|Previous Section||Home Page|
Column 70that we are repealing no fewer than 11 orders, which were passed over a period of 25 years, and replacing it with the single order. No doubt hon. Members will have noticed the note on the Order Paper to the effect that the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments had not yet completed its consideration of the instrument at the time when it was put on the Order Paper. The Committee sought clarification of the explanatory note to the order, which mentioned travellers who land outside the European Community. It should, of course, have mentioned those who have travelled from outside the Community. There may be some who were born outside the EC and come here for the first time and therefore cannot be regarded as landing outside the EC and then returning.
That point made by the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments is obviously correct. We shall amend the explanatory note by means of a correction slip. When it is reprinted, if that should be required, we shall amend it in the text. That does not affect the order, which is, of course, drafted correctly as intended and as I have just described.
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish) : The note on the Order Paper states that the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments has not yet completed consideration of the statutory instrument. Since 1987, and between 1979 and 1983, the person who almost always got up in the Chamber to draw attention to the fact that the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments or the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments had not considered such orders was the late Bob Cryer.
A large number of hon. Members have paid tribute to Bob Cryer as an active hon. Member in the Chamber and a man of very strong principles and have paid tribute to the way in which he worked for his constituents, but few people have paid tribute to the way in which he worked ceaselessly as a member of the Select Committee and the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. He was a member of those Committees for 13 years, 11 years as Chairman. He was always in the Chamber to draw to the attention of the House the fact that statutory instruments such as the one before us had not gone through the scrutiny process completely. Although it is a technical point and the Minister has cleared up the point that concerned the Committee, it would be remiss of me or any Committee member not to put on record on behalf of those of us who serve on the Committee our appreciation of the friendship and diligence that he demonstrated both in Committee and in reporting its concerns to the House.
Therefore, I hope that the House will place on record its debt to Bob Cryer, a parliamentarian with extreme concerns that he expressed not only in the Chamber, but in Committee where he worked extremely hard.
Mr. Andrew Smith (Oxford, East) : May I begin by strongly endorsing the warm tribute that my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) has paid to Bob Cryer--his work, his diligence and his energy in dealing with statutory instruments, as in other areas to which he brought his marvellous skills as a parliamentarian which we all greatly admired and so greatly miss. I thank my hon. Friend for paying that tribute, which I am sure is shared by all hon. Members.
Column 71The order is pretty uncontentious : I have neither received any hostile comment, nor seen any hostile comment in the press. As the Paymaster General has said, it increases duty-free allowances for excise and VAT purposes for travellers arriving from outside the EC to £136 from £36. The increase in allowances is welcome and, indeed, overdue. If anything, it is a pity that the allowances are not a little higher. I also note the extension of full allowances to aircraft and ship crews, which I dare say will be welcomed by those able to take advantage of them.
I have some questions and comments to put to the Paymaster General on the main change made by the order, which turns on the other goods allowance. First, what was the reason behind the withdrawal of the previously available offsetting facility to which he referred, which allowed relief on part of a more costly item ? Does the withdrawal mean that someone arriving in the United Kingdom from outside the European Union with, for example, a camera costing more than £136--his only overseas purchase--would have no duty-free allowance ? That seems to be the implication to be drawn from the order. That does not seem very fair.
Secondly, we are to see the ending of the practice of aggregation whereby family groups could pool their allowances against a single more expensive item. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will explain why the practice is to be brought to an end. He said that he did not think that it would cause too much difficulty because the level of the allowance is to be increased. He did not, however, provide any justification for the ending of the aggregation. Surely it is a facility which should be kept rather than dispensed with. Thirdly, I take up the news release issued by Customs and Excise on 6 April, in which it is explained that the crews of a relatively few vessels--mainly Royal Navy and fishing boats, but also other travellers such as rig workers, who do not land anywhere outside the EC--will no longer be entitled to travellers' allowances. I hope that the Paymaster General will explain exactly who will be affected by this provision and why the present conditions have been changed. The news release tells us that the changes will affect only a few vessels and other travellers. Bearing in mind that the new provisions bear on travellers working in hazardous occupations, it seems rather petty to take away a small but no doubt welcome compensation in the form of allowances.
Fourthly, the news release states :
"The practice of allowing an additional two litres of still table wine as an alternative to one litre of spirits or liqueurs over 22 per cent. volume or two litres of fortified sparkling wine or other liqueurs is withdrawn."
Is that not rather petty and somewhat ridiculous, given the millions of litres of still table wine now entering Britain, with low or no duty paid, from within the European Community ? What is the justification for the change ?
Fifthly, what steps are being taken by Customs and Excise, and carriers, to advise travellers of their allowances and prospective rates of duty when they are making their outward journeys from the United Kingdom ? After all, one of the pleasures of overseas travel is the opportunity to shop for different goods at different prices from those generally available here. It would be a good idea to advise
Column 72people in advance about the rules and duties applicable on their return. Perhaps a leaflet should be printed setting out some examples. I am sure that the Paymaster General will let me know whether such advice is being made available and, if not, whether it could be encouraged.
Sixthly and finally, I cannot help noting that under the terms of the European agreement, from which the order originates, Germany was able to retain its existing limits for visitors entering from Poland and the Czech Republic. That would seem to contradict the principle of a common European policy. It will raise interesting issues if and when Austria and Finland join the European Community. I dare say that similar pressures will arise from the attraction of cross-border shopping elsewhere in central and eastern Europe.
The German Government's achievement in getting some measure of protection against the attractions of cross-border shopping on Germany's external European Union frontier stands in interesting contrast with Britain's inability to do anything about the haemorrhage of business in drink and cigarette sales from the United Kingdom to France on our internal European Union frontier. I know, as the Paymaster General stressed, that that has nothing to do with the order, but it is worth drawing attention to the German Government's success in securing a measure of protection on their external frontier.
I do not understand why people crossing from Poland to Germany should be subject to different rules from those that apply to people crossing from Croatia into Italy or from Bulgaria into Greece. I shall be grateful if the Paymaster General explains why the German exception is justified.
The Opposition do not intend to oppose the order. However, as I have said, I shall be grateful if the Paymaster General chooses to respond to my questions.
Sir John Cope : First, I add to the tribute that the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) paid to Bob Cryer, our former colleague. I knew Bob Cryer for a long time. From my experience at the Dispatch Box and in other capacities--I was in the Government Whips Office for many years, for example--I am aware of the excellent work that he did for the House, especially in the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments. I know from practical experience how difficult it is to find Members prepared to serve in some of the more complex areas of legislation and to undertake the difficult and detailed work involved in dealing with abstruse orders-- especially in the context of European legislation--which come before us. There is no better example of someone who did that than Bob Cryer.
As the House will know, Bob Cryer was one of my predecessors for he was a Minister with responsibility for small firms. He was keen on steam trains and closely connected with the Keighley-Worth valley railway. All those interests endeared him to me, even if occasionally he made life a bit difficult or expressed opinions with which I did not agree.
The hon. Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith) asked several questions. He suggested, in what I am sure was a slip of the tongue, that there were increases in the excise allowances as well as in value added tax allowances. In
Column 73fact, for ordinary travellers we have consolidated the excise allowances, but not increased them. It is the other goods that are affected by the main change set out in the order.
The hon. Member for Oxford, East said that the order was overdue. I entirely agree with him. We have been negotiating for some time to bring the order forward. The hon. Gentleman drew attention, perhaps inadvertently, to one of the reasons why it has taken so long to introduce the order. He talked about the problem that Germany has had with goods sold tax free for export finding their way back across the eastern border for sale in German markets. Eventually, the only way to resolve the problem was to agree to the derogation to which the hon. Gentleman referred.
The allowances are to be reviewed again in 1995. The hon. Member for Oxford, East said that they should have been a bit higher. We wanted them to be higher, and so did some other countries, but these matters are best agreed upon with the Community. The order reflects the agreement that we were eventually able to negotiate.
The hon. Gentleman asked about some of the small changes being made and gave the example of a camera. He is correct in his appreciation of the effect on travellers in the position that he described. He drew attention to aggregation and to the fact that crews of vessels that do not land anywhere outside the Community, though they may be at sea in international waters, will have their allowances withdrawn. The three points relate to the original European Community legislation, which was agreed before the United Kingdom became a member of the Community. It is right to come into line with that legislation by taking advantage of the opportunity presented to us. The offsetting and aggregation are matters of judgment. Is it better to have a rather higher allowance and no aggregation or to permit aggregation and have a lower allowance ? That is a matter of judgment and I am prepared to agree to the system as it has existed in most Community countries, even before we joined.
With regard to vessels that do not land anywhere else, the provision applies to passengers--if any--of such vessels. There have been difficult cases of vessels that sailed outside territorial waters and passengers who had shopped for commodities then returned and avoided the duty on those goods. That is clearly not a practice which we would want to encourage, as it is a means of avoidance. We would not wish to set up arrangements that could promote such a possibility.
The hon. Member for Oxford, East asked how that change was being promulgated, particularly by the carriers and by Customs and Excise, for departing passengers. Posters, leaflets and official notices are available and are being distributed in departure lounges so that people can understand the position, if they wish to, before they leave for their holiday or their overseas visit. They will therefore be aware of the position when they return.
Question put and agreed to.
That the Travellers' Allowances Order 1994 (S.I., 1994, No. 955), a copy of which was laid before this House on 29th March, be approved.
That the draft HMSO Trading Fund (Amendment) Order 1994, which was laid before this House on 13th April, be approved.
This order is essentially a technical accounting measure. It seeks to bring within the scope of the trading fund HMSO's growing business with public bodies overseas, chiefly in Europe, so that it can be handled in a more businesslike way. This overseas trading has hitherto been carried out on a token vote with the approval of the House. A token vote is a nominal sum, in this case £1,000, which allows much larger cash flows of income and expenditure to balance out over the accounting year.
The original trading fund order of 1980 did not envisage HMSO trading with customers based outside the United Kingdom. HMSO did, and still does, service overseas units of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Ministry of Defence and so on. HMSO's ambition to extend its customer base beyond the United Kingdom was approved by the House in 1991 when it authorised a new token vote to cover exploration of public sector markets overseas. The token nature of the vote meant that income and expenditure were required to balance out over the year so that there was no substantive effect on public expenditure.
The growth of HMSO's European business is now placing severe strain on the vote accounting arrangements. The requirement for income and expenditure to balance out over the year makes no provision for the working capital that is essential in any business. The time has now come to transfer the business from vote accounting to trading fund so that it can be handled in a more normal and businesslike way. The order will permit HMSO to continue to develop its trading with public sector bodies in Europe and elsewhere on a businesslike basis. That will benefit British industry and the British taxpayer. En passant, by a strange coincidence of geography, the order will have a mildly beneficial effect on employment prospects in the constituencies of the hon. Members for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) and Norwich, South (Mr. Garrett). However, it is not primarily for that reason that I commend the order to the House.
Mr. John Garrett (Norwich, South) : I have a strong constituency interest in the order because the largest single unit of HMSO is in my constituency and is a greatly valued contributor to the economy of the city of Norwich.
As the Minister said, the order enables HMSO to take greater advantage of its printing expertise and, by widening its ambit, to cover the public sector in the European Union and elsewhere overseas. As the Minister said, the Government Trading Funds Act 1973, which governs the financial arrangements of HMSO, excludes trading in areas that have not previously been financed by a vote under the supply procedure. This remedial measure corrects that anomaly.
To its credit, HMSO has already secured business from the French department of employment and the German post office. It has the capacity in its new state-of-the-art
Column 75passport assembly line to secure much more business in Europe. The order will enable HMSO to finance such business.
By any standards, HMSO has been an outstanding success since it gained trading fund status. The Treasury attempted to cripple it at birth, of course, by saddling it with a £50 million originating debt and a £20 million long-term loan. However, it has largely paid off the debt and now has a turnover of £400 million with sales per employee at a record £126,000 in 1993 and a current cost operating surplus in that year of more than £10 million. A profit of £22 million is planned for 1996. It has very high levels of achievement in customer satisfaction with very high service levels in print and publications deliveries.
However, it is far from clear why the order should be brought forward at this time, useful though it is.
Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington) : Why does the Official Report cost £7.50 ? That is a tremendous sum of money. My hon. Friend has referred to HMSO's substantial profits, yet all the parliamentary publications are very expensive. Can my hon. Friend, or the Minister if he gets a chance, shed any light on that ?
Mr. Garrett : I assume that it is predatory pricing. As so many institutions, such as universities and public libraries, have to take Hansard and Government publications, I guess that HMSO follows the Government's request for it to be profitable. It certainly puts profit before the provision of subsidised literature for the public. The Minister helps to set those objectives and no doubt he will satisfy my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr.
Campbell-Savours). My hon. Friend has made a very good point. As I was saying, I cannot see why the order, useful though it is, has been brought forward at this time, because, at a time when HMSO is thriving, hanging over it is nothing less than a threat to its existence. I refer to the accountants' report on the
commercialisation of HMSO--the so-called prior options report. I am told that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster now has that report. That makes it even more odd that the order should be introduced before the report has been published.
I understand that the report sets out a number of options for the future of HMSO. It is feared in HMSO--for very good reasons--that there will be 1,000 redundancies in the next five years amounting to no less than one third of the staff. The Minister might give us some idea whether that fear has foundation ; or does he intend to make his announcement in the summer recess, which is a typical shelter for bad news ?
If HMSO is to be substantially damaged by the accountants' report, it would be another case of administrative vandalism by this Government. It is not clear why such a study was commissioned from commercial accountants--a practice rather different from prior options studies in other agencies--and particularly from commercial accountants who are unlikely to grasp the sensitivity of the security of parliamentary printing by HMSO.
I cannot see any reason to change the trading fund arrangements under which HMSO has been so successful. If a further distancing from Treasury restrictions is necessary, a sensible arrangement could be to establish
Column 76HMSO as a wholly-owned Government corporation. HMSO needs less messing about, particularly by market testing.
It is interesting that the Government follow two contradictory policies at the same time. One is to establish agencies under the control of fully accountable and fully responsible chief executives. I see that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and the head of the civil service now try to make a distinction between accountability and responsibility, but it is one that will not bear scrutiny.
We have a chief executive of an agency such as HMSO being told to run the show as best he might and to the best of his ability and then he is told that he must market test or contractualise on a piecemeal basis many of the agency's activities for which he is supposed to be responsible. That is a direct conflict. Of course, it is the reason why Sir Peter Kemp was fired-- he had a row with the Government's efficiency adviser. The Government's efficiency adviser was keen on contracting out and Sir Peter Kemp was keen on setting up agencies. The two were in conflict, so Sir Peter Kemp, a distinguished public servant, got the bullet.
The record of HMSO in market testing has been excellent, for example, in retaining the highly efficient Bristol distribution centre and the Basildon reprographic unit.
Mr. Garrett : I do not know why the hon. Gentleman should say, "Hear, hear" when he is in favour of privatising HMSO. Shall I give way to him ? I heard the hon. Gentleman applauding the efficiency of HMSO, but he is a supporter of privatisation.
Mr. Garrett : I withdraw any aspersion that I may have cast on the hon. Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Thompson). I am happy to give way if he wants to make public his position on the privatisation, commercialisation and market testing of HMSO.
As I said, HMSO has retained some important functions. The Government rule is that every market-tested activity must be market tested again in three years' time. That leads to management and staff who are in constant turmoil because they are always having to bid for their jobs or resist some hostile takeover. We know that after a short time a contractor who has secured and won a market test soon finds ways of putting up the price or gouging the client in some way.
Market testing is nothing new to HMSO--75 per cent. of its goods and services are already purchased from the private sector. HMSO has an exceptional reputation as a
Column 77reputable supplier to the public sector and has regularly exceeded the financial targets set for it. It has reduced its staff by some 200, mainly through early retirement.
The staff are in the dark about the future of this successful organisation. In a poll of the staff, 86 per cent. wanted to know what the prior options study team was doing because they had never been told since it was set up. Privatisation had the support of a mere 6 per cent. of the staff. A future private bidder should bear in mind the staff attitude to outside control or ownership of HMSO, as should Tory politicians in the City and the country.
HMSO's years of operating as a trading fund have produced an innovative, go -ahead and commercial organisation. It has a bright future which should not be jeopardised by political dogma. However, until we hear what the future of HMSO is, I welcome this modest measure which will enable it to expand its overseas trading. 7.33 pm
"The additional operations now to be financed by the fund are the procurement and production of printing and supply of stationery and office machinery and related services and the publication and sale of material in printed or other form for such bodies outside the United Kingdom as are of a like nature to those for which the HMSO Trading Fund already provides goods and services."
What I am about to say should fall broadly within the area that is identified in that part of the explanatory memorandum. I am dealing specifically with the cost of
Mr. Campbell-Savours : That is possible. The publication in my hand is available not only in the United Kingdom but overseas. Indeed, I imagine that under the present arrangements, if someone overseas wishes to purchase the publication which I am holding, which is a copy of the Official Report of last Friday's parliamentary debates, they would have to find a sympathetic Member of the United Kingdom Parliament and ask him to send it to them through the post, or, alternatively, they would have to subscribe directly to HMSO in London and thereby receive a copy of it.
I am interested in the costs that such people might be required to pay wherever they are within the European Community. I am especially interested in the fact that a high price for a publication of this nature effectively restricts
Column 787.35 pm
Mr. David Davis : With the permission of the House, I shall start as best I can by staying in order and by answering the question of the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) about the cost of HMSO publications. As I am sure he already knows, for many years the price of the Official Report was heavily subsidised. In 1983, when the subsidy stood at £6 million, the Government decided progressively to reduce the level of subsidy. HMSO is currently having a MORI survey carried out to see whether a reduction in the cost of the Official Report would lead to more purchases of it. I hope that that is of some help to the hon. Gentleman.
The hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Garrett) started by paying a well- earned tribute to the operation of HMSO. There is no doubt in my mind that HMSO earned that tribute. The hon. Gentleman asked me why the order has been introduced now. The trade in Europe--certainly abroad--that is carried out by HMSO has grown in a few years from about £6,000 to nearly £500,000. As the hon. Gentleman, given his background, will appreciate, that creates a significant operating capital requirement which is difficult to meet within the remit of the current vote arrangements.
The order allows, frankly in the simplest way possible, HMSO to handle overseas trade in a more businesslike way. Of course, that brings benefits to HMSO, to the Norwich, South constituency and to the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Thompson).
Mr. Patrick Thompson : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way because it gives me an opportunity to say that, like the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Garrett), I welcome the order. May I take this opportunity to pay a tribute to the work of HMSO-- [Interruption.] If I may be positive, unlike the hon. Gentleman, who seems to be negative all the time, I welcome the important work done by HMSO and by many of my constituents in Norwich, North in HMSO. I have had the opportunity to visit HMSO on a number of occasions. I should like to make this positive statement about the work that is done in Norwich by this excellent organisation.
Mr. Davis : My hon. Friend makes his case very well, as I would expect from an excellent constituency Member of Parliament. In addition to the benefits to the direct areas, there are also benefits to British industry. Some 80 per cent. of the sales abroad come from British suppliers. The hon. Member for Norwich, South referred to the success of HMSO in market testing. He is absolutely right. HMSO has a market testing programme which has saved it about £2.4 million--well over 20 per cent.--on what it addressed. Contrary to the hon. Gentleman's comments, those savings led to no compulsory redundancies. Obviously there will be retirements and redundancies, but they are not compulsory, and that is beneficial.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the commercialisation study. The consultants' report which we have just received is extremely complex and refers to 18 different components of HMSO. It will take some time to study it, and I cannot at this point forecast when we will come to a conclusion on it. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not want us to rush it, particularly since we--as much as
Column 79he--place great importance on maintaining the high standard of service to the House. The public availability of official information will, of course, be safeguarded.
I commend the order to House.
Question put and agreed to.
That the draft HMSO Trading Fund (Amendment) Order 1994, which was laid before this House on 13th April, be approved.
That Mr. Richard Tracey be discharged from the Select Committee to join with the Committee appointed by the Lords as the Joint Committee on Consolidation, &c., Bills and Mr. Michael Bates be added to the Committee.- - [Mr. MacKay.]
That Ms Angela Eagle be added to the Employment Committee.--[ Sir Fergus Montgomery, on behalf of the Committee of Selection.]
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. MacKay.]
Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne) : I am grateful for the opportunity to have this debate. It is a particular pleasure that the Minister of State will answer the debate, as, by a strange quirk of fate, he answered the debate in which I made my maiden speech a couple of years ago when he was in a previous incarnation.
As Members of the House, we are all used to holding regular surgeries. We deal with a variety of problems for our constituents ; some serious, some less so. But in my two years as a Member of Parliament, I have not had such a depressing interview as that which took place in my surgery earlier this year.
I received a visit from Mr. and Mrs. Vaill, the father and stepmother of Alex Vaill. They told me of his tragic and early death. Alex was 23 when he died, and was much loved by his family. He enjoyed all types of sport including tennis, football and cricket. He excelled at school, and went on to read mathematics at Durham university. He was studying for his exams as an actuary when he was killed. He was due to get engaged.
In short, he was a talented, hard-working and responsible young man with his whole life stretching before him. Then, tragedy struck. On Friday 9 April last year, which happened to be Good Friday, Alex had been out for a couple of beers with a friend in Sutton, where he lived at that time. They left a pub in Sutton High street and dropped into a nearby McDonalds to buy some takeaway food.
Further down the street, they were accosted by a man called Graham Langley. He had obviously been drinking, and demanded that Alex Vaill give him one of his chips. This demand was politely declined, but that was not enough for Langley. Three eye-witnesses agreed that he was spoiling for some sort of incident. Alex and his friend began to walk away, and they were followed by shouted insults from Langley. He then attacked Alex and his friend, punching both of them to the ground.
Alex's skull was fractured and he was rushed to hospital. Four days later, he died peacefully after his family had agreed to turn off his life-support machine when doctors told them that there was no hope of his recovering. A young and blameless life had been snuffed out. What of Alex's attacker ? The contrast could not have been greater. Langley had a string of previous convictions, a number of them for violence. I understand that he was out of prison on licence at the time of this attack. Both in and outside prison, he was a keen body-builder and, as a result, is very powerfully built. People who have known him over the years in Sutton have contacted me to talk of his viciousness from an early age. You might ask yourself, Mr. Deputy Speaker, what he was doing roaming our streets at all.
I cannot do much better than to quote from Langley's own defence counsel, who said :
"Mr. Vaill in his short life was a better man than the defendant has ever been or was ever likely to be."
I think that we can agree with that sentiment.
Langley was duly charged with the murder of Alex Vaill, and with inflicting grievous bodily harm on his companion. That seemed to be the appropriate charge. In