Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Inspector of Taxes (Conduct)

Clause 2 – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 4th December 1968.

Alert me about debates like this

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Dr. Miller.]

5.38 a.m.

Photo of Mr Tom Iremonger Mr Tom Iremonger , Ilford North

The House will be grateful to the Financial Secretary for attending to answer this debate after answering long and detailed debates in two all-night sittings on the Bill which has just been passed. I thank him personally very much for the careful and thorough attention he has given to secondary details of the case which I have to put to the House, details which it will not be necessary to discuss this morning in the Chamber. The hon. Gentleman and I have discussed at length the matter which I wish to raise, but the House will wish me to explain the background in a brief narrative.

My constituent, Mrs. Doris Richards, is a soldier's widow with a family of young sons whom she was working to support. She was a temporary civil servant working in the office of one of Her Majesty's Inspectors of Taxes. The Inspector made the suggestion, which she gratefully accepted, that he should give one of her sons tuition in mathematics. The boy visited the Inspector's flat for this purpose for some time, during which the Inspector took advantage of the arrangement to assault him sexually.

The boy eventually told his elder brother, who told his mother. She caused proceedings to be instituted. The Inspector pleaded guilty and was given no sentence by the court. He was transferred by his Civil Service superiors to a similar post in another area.

Mrs. Richards was outraged at this, and it so preyed on her mind that she eventually suffered a complete breakdown. Because of her absences from work through ill health she eventually lost her ob as a temporary civil servant. She now has great difficulty, in continuing ill health, in getting and keeping any job. She has been reduced to near destitution and dependence on public agencies for moral and financial support. This is the tragedy of a brave and capable woman absolutely broken by the devastating psychological shock of betrayal by the authority in which she had put her trust and of seeing, as it appears to her, the wicked flourish like the green bay tree.

I want to ask the Financial Secretary two things. Firstly, that he should arrange an independent medical examination of Mrs. Richards and of her case history, to establish the degree to which the conduct of her superior officer was responsible for precipitating her breakdown, and, in that connection, I ask for an undertaking that she be compensated from public funds, as may be appropriate to the degree of responsibility established. After all, if a workman's life is wrecked by a fall from defective scaffolding his employer is liable for compensation, and I cannot see that the analogy with the wreckage of this woman's life is too far fetched.

I should add just one thing. If I have been less than precise in describing Mrs. Richard's medical case history it is not because I failed to make proper inquiries about it, but simply because I do not think it fitting or fair to reveal all that has been confided to one about private and intimate matters. That is all I want to say about Mrs. Richards personally.

The second thing I want to ask the Financial, Secretary concerns the public service, and it is simply that the Inspector in question should be dismissed.

The seduction was—it could have been nothing less—a calculated, deliberate plan conceived by an inveterate paederast to inveigle this child into becoming his established catamite. The child in question was the child of a woman not only subordinate to the Inspector in the disciplinary hierarchy, but also peculiarly vulnerable by reason of her widowhood and her financial responsibilities.

The violation of the slowly maturing personality of a child by a sexually mature person—for that is the nature of the offence, and the gender of the parties is of secondary importance—is an act of callous cruelty however we look at it. If we do not like to look at it from the point of view of John Gordon in the Sunday Express, we can look at it from the angle of Boris Nabokov. For no one has ever explained it more poignantly and perceptively than he did in his novel "Lolita". Altogether it would be impossible to imagine conduct more dishonourable, and, in the context of the public service, more unpardonable. And besides, by the nature of his office, an Inspector of Taxes, inevitably sensitive and susceptible to pressures and blackmail, should be required to be, as much as any officer of the Crown, sans peur et sans reproche.

Music hall jokes apart, I think the general opinion in this country is that we are exceptionally well served by the officers of the Inland Revenue. Our tax inspectors are men of absolute integrity, I really believe, as well as of outstanding calibre of brain and mind. It is important that this standard should be jealously maintained, and it is important that it should be seen to be jealously maintained. I do not think that the sense of outrage and injustice expressed by the unhappy Mrs. Richards is in the least unreasonable. I think she has evinced a surer instinct for the true best interests and health of the public service than did the more merciful senior officials who decided not to dismiss this officer.

I think a grave error of judgment was committed. It would be bad enough if no one had noticed or cared, but, in the circumstances, it cannot fail to undermine confidence in the standard demanded of public servants in responsible posts. It is painful and embarrassing for any hon. Member of this House to tread so close to the boundary of the Civil Service sanctuary, and I have been careful to avoid identifying any individual, to the extent that I could not myself, if asked, say who the officer is or where he is posted. I am not even aware of his name. I have no wish to pillory anyone. But I am concerned to protest against what seems to me a sinister indication of the lowering of standards required in servants of the Crown. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will be able to say that the officer concerned will be removed from the Service, to mark the gravity of this offence.

5.47 a.m.

Photo of Mr Harold Lever Mr Harold Lever , Manchester Cheetham

I am grateful to the hon. Member for presenting his case, to all of which I cannot necessarily assent, with moderation and great fairness, considering how strongly he feels in not involving the name of and means of identifying the officer concerned. It is a sad and sorry story of a delinquent Inspector of Taxes who misbehaved in the manner that has been established by the hon. Member. I need hardly say that we regret the happening of such improper and very saddening events in which this man committed an offence against a fellow employee's child.

The court, however, became seized of this matter, and they are in a better position than I am to form an impartial judgment of the gravity of his behaviour. I think that I ought to be swayed by the view of the court, which certainly implied that he was not an habitual offender, and that it was his first offence. He was given a conditional discharge, and no monetary or other penalty was inflicted upon him. It is clear that the court wanted this man to redeem his offence and to restore his behaviour to that which would, as the hon. Member has said, be more suitable to a man occupying this position.

The question is whether the Inland Revenue authorities ought to have dismissed him. I respectfully submit, although I can see that anyone else is entitled to another point of view, that it would have been wrong for the Inland Revenue to have dismissed this man, having regard to the view of his offence taken by the court, and of the court's anxiety that he should rehabilitate himself after this lapse. Had I the judging of the matter, which of course I have not except by way of review in the light of the hon. Member's representations, it would seem to me the wrong way of approaching this, at this point of a man's life when he has been guilty of this very grave offence and has been given by the court the opportunity to redeem himself, if I or the Inland Revenue were to make it more difficult for him to do so by turning him out of the means of earning his livelihood, for which he had the skills and the connection and, presumably, no alternative skill.

It seems to me that the Inland Revenue authorities were obliged to ensure that the circumstances of his employment were not such as to involve them in responsibility for any further delinquency that might occur. There is no such risk; he does not come into contact with young boys in his employment. It cannot be said that the risks, such as they may be, inherent in this man's psychology have been enhanced by the Inland Revenue decision to let him go on earning his livelihood. Far from being able to go with the hon. Member in wanting to see him dismissed, I am obliged to endorse the decision of the Inland Revenue, which seems to me to be the only decision which they could have taken in the circumstances, having regard to the court's decision.

The second question that I ought to answer is, are we responsible for the nervous breakdown of the mother of this boy? Most sincerely, I would express my deep sympathy for the lady, but, in spite of that, on the closest investigation of the matter, we cannot accept that we are responsible for her condition or are liable to compensate her.

I am sorry to offer two disappointments to the hon. Gentleman. I see no reason to interefere with the decision of the Inland Revenue to retain this man at his post, subject to all suitable safeguards as to the nature of his job. I cannot accept that, in the circumstances of the case and having regard to the condition of the day concerned, the Inland Revenue is obliged to make some form of compensation to her for her nervous condition. I do not believe that it has been established that her condition is an attributable responsibility of the Inland Revenue. The Inland Revenue is not liable for the acts of its servants other than in the course of their employment. The fact that, incidental to his employment, he meets the child of this lady and she is disturbed or upset because of what happened subsequently cannot be laid at the door of the Inland Revenue.

Photo of Mr Tom Iremonger Mr Tom Iremonger , Ilford North

It would seem to me that this officer was in charge of the office. He was the superior in charge of all the staff and. therefore, Mrs. Richards was, as it were, a moral responsibility of his.

Photo of Mr Harold Lever Mr Harold Lever , Manchester Cheetham

But it was not as if he assaulted a member of the staff in the course of his duty or the opportunities of his duty. He became friendly with a member of the staff and, as a result, gained access to her home and met her son. But that is a different matter from acting in the course of his duty. One might as well say that if he had fallen in love with a lady on the staff and seduced her or promised to marry her and had not kept his promise and she had had a nervous breakdown, the Inland Revenue would be responsible for that. I could not accept that principle. It is only for actions arising out of and in the course of the employment of the inspector for which the Inland Revenue ought to have responsibility.

In those circumstances, I could not feel justified in advising the expenditure of public money.

I do not want to go into the details of the lady's health, any more than did the hon. Gentleman. It is clear, in my judgment, that no responsibility falls upon the Inland Revenue in these circumstances.

I think that the Inland Revenue has a moral responsibility to try and help the lady over her disturbed period, because she was an employee of the Inland Revenue. Having investigated the case, I am satisfied that the Inland Revenue has been to extreme lengths of consideration—and I do not blame the lady, because she was not well—in its desire to help her retain her employment, but it became clear that, for one reason or another, her health would not permit it.

I am sure that the Inland Revenue behaved rightly. It had to accept the decision of the court in spirit as well as in law. It has no obligation to compensate the lady. It had an obligation, which it discharged to the full. to give her great consideration after this unfortunate and criminal incident in an effort to help her return to work in the normal way. Unhappily, because of her condition, that was not possible. But I think that the Inland Revenue made every attempt which could reasonably be expected of it.

I regret having to give a disappointing reply to the hon. Gentleman. I am afraid that I cannot go along with him on either of his two points, though I renew my expression of sympathy to the lady concerned and my deep regret that the incident ever occurred.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at five minutes to Six o'clock a.m.