Wednesday, April 21, 2010



“No taxation without representation” is reputed to have been the slogan of the Boston radicals that opposed payment by Massachusetts of the tea duty imposed by the UK parliament. The refusal of the UK government to allow the colonist’s voice to be heard in parliament led, of course, to the American War of Independence that lasted from 1775 – 1783.

This long and bloody war was a consequence of an unfair concept of “democracy” under which England sought to impose its will on America.

Democracy comes from the Greek meaning “rule of the people”. Of course in a society of over 60 million people such rule is impractical. Instead the people elect representatives to determine the rules. However the populace is surely entitled to expect that such representatives will indeed represent its needs and concerns. Would it be a democracy if the populace were to elect a parliament of representatives and that parliament were to say to the government, “Do what you like, we’re not interested in approving, improving or even bothering to read the laws that you wish to introduce. We’ve got better things to do. Who cares about the citizenry? Who cares whether we have a fair tax system that reflects the needs and the intellectual abilities of the citizenry? We don’t”. I would answer that question, “Of course not it; that would be to hold democracy in contempt”. But what would our actual representatives say? I do not know. What I do know is that before rushing off to ask us to re-elect them, our MP’s enacted a 156 page long Finance Act 2010.

Introducing the second reading of the Bill (the first stage in its debate) the Minister said, “We have published a much shorter Finance Bill than usual and it is focused on the Key Budget measures … We are proceeding today on the basis of consent, and to be helpful to Opposition Members, I will not be moving the landline duty in clause 23 …, clause 58 requiring financial securities from employers at serious risk of pay-as-you-earn or National Insurance contributions not being paid, or clause 65 … on furnished holiday lettings. These will all be in the second Finance Bill at the start of the new Parliament. I have also tabled amendments to clause 9 that will limit the increase in cider duty to 2% above inflation …”.

What are we to make of, “we are proceeding today on the basis of consent”? I think that it means that the Finance Act 2010 is a cross-party measure. In particular the vicious and unfair penalties where careless mistakes involve offshore income – and as such are most likely to be made by the poorer immigrant members of society, such as the nurses that I hypothesised in Blog 79, is not a Labour party imposition. It’s unfairness also reflects the views of the Conservative and Liberal Democratic parties who were happy to add it to the statute book without debate, without any government assurances on its operation and without asking the government to explain the reasoning for treating immigrants so harshly.

Of course there was some debate. Last year’s Finance Bill ran to 450 pages. There was some debate then too, although admittedly nothing like as much as the Bill deserved or as was traditional pre Gordon Brown’s penchant for marathon bills. Here is a comparison of the two (to the nearest quarter hour)

2009 2010
Second reading 9 2¾
Committee stage 61½ ¼
Report stage 11¾ 0
Third reading ½ 0
______ ______
82¾ 3

For those not familiar with parliamentary proceedings, the Second Reading is political bantering based on the budget proposals. The Committee stage is when parliament actually starts to consider the Finance Bill. Report stage is where the government responds to points made at the previous stage and Third Reading is another round of political speeches.

Obviously this year the Bill was savagely guillotined by the government? Not at all. The three main parties agreed that three hours was the appropriate time to consider 156 pages of legislation that would have a lasting impact on the lives of the citizenry.

I am aware that some bits of the Finance Bill, in particular tax rates for the coming year, have to be passed by 5 August as the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act allows tax to be collected on the basis of the budget resolutions only until that date. However there was no urgency in most of the Finance Bill. It could have been introduced later in the year with the anti-avoidance bits still applying from budget day, but with proper debate so that people could have a degree of confidence that what reached the statute book had been properly considered by parliament. I am also aware that a full Finance Bill was rubber-stamped by the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats when we had an election on 5 May 2005, although on that occasion a lot of proposed measures were dropped from the Bill and reintroduced in a second Bill after the election. However that did not happen for earlier May elections, such as the 1 May 1997 election, where the government started the Finance Bill process in January so that the Bill could be passed in March or the 3 May 1979 election. On that occasion, as traditionally happened, a very short Act confined to the tax rates and the other bits of the Bill that had been debated in Committee before parliament was prorogued was passed.

History accordingly suggests that the current Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties are very weak in standing up for citizens’ rights. I can understand Labour MPs wanting to get as much legislation as possible on the statute book in case they are not re-elected. However there is no logical reason why Opposition MPs should want to put on the statute book legislation that they are unhappy with, so that if they are elected they would need to find time to remove or amend it. The inference must be that they are not unhappy with a single word of it.

If I spend only about 3.5% of my normal time in voting this year I won’t even reach the end of my street, let alone the polling station. If that is the level of commitment that the politicians show towards democracy they cannot reasonably expect me to do more. Walking part way down the road is a bit pointless, so I think I’ll just not bother to vote at all this year. Hold on, I see that I have a Green Party candidate. Perhaps I should find out what his taxation policies are before boycotting the process in the same way as the politicians seem to me to have boycotted democracy.



Post a Comment

<< Home