(Except clauses 4, 19, 23, 26 to 29, 87 to 92, 131 and 134 and schedules 1, 5 and 38) - Clause 132 - Mandatory e-filing

Part of Finance Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 5:15 pm on 25th June 2002.

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Photo of John Pugh John Pugh Shadow Spokesperson (Education) 5:15 pm, 25th June 2002

I support the amendment, but I must say that I do not share the convictions of the Brethren. I would go as far as to say that I do not understand their convictions. I understand that the Pope uses a computer and that makes it rather difficult for me to see it as the instrument of the devil. It may not make it quite so difficult for the Brethren to see it in that context.

I do not really understand how people can have a principle against a specific piece of machinery, but I understand that they do. Quakers have real difficulties with pieces of military machinery, and certain orthodox Jews object to cameras. I think that we have to accept that there is an element of diversity that none of us can explain or find a rationale for. However, this is a case of coercing people to act against their convictions. Were their religious convictions such that they refused to pay tax at all—a sect set up on that basis would be very popular—the Government would have to overrule them. The hon. Member for Buckingham presents a very strong argument: who essentially loses if we make an exception? The people who I think are the losers—the hon. Gentleman has already identified them—are the bureaucrats, who seem to be the winners in the legislation as a whole. There exists a satisfactory alternative technology to computers called pen and paper. It is more secure, more reliable and has withstood the test of time.

However, the Government are in a dilemma. They can go down one route and accept the amendment, which is not perfectly worded and which may create problems. They can accept specific nominated groups but, as has been mentioned, other people may abuse any loopholes that are allowed. Rather than deal with that, the Government can take a simpler route, which has been telegraphed all day. They can abandon compulsion and rely on incentives—there is no point in using incentives if there is compulsion—and simply move away from mandatory e-filing. Such a course would not generate insoluble problems for the Government.