Examination of Witnesses (Questions 720-739)
RT HON PAUL BOATENG AND MR CLIVE MAXWELL
WEDNESDAY 6 MARCH 2002
720. If the authorities need to invest heavily in public transport improvements prior to trying out charging schemes, would you make available to them additional funds or the ability to borrow to put those improvements in place?
(Mr Boateng) Decisions for the next Spending Review are a matter for the Chief Secretary. That applies both in relation to transport and matters that you were subjecting the Secretary of State to questioning on, and in relation to the Local Government Finance Settlement, but these are clearly matters that he would wish to consider and no doubt will consider in terms of the operation of the Comprehensive Spending Review in 2002.
721. Would you confirm that revenue coming from charging schemes would be truly additional?
(Mr Boateng) The proposal always wasthe understanding wasthat this was additional revenue, and that is the attraction to the local authority concerned. I cannot stress sufficiently, this is something on which local authorities themselves have to arrive at a judgement. The legislation is there. They have the power to levy such charges, and clearly they will consider that in terms of their own proposals.
722. But in the Government's wider proposals for changes in local government it is proposed that only those authorities who are identified as high performers by the Audit Commission will in fact be given more freedoms to borrow. Would you make an exception in terms of transport schemes?
(Mr Boateng) That is very much a matter for the Secretary of State and, indeed, for the Minister for Local Government, it is not a matter for the Treasury.
723. Would the Treasury agree to local authorities being able to borrow in anticipation of future revenues raised?
(Mr Boateng) That is really, Mrs Ellman, something that I am not able to assist the Committee on. That is a matter for the Chief Secretary and, indeed, for the Chancellor.
724. Is the funding to be provided for Transport for London going to fit within the cycle of Spending Reviews, or is it a 30-year one-off?
(Mr Boateng) I think that what has been made clear, and what is clear, from the 10 Year Plan is that there is envisaged a level of public investment which is enumerated here. That investment is delivered within the context of successive Comprehensive Spending Reviews.
725. It is not within the Spending Review?
(Mr Boateng) The level of spending and the level of investment is quite clearly laid out and, indeed, it is considerable, because if you look at the Plan
726. Yes, luckily we have read the Plan, thank you, Minister.
(Mr Boateng) Indeed. I was merely directing the Committee's attention to the enhanced level of investment that is anticipated. That is a real commitment.
727. Are you aware, though, that in the PPP there is no public termination clause? Are you aware of that?
(Mr Boateng) Dr Pugh, I am not going to go down this particular line. It is extremely tempting, but I am not going to do it.
728. No, I am going to ask you a specific Treasury question.
(Mr Boateng) I hear what you say.
729. I have been told and have been informed that not to have a public termination clause is against basic tax law guidance. You are a Treasury Minister. Can you confirm that that is so?
(Mr Boateng) I am not going to go down that road.
730. I am asking you specifically about questions to do with the Treasury and about the advice the Treasury does or does not offer.
(Mr Boateng) Dr Pugh, with the utmost respect, I am not going to go down that road. I was invited before the Committee, and happily accepted, to talk about taxation. That is my responsibility.
731. Can I put the question the other way around, then? Is it Treasury standard form of guidance to have a public termination clause or not?
(Mr Boateng) Dr Pugh, can I just finish. I am not going to be able to assist the Committee in relation to PPPs. If the Committee has any specific issues which it wishes to raise on PPPs with the Treasury, it knows how to go about doing that, and it will make the necessary queries and issue the necessary invitations. It will then be for the Chief Secretary to respond as he sees fit.
732. Let me be quite clear about this, Minister. You are a Treasury Minister?
(Mr Boateng) Quite so.
733. You know that the Treasury issues guidelines?
(Mr Boateng) Mrs Dunwoody
734. Yes or no will do.
(Mr Boateng) I am sure it would, and I can answer yes, but what I am not going to do is to go on from that and to discuss with you the contents of those guidelines.
735. So you are not prepared to talk about the Treasury's responsibilities, although you are a Treasury Minister?
(Mr Boateng) Because, Mrs Dunwoody, as you well know, that is a matter for the Chief Secretary, it is not a matter for me.
736. I see. So nobody at your level worries about other Treasury guidelines?
(Mr Boateng) It is not a matter for the Financial Secretary, but I am very happy to answer questions that you have on taxation issues. That is what I am here to do. That is the basis upon which we accepted your kind invitation.
737. With the greatest respect, you are in danger of underestimating the seriousness of the Select Committee, Mr Boateng. You are a Treasury Minister. You have been asked a perfectly straightforward question which is a factual question, Minister, which says quite straightforwardly, are you aware of what is in the Treasury guidelines? I would not have thought that was a complex question, even for a Treasury Minister.
(Mr Boateng) It is not a complex question, it is a very clear question, and my response to you must be of course I am aware there are guidelines issued by the Treasury on a range of issues. If the Committee wishes to explore issues in relation to the PPP and London Underground, then they must do that through the appropriate ministerial channel, which is the Chief Secretary and not myself.
738. I am not asking you about the PPP, with respect, I am asking you about Treasury guidelines. I shall ask you a very simple question and, since you have already assured me you know the responsibilities of the Chief Secretary, I am sure you will go back and convey the message to him in plain straightforward and uncomplicated English. Will you please ask the Chief Secretary if he is aware of any public contracts where there is not a termination clause included and if he is aware of his own Treasury guidelines? Perhaps you would be kind enough to convey that in writing to this Select Committee.
(Mr Boateng) I will make sure that the Chief Secretary is aware of these proceedings and the questions you have raised with me.
Chairman: Thank you very much indeed.
739. Can I try a further question and see if I can get any further.
(Mr Boateng) I suspect you will not, Dr Pugh.