Clause 220 - Removal of special provision for incapacitated persons and minors

Finance Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 6:30 pm on 26th June 2012.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Cathy Jamieson Cathy Jamieson Shadow Minister (Treasury)

It has been a fairly long day so far, Mr Bone, and we still have a fair bit of business to get through. We want proper scrutiny, but not to take up unnecessary time. It is worth putting on the record what the clause does, because it changes terminology that is outdated, particularly the definition of “incapacitated person” in the Taxes Management Act 1970. It was brought to my attention by the Chartered Institute of Taxation, which noted

“some exemplary co-operation between Government and Opposition committee members during the debates” on the Finance Bill in 2010. The then shadow Financial Secretary to the Treasury, my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie), tabled a new clause; the Government decided to consult on it, and indeed to replace what have been described as anachronistic definitions that include expressions such as “lunatic”, “idiot” and “insane person” with something more in keeping with the modern understanding of mental incapacity. That is to be welcomed. I note on the record the work that was done on this, and obviously we will not oppose the clause.

Photo of Julie Hilling Julie Hilling Labour, Bolton West

I shall not speak for long. [ Interruption. ] I might speak for a little longer now. I want to join my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun in highlighting the issue. Interestingly, the measures result from a piece of good co-operation between the parties. As she said, the matter was raised by our shadow Minister at the time, my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East, in 2010. We are pleased that the legislation has changed. It clearly shows that ordinary people do not look very often or very closely at tax law. I cannot believe that we have gone this long, with all the progress that we have made on equality, with a definition that states that an incapacitated person is

“any infant, person of unsound mind, lunatic, idiot or insane person”.

Government Members like to blame the previous Government and we like to blame the Thatcher Government for everything, but the definition goes back to 1970. In fact, the word “idiot” in legislation goes back to 1324, and “lunatic” goes back to at least 1541.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Conservative, North East Somerset

I thank the hon. Lady for making that point. I am enormously grateful to learn where those two terms came from.

Photo of Julie Hilling Julie Hilling Labour, Bolton West

It does demonstrate how little attention we pay to details of legislation. I welcome the proposal, as someone who has spent my adult life fighting for equality. It is right to use the correct terminology in our legislation, and not words that are deeply offensive and have been for a long time. When we use the word “infant” in tax description, we mean people under 18, not the young children we would expect. Like my hon.  Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun, I welcome the changes to the language to reflect current usage.

Photo of Sheila Gilmore Sheila Gilmore Labour, Edinburgh East 6:45 pm, 26th June 2012

In Scotland, I think the definition is somewhat different, and the age is 16.

Photo of Julie Hilling Julie Hilling Labour, Bolton West

Indeed. As my hon. Friend points out, in Scotland, “infants” are people under the age of 16. Clearly people there were a bit more advanced than in the rest of the UK. This is a welcome change, and it demonstrates that occasionally we can work co-operatively across parties.

Photo of David Gauke David Gauke The Exchequer Secretary

As previous speakers have said, this is an example of cross-party co-operation. The matter was raised in debate during the passage of the Finance Act 2010, and a few years earlier by some of my hon. Friends. The clause removes archaic and offensive language from the statute book. I am delighted to fulfil my commitment to bringing forward the clause. During consultation on how best to amend the definition, wide support for change was received. The Low Income Tax Reform Group welcomed the changes, having previously noted that

“specific provision in tax law may not in fact be needed at all, given the general laws of incapacity and representation already in place”.

The proposals developed through consultation mean that the clause will go further than simply amending an archaic piece of law; it will remove it. That allows everybody to be treated the same way under tax law, while those needing extra help will still be able to rely on representatives when it comes to the administration of their tax affairs. I very much hope that the clause will stand part of the Bill.

Question put and agreed.

Clause 220 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.