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12 Feb 2003 : Column 939—continued

Dawn Primarolo: On this occasion, it is not for me to criticise the previous Government on its foresight in establishing the tax law rewrite. As the hon. Gentleman will know, it is precisely that—a rewrite of the current tax legislation. The question of tax simplification, which the House has discussed many times, and will do so again in future because of its importance to the tax debate, is a separate issue. The hon. Gentleman asked about compliance cost assessment. As a measure in the new format, the Bill has to undergo an assessment on compliance costs. That information was available to the House on Second Reading and in Committee and is included in the explanatory notes. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is pleased that there will be negligible compliance costs, if any. Because the increased compliance is so small it is impossible to measure. However, there is considerable evidence from everyone who was consulted that the new legislation is easier to understand and therefore less of a burden on taxpayers.

Several hon. Members rose—

Dawn Primarolo: I am happy to give way, but I hope that hon. Members will look at the tax law rewrite, rather than extend it into a wider debate.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. The right hon. Lady has a number of hon. Members from whom to choose.

Dawn Primarolo: What an enviable position to be in! While not wishing to detain the House, perhaps we should work through them one by one. I shall give way to the hon. Member for Fareham (Mr. Hoban).

Mr. Mark Hoban (Fareham): On the issue of compliance costs, given that the Bill is the second measure to come before the House from the Joint Committee on tax law rewrite Bills, what research has the Treasury done on the beneficial effects of the first measure, the Capital Allowances Act 2001?

Dawn Primarolo: I do not have the regulatory impact assessment of that Act with me, although it has already been discussed and passed by the House. However, I can make sure that a copy is sent to the hon. Gentleman. I draw his attention to the regulatory impact assessment accompanying the Bill, which is one of the papers available to the House today and will answer his questions. On capital allowances, he will know as well as I do of the enormous relief, amounting to many billions of pounds, that they provide for businesses.

Several hon. Members rose—

Dawn Primarolo: I shall give way to the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell), as I am pleased to see him back in the House again.

Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield): I thank the Paymaster General for that kind endorsement from the Labour party, which I shall bring to the attention of my constituents at a subsequent election.

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I strongly support the rewrite Committee and the work that the Paymaster General and her colleagues are doing. Of course, as she said, the project was set up by the last Conservative Government. Clearly, the rewrite is enormously technical and involves a lot of practitioners in the City and elsewhere. How does she go about ensuring full consultation with all interested parties and with practitioners in particular? Will she tell us whom she consults, and on what basis and how she consults them?

Dawn Primarolo: In giving way to the hon. Gentleman, I said that I was pleased to see him back in the House on this occasion. I was not extending my remarks any further, much though I recognise that he may be an agreeable fellow.

I shall deal in my speech with the points that the hon. Gentleman raised about who was consulted and the consultation process. The point that underlies his question is extremely important. We must have very wide consultation. If the process is to achieve its objectives of being easy, clear and helpful to practitioners, the practitioners themselves must agree that that is the case.

Several hon. Members rose—

Dawn Primarolo: I shall give way first to the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight), who is sitting at the back, but I shall work back down the Opposition Benches and I shall not forget the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow).

Mr. Greg Knight: (East Yorkshire): I am most grateful to the Minister for giving way. Will she not keep us in suspense until later in her speech, but deal with a point that follows on from that which my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell) raised? I notice from the Committee's minutes that, on 14 January, it ordered that

When were those details placed on the internet and are they still there? If so, can the Minister tell the House the URL—universal resource locator—for the internet page? Has provision been made to encourage public feedback? Those of us who are interested in pursuing more online consultation want the public to be encouraged to give their feedback on such issues via the internet.

Dawn Primarolo: At this precise moment, I cannot give the right hon. Gentleman the exact reference for which he asks.

Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury) rose—

Dawn Primarolo: I should like to answer one question at a time, even though the hon. Gentleman might be trying to help me.

I shall ensure that I provide to the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) the information that he requests before the end of the debate. He is absolutely right in his comments, as the hallmark of the consultation on the Bill was that we continued the

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process even after the final drafts had been published to ensure that all possible corrections and errors could be put before the Committee. When I have given him the reference that he requests and he looks at the proceedings of the Committee, he will see that the Government had to table amendments even at the Committee stage to correct some aspects of the draft Bill. We will continue to pick up those issues.

The organisations that took part in the consultation are listed in volume 1 of the explanatory notes to the Bill: the Cardiff law school at Cardiff university, the Chartered Institute of Taxation, the City of London Law Society, the Confederation of British Industry, the construction industry joint taxation committee, Deloitte and Touche, Ernst and Young, Global Employment Solutions, the Holborn Law Society, ideasUK, the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland, the Institute of Directors, the Institute of Payroll and Pensions Management and John Jeffrey-Cook. Other representations came from KPMG, Mayer, Brown, Rowe and Maw, the share scheme lawyers group and the special committee of tax law consultative bodies. The list goes on; I shall not read all the names into the record, but they are there for the right hon. Gentleman to see.

Mr. Stephen O'Brien rose—

Several hon. Members rose—

Dawn Primarolo: I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman on the Front Bench first, as that is what I am required to do, but other hon. Gentlemen should not be too worried, as I shall give way to them as well.

Mr. O'Brien: I am most grateful to the Paymaster General for giving way. She has most helpfully read out a list of the many consultees that have been helpful and supportive in the project. In case it is of some help to her, I should like to point out that the URL that has just been requested is

Dawn Primarolo: I thank the hon. Gentleman for supplying that information to the House. That reinforces the point about cross-party support for the tax law rewrite project. The Special Committee procedure was chaired by the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke)—who very skilfully saw us through our Committee stages—and Lord Howe of Aberavon, who has been energetic and committed to this project for some time. If anything had been awry or not correct, or if the Government had been attempting to do anything in the Bill that they should not have been doing, I am absolutely confident that those two right hon. and learned Gentlemen, whose skills are enormous, would have spotted it.

Mr. George Osborne (Tatton): The right hon. Lady will be aware that the Inland Revenue's 2002–03 annual report on this project stated:

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I am not entirely clear what that means. Does it mean that there are many more taxes being introduced now than in 1996? The report also says:

Will the Paymaster General confirm that those resources are being provided to the Inland Revenue?

Dawn Primarolo: I can confirm that the resources are being maintained and committed to the Inland Revenue tax law rewrite project. Indeed, if the hon. Gentleman reads our Second Reading debate in Hansard, he will see that the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe complimented the Government on continuing their commitment to ensuring that the tax law rewrite project would work through the programme of legislation. He also took note that, when the tax law rewrite project was announced in 1996, the then Government gave it five years in which to complete the review. He accepted, as did Lord Howe of Aberavon, that that was somewhat optimistic, but good progress is none the less being made in what continues to be a complex area of taxation, particularly in the international dimensions.

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