The latest episode of The Way We Live Now comes to you courtesy of the Government, which plans to grant HMRC powers to remove money from your bank account – without having to go to all that tiresome bother of applying for a court order. David Cameron did his best yesterday to defend the proposal, claiming that the organisation will only be able to treat taxpayers in this way if they owe a debt of over £1000, and if there is £5,000 or more in left in the account after this has been completed. But anyone familiar with The Thing – to borrow William Cobbett’s name for The System – knows that this would be the thinnish end of a very thick wedge: HMRC’s powers simply to seize our money would soon widen, doubtless by means of secondary legislation.
However, sense has not altogether departed Westminster. The Treasury Select Committee has pointed out that “this policy is highly dependent on HMRC’s ability accurately to determine which taxpayers owe money and what amounts they owe, an ability not always demonstrated in the past”. Taxpayers will agree, though those who who been in receipt of letters from HMRC – generated by computers without the slightest regard to timeliness, accuracy or even sense – will express that view with asterisks rather than the committee’s masterly exercise in understatement.
But there is an issue of principle here as well as practice. Libertarians believe that taxation is theft. Tories don’t go so far. However, both agree that for government to remove money by force from taxpayers without an Act of Parliament and, in this case, a court order is arbitrary and tyrannical. Charles I took a cavalier view (almost literally) of restrictions on his power to raise taxes. Downing Street, the Treasury and HMRC ought to have a look back at what followed. Douglas Carswell is available if they need guidance.
They are wrong to dally with this plan. None the less, it is impossible to believe that the proposal reflects a particular failure of this government or George Osborne or Cameron himself. It’s simply another sign of what The Thing does if it isn’t resisted. Fortunately, a champion is at hand. The committee added: “Giving HMRC this power without some form of prior independent oversight – for example by a new ombudsman or tribunal, or through the courts – would be wholly unacceptable”. Go for it, Tyrie! To the five other Tory members of the committee – David Ruffley, Brooks Newmark, Mark Garnier, Jesse Norman and now Steve Baker – plus their Chairman, falls the mantle of the five members who so stoutly resisted the Stuart monarch. This must not pass.