Only the law should dictate how much we pay in tax
"There are only two certainties in life," said Mark Twain, "death and taxes," to which he might have added that fairness had nothing to do with either.
I live, you die: where's the fairness in that? Mind you, I'd rather it was that way round than the other. And if I'm under financial pressure, why shouldn't you be taxed more? "It's not fair!" has been the first complaint from the lips of a child since the passing of the Garden of Eden, but surely tax policy should be driven by more than mere infantile prejudice?
To Edward IV's Lord Chancellor, John Morton, the problem was easily settled. "If the subject is seen to live frugally, tell him because he is clearly a money-saver of great ability, he can afford to give generously to the King. If, however, the subject lives a life of great extravagance, tell him he, too, can afford to give largely, the proof of his opulence being evident in his expenditure."
But that was 1484, and today tyranny's out of fashion. Now, you just pay what you owe. If you don't, various disobliging outcomes beckon.
FREE WHEATGERM WITH EVERY POND HEATER www.blagdon-water-gardens.c...View details
Protect your pond fish this winter. Purchase the resun 100w pond heater £39.99 from www.blagdon-water-gardens.co.uk and we will give you a pot of Tetra wheatgerm 1l winter fishfood worth £4.99 FREE
Contact: 01934 316673
Valid until: Friday, February 28 2014
Of course, there are various ways of avoiding tax and we all do it, but it's open to any of us to instruct HM Revenue and Customs not to exempt from tax the first £9,440.00 of our income and if your net monthly salary embarrasses you, feel free to send some of it back to HM Government. Of course, you don't have to, or as Lord Tomlin put it in IRC v. Duke of Westminster: "Every man is entitled, if he can, to order his affairs so as that the tax attaching under the appropriate Acts is less than it otherwise would be… However unappreciative the …Revenue or his fellow taxpayers may be of his ingenuity, he cannot be compelled to pay an increased tax."
In other words, the difference between tyranny and the rule of law is that, in the latter case, whether you have complied with the law is not decided by the whim of the tyrant, or the malevolence of the mob.
But there are those whose opinion of themselves is so elevated that they would gladly replace the law as it is for the "law" they would like and a leading proponent of that view is none other than the public accounts committee chairman, the Rt Hon Margaret Hodge MBE MP. At a recent meeting of the PAC, 'Enver Hodge,' as she was nicknamed at Islington Council by some who felt that her people-handling skills were reminiscent of the late Albanian dictator, Enver Hoxha, told Google vice-president, Matt Brittin, his company was "devious, calculated and unethical" and was "deliberately manipulating the reality of their business".
Hodge added: "You're a company that says you do no evil and I think that you do do evil in that you use smoke and mirrors to avoid paying tax."
To this, Mr Brittin replied: "We comply fully with the laws that are set down by politicians. Tax is not a matter of choice, tax is a matter of following the law."
So perhaps Hodge is an expert in tax law? Well, she was once married to a lawyer, and has a third class "honours" degree in economics, but does that amount to expertise? The Revenue thinks not and so "our Enver" had hard words for them as well, telling the HMRC chief executive, Lin Homer: "When it comes to interpreting the law, it's an issue of judgment. I think your judgment belies common sense. We don't trust your judgment. I think your staff are being bamboozled."
But it isn't a question of applying common sense; it's a question of applying the law, or as Ms Homer put it in her own evidence to the PAC, HMRC was "better qualified than MPs to determine what taxes were due".
So ironically, it's Google, by insisting that it will only pay what is due, which emerges as the champion of freedom, whereas Starbucks has delivered a hammer-blow to our liberties by succumbing to external pressure and paying £20 million more in tax than it was obliged to by law.
Ultimately, there's no way of judging the 'fairness' of tax raised, but there's a way of determining tax policy and that's by the passage of legislation.
To replace that with a modern-day version of "Morton's Fork", on an agenda driven forward by the wayward prejudices of Margaret Hodge, would not be an exercise in parliamentary democracy, but a return to medieval tyranny.