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Mr. Bercow: The right hon. Lady's tones are mellifluous and her forensic parliamentary skill was on display for all to see, but I suggest that the speech that she has just delivered represents the triumph, the ultimate victory, of the Treasury anorak. If ever there were a case of a Minister being guided by those whom we cannot name, but whom we can see if we look fairly carefully, to such an extent as to offer the House an extraordinarily over-zealous interpretation of what a rather humble hon. Member had in mind, this was such a case. The Minister knows that I am a very straightforward sort of bloke. I do not go in for the high-powered stuff
Mr. Bercow: I beg your pardon, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I beg the Minister's pardon. In that case, let me simply say that the Minister is guilty of over-literal interpretation. What my hon. Friends, the taxpayer and I want to know is how money is divided between different areas of responsibility. I rest my case.
Perhaps it is a mistake for a Minister to do this, but I was trying to give a considered response detailing why a particular mechanism would not work. I sometimes feel that I cannot win: if I brush an amendment aside without explanation, I have not dealt with it properly, and if I make an honest attempt to explain the real difficulties, I am accused of being an anorak. Oh well, never mind.
Around the time of the pre-Budget report and the Budget, the Government provide summary leaflets that provide a breakdown of the total revenue raised and the expenditure divided by Government Departments, as well as a breakdown of the sources of tax income. I thoughtperhaps mistakenlythat that information was available to every taxpayer. It is certainly on the internet. I assumed that new clause 6 was designed to tease out whether that provision could be refined to an individual basis, so I was trying to explain some of the hurdles to the hon. Gentleman. I understand his impatience. I am sure that I would feel the same way if I were in opposition and he were the Minister making this speech.
New clause 18, to which the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) spoke, deals with the timing of the announcements on income tax allowances. I regard it as a reasonable proposal, but for the reasons that I shall outline, I am not prepared to adopt it as an amendment to the Bill.
Indexation orders specify the level of allowances that should apply if they were to increase in line with inflation, but Parliament may determine otherwise. The orders do not set the level of the allowance or the rate bands. In effect, they provide formal confirmation of what the amount would be if indexation were to apply, which means that they are made even if statutory indexation is to be overriddenas it was during discussions on the Budget. For example, in clause 29 we set the level of the personal allowances for those aged 65 to 74 at £6,610 for 200304, which on current forecasts is £390 over indexation. We debated in Committee why it was necessary to do that. In any event, we published the indexed allowances in the pre-Budget report, in table 2 of the tax ready reckoner. The actual figures have not been pre-announced, but the information is available on the Treasury website. As part of our obligation under legislation, we also covered most of the allowances in the Treasury order that was made on the day of the pre-Budget report's publication. In the past two years, we have announced the level of pensioner allowances in the pre-Budget report. For 200304, we have already set the policy on the pensioner allowance and we should be able to confirm the figures once we know the value of the retail price index.
However, the crux of the matterI will be perfectly straightforward with the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton in putting the Government's viewis that it is wrong to commit Governments for ever to announcing all allowances in the pre-Budget report. Chancellors must retain flexibility in the timing of decisions, so that they can mesh with the timetable of other policies or take account of the overall fiscal position on the basis of the latest available economic data. Current legislation ensures that indexation orders can be made at any time up to the start of the next year, once the retail prices index is known. In our view, it is better to make the order giving the theoretical indexation figure when the announcement
The Government have developed a policy of pre-announcement, in the context of the Chancellor taking the decision, of other strategies in the Budget or pre-Budget report. However, although we follow that practice at this time, we do not wish to formalise it as a permanent arrangement. I point out to the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbitonthis point lay behind many of his comments, and especially his reference to the Low Incomes Tax Reform Groupthat the Government continue to take a very active interest in listening not only to him and other hon. Members, but to lobby groups, about how we can make contact with the tax system less frequent, especially for the vulnerable sections of our community, and how such contact can be made far less arduous than people sometimes find it when it does occur. I hope that he will accept that, although the Government may act on the principle at this time, we are not prepared to concede its formalisation into the Budget.
The Paymaster General's words are very welcome and I understand her argument, but will she reassure me on the point that I made about blind people's allowances? The Government have moved by administrative decision to the pre-announcement of personal income tax allowances and age-related allowances, but will she give me some reassurance that she and her Department intend to do the same thing for the blind people's allowance?
Dawn Primarolo: I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I assure him only that I will go away and consider the position of the allowances to which he refers. I do not think that I can give him the commitment that he seeks, and it would be unfair of me to do so without having properly considered the matter, but I will certainly take it away and consider it very carefully.
The hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) can certainly fight his corner, and that he has eloquently done. Of course, I am saddened and mildly surprised that the Paymaster General did not respond to my exhortations. I had hoped that my hon. Friends and I would persuade her of the merits of new clause 6, and I am a sadder man for having been unable to do so. Nevertheless, I am genuinely encouraged by the Minister's willingness to consider the issues and by her comments about the Government's commitment to tax transparency and therefore, presumably, to the intelligibility principle.
Perhaps I can conclude by asking the very busy, very senior, very distinguished, very important, very influential Minister, who has many commitments and a very full diary, whether, in one of her lighter and lazier moments, she would do me the signal honour in my parliamentary career of studying my Taxation (Right to Know) Bill, which I introduced as a ten-minute Bill on 6 June 2000. In that Bill, and in my speech commending it, I suggested several ways in which we could make the tax system more transparent to the people who have to foot the bills. In line with the principles of new clause 6, I particularly ask the Minister to consider the combined impact of direct and indirect taxes on people in various income deciles. The Minister is now extremely experienced in the Treasury, and she will be awarealthough it may not suit her book to cite the factthat for 15 successive years between 1981 and 1996, Conservative Governments published their assessments of the impact of direct and indirect taxes on the various income deciles.
The Minister, despite her professed and genuine loyalty to her boss, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, will know that he has been excoriated on several occasions by the Select Committee on the Treasury for his lack of transparency. I hope that she will not find it too painful if, in support of the principles of new clause 6, I remind her that in March 2000 her right hon. Friend was chastised by the Committee for his consistent failure to publish such an assessment. If the eloquently and sincerely expressed commitment to glasnost in matters of taxation that we have received from the Government tonight is to be taken at face value, it can only be a short time before the Chancellor admits that he was wrong, prays in aid the advice of his Paymaster General, and publishes the statement that is long awaited and much overdue.