Mr. Oliver Letwin (West Dorset): I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman has had the opportunity to review the record of the previous occasion on which a Labour Government introduced a measure as complicated as the climate change levy. I had that opportunity in the pleasant period of yesterday afternoon before we discussed double tax relief. The hon. Gentleman may have noticed that the late Lord Kaldor, who introduced the selective employment tax, which occupied almost as much space as the schedule on the energy tax, was also responsible for reforming the tax systems of four African Governments in succession, and in each of those states there was a coup within six months.
Mr. Davey: It may surprise the Committee that I had not noticed that. The hon. Gentleman's mind is sophisticated and takes some interesting directions. No doubt the Committee will delight in the interesting remarks that he will make.
Mr. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North): As a personal friend of Lady Kaldor, who is also now deceased, I find the remarks made by the hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) offensive. Lord Kaldor was one of the most distinguished economists of the past 50 years. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman's remarks were called for.
Mr. Davey: I do not think that the hon. Member for West Dorset made those remarks in an offensive way; he made them in a jovial way. I am more than happy to give way so that he can explain the thought behind his remarks.
Mr. Letwin: It is perfectly true, as the hon. Gentleman says, that Lord Kaldor was an immensely distinguished economist. He was wrong about almost everything that he said throughout his career; but he was immensely distinguished. It remains a fact, however, that the selective employment tax was the most disastrous tax ever introduced until the climate change levy.
Mr. Davey: I am not sure that I agree with that last remark. Certainly, the selective employment tax was a disastrous tax-[ Interruption.] Labour Members rightly refer to the poll tax, which probably was the most disastrous tax ever introduced by a Government. The hon. Member for West Dorset would do well to remember that. Certainly, the climate change levy needs major improvement, but at least the Government are taking the environment and the threat of climate change seriously, even though their measures are sub-optimal, as we will prove in later debates.
I want to make a serious point to which I referred on Second Reading. Tax legislation, and the process of putting tax changes on the statute book, should be simplified. Many commentators have pointed out the need to separate the legislation that must be passed to collect taxes to fund the Government's core budget. Such a Bill would not require many clauses-basic income tax rates and a few other areas would be covered-and could be presented to the House of Commons soon after the Budget and dealt with quickly. The technical side of tax legislation could then be covered in a separate Bill, which could be produced in draft form, as the Financial Services and Markets Bill was.
Such a Bill, which could be called the tax technicalities Bill, could be put out to proper consultation for two or three months, so that all the problems, difficulties and mistakes could be ironed out before the Bill reached the Committee stage. The Committee could then engage in political debate about whether a proposal was sensible, rather than the technical aspects of the Government's proposals. Far too much time is spent correcting technical mistakes made by the Government in tax legislation. The Government would benefit from such an approach-when a Treasury adviser comes up with a smart plan at the last minute, which has not been thought through properly, the Government would not find themselves in the kind of deep hole in which they have found themselves on issues such as double taxation relief. That would increase confidence among businesses and individuals, not just in Britain but overseas, in the way in which business is conducted in this country. You might think that I am masochistic to want two tax Bills, Mr. Cook, but I think that it would lead to better government.
I welcome the choice of the Labour and Conservative parties with respect to their Whips. I look forward to working, on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, with the two other Whips, to make sure that the Committee proceeds efficiently. I imagine that the Committee will last for a considerable period-the Government Whip has suggested that we may finish by the end of June, which is slightly optimistic given the size of the Bill. In many ways, I wish that he were correct, but the Bill must be subjected to a great deal of scrutiny between now and then.
Question put and agreed to.
The Chairman: Before we proceed, I wish to remind hon. Members of several points. Copies of the Ways and Means resolutions, as agreed by the House on 27 March and on which the Bill is founded, are available in the Room. In view of the resolutions of the House on the declaration of interests, hon. Members are required to declare relevant interests when tabling amendments as well as when speaking to them. Adequate notice must be given of amendments. Neither I nor Dr. Clark will as a rule call any starred amendments, including any that may be reached during an afternoon sitting of the Committee. Copies of those rules are available from the Clerk. As usual, because of the quantity of paperwork on the Bill, green boxes are available in which to store papers between sittings. Members of the Committee who make use of that facility should note that the filing cabinet that contains the boxes will be locked when the Committee is not sitting. Finally-to remind myself as much as anyone else-I ask hon. Members to switch off their mobile phones and pagers or to turn them to silent alert because it is disconcerting if they go off during debates.
Mr. Andrew Smith: I beg to move,
The order of consideration is straightforward. It takes the Bill in numerical order, with two small exceptions-clauses 28 and 134. It will be more convenient for the Committee to take them together as they deal with related issues.
Question put and agreed to.
Further consideration adjourned.-[Mr. Allen.]
Adjourned accordingly at twenty-seven minutes past Nine o'clock till Tuesday 9 May at half-past Ten o'clock.
The following Members attended the Committee:
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