the recommendation, this Bill carries the recommendation into effect. Not merely does it ignore the subsequent part of the recommendation but the provisions of this Bill are in the teeth of the remainder of the recommendation, which is that these Commissioners should be appointed by the Government, or by the Taoiseach, rather than by the Minister responsible for the Revenue Department.
The Bill provides that the Minister shall appoint persons to be Appeal Commissioners: that is in the teeth of the recommendation. My amendment seeks to secure that the recommendation shall be carried into effect. I directed attention to this omission in my speech on Second Reading: the Minister did not see fit to accept my proposition and said I was rather ungenerous in my approach as he had done what he was asked to do. He has not done what the Commission recommended should be done and what ought to be done in the interests of the general public.
These people who were known as Special Commissioners and, if my amendment is not accepted, who will henceforward be known as Appeal Commissioners, have a very serious duty to fulfil. They are the arbitrators between the taxpayer and the Revenue Commissioners through whom they are responsible to the Minister. They are the body responsible to the Minister for this purpose. As the matter stands, they are civil servants. They are part of the Department of Finance: they are servants of the Minister for Finance. The Minister for Finance now proposes to continue the old and, I think, inappropriate position that he should continue, as Minister for Finance, to appoint these people to perform these very onerous and very serious judicial duties which are imposed upon them by the Income Tax Acts and other laws. Under these Acts, these Appeal Commissioners, as they will now be known, have the duty of standing independently between the Minister for Finance, or the Revenue Commissioners, and the taxpayer.
When the taxpayer is assessed with an amount of duty which he thinks is unauthorised, he has the right of appeal to the Special Commissioners, the Appeal Commissioners as they will now be known. That is a very serious function which these people have to fulfil. It was not merely that the commission thought they should not be called "Special Commissioners" but they were of the view that, so far as possible, they should be kept apart from the Department of Finance for the very reason that they are acting in a judicial capacity—and I use the word "judicial" advisedly: I did not use the expression "quasi-judicial" which is often used in relation to these bodies. They are deciding issues on fact and law between the taxpayer and the Department of Finance. It is utterly wrong (1) that they should be appointed by the Minister for Finance and (2) that they should be under his control. That is the position at the moment and apparently it is intended to continue that position unless my amendment is accepted. They will be civil servants in the Department of Finance. They will be governed by the Civil Service Regulations Acts which deal with matters of this kind. They will be subject to the control of the Establishment Officer of the Department of Finance. They can be demoted, promoted or deprived of their salary or increments in accordance with the decisions of the Minister for Finance, the Establishment Officer, in the ordinary way in the Civil Service. That is utterly wrong. They should not be in that position. The Commission, recognising the very fundamental principle involved in this matter, recommended that they should be appointed by the Government or the Taoiseach rather than by the Minister responsible for the Revenue Department.
The Minister for Finance certainly gave me the impression, not merely in the explanatory memorandum but in the speech he made in this House and which is reported at column 1997, volume 230. No. 12, of the Official Report, that he was carrying out the recommendations of the Commission. He was carrying them out but he was keeping a fundamental control of them which is quite wrong, in principle. It is very important that the taxpayer should know that he has a body to which he can appeal which is independent so far as the law can achieve it. No taxpayer can have the confidence he ought to have in a body of this kind, dealing with these very fundamental rights, if he knows that the person to whom these people, who are hearing his case, are responsible is the very person who is trying to take from his pocket the money he is alleging before the tribunal is not payable. That is wrong in principle. I do not know why, because we got no reason on Second Reading, having accepted one part of this recommendation, the Minister declines to accept the other part and persists in securing, in so far as this Bill stands at present, that these people will be appointed by the Minister in the teeth of this recommendation.
I do not want to indulge in clichés or to repeat the maxim that justice must not alone be done but must be seen to be done. It is of the utmost importance that the taxpayers should have a feeling of confidence in these people. They cannot have that confidence if they know that, in a matter of vital importance to them, in every appeal they make—and every appeal that goes before these people is a matter of vital importance to the person making the appeal—they are appealing to one civil servant against another who is subject to control, as a civil servant, to the person who is trying to exact what the taxpayer thinks is an excess of income tax from him.