I was delighted to be able to attend the ICAEW Tax Faculty’s annual Wyman debate last week.

The motion under debate was:

This House believes that the balance between the rights of the citizen and the powers of the taxing authority has tilted too far towards HMRC

Speakers for the motion were Francesca Lagerberg and Keith Gordon. Against were Simon Norris and Mark Neale. You can read a summary report of the event here.

There were two elements of the debate that struck me as worthy of mentioning on this blog:

1 – One of the speakers had no notes. None at all. Mark Neale (MD of the Treasury directorate for Budget, Tax and Welfare) started with a couple of references to the previous speaker and I expected him to then look down at his notes. But he didn’t because he had none. He didn’t need any. He spoke eloquently, without hesitation, repetition or deviation(!). He kept to his subject and to his time slot. His presentation was clearly well prepared. Even though I do not share his perspective I sat in awe as I listened to him. I was till in shock after he finished. He is evidently extremely experienced in putting his point across and had a complete command of his subject.

  • How confident would you be if you had to speak without notes on such an occasion? I get pretty good feedback for my talks and presentations but I would rarely be comfortable going out to speak without ANY notes at all – and I’ve been speaking professionally for over 15 years.

2 – By the time Simon Norris stood up (as the fourth speaker) I was feeling sorry for him. Francesca and Keith had made their points with conviction. Whilst Mark Neale had spoken well (see above) his views did not impact my take on the main proposition. I was expecting Simon’s position to be equally unconvincing.

Then he explained that the new system and the new laws would contain MORE safeguards than are in place at the moment. This point also came out further in the subsequent discussion.

I wasn’t the only person to suddenly realise that the debate proposition contained the wrong tense. The balance has not yet tilted too far – it is simply in danger of tilting too far in the near future.

  • A key lesson here, if you are organising a debate – consider carefully the tenses used in the proposition. The Tax Faculty may have had no choice here so as to give HMRC a chance to win the debate. As it was the final voting figures were:

Those for the motion – 67%

Those against – 21%

Those abstaining – 12%