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12 Feb 2003 : Column 955—continued

Mr. Greg Knight: Is there not another cost that I touched upon earlier? That is the cost of a possible lack of scrutiny that results from the fact that the parliamentary draftsmen have been overworked by this project. They are therefore not able to devote their time to producing every piece of proposed Government legislation in draft. That is what we want. The Leader of the House said that he also hopes that that will happen.

Mr. O'Brien: My right hon. Friend makes an interesting point. In a sense, I defer to him because he has experience in government and I do not. It is my impression from what I have managed to glean as a member of Her Majesty's official and loyal Opposition that the parliamentary draftsmen are not only an expert but a somewhat scarce commodity available to Government. They are under enormous pressure given the volume and weight of Bills that are continually being introduced. It is important therefore to recognise that we seek an assurance from the Paymaster General that the resources that have been devoted effectively to date will, at least, be maintained at that level. That will enable us to move ahead with the third Bill on the tax law

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rewrite in the 2004–05 Session and the additional rewrite on the PAYE regulations that will affect everyone who earns. I hope that that reassures my right hon. Friend, but the Paymaster General may have an opportunity to add to my remarks.

Mr. Hoban: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way again. He has been very generous at taking interventions.

My right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) talked about the burden on parliamentary draftsmen as a result of the process of pre-legislative scrutiny. My hon. Friend has referred to exposure directive fatigue. In parallel with parliamentary draftsmen becoming involved, external bodies also have to look at these matters. It is not just the tax law rewrite that involves professional advisers. Before the last Finance Act, there was a considerable input from practitioners on capital gains tax. Is my hon. Friend concerned, as I am, that professional bodies may be devoting a great deal of resources to tax law rewrite, when they may have other tasks because of the Government's programme?

Mr. O'Brien: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, because what he has said helps me to repeat the gratitude of the whole House to the enormous number of experts and practitioners who, because they are so expert—one can place enormous reliance on them for their judgement and expertise—are exceptionally busy in their professional and other practical work. To have a satisfactory consultative body that is effective in support of the tax law rewrite project, which I believe our consultation Committee is, inevitably puts an enormous strain and demand on the time and effort of those people, who are already very busy in their own right.

It was exposure draft fatigue, not exposure directive fatigue—if I may gently correct my hon. Friend—that led to the establishment of use of the internet for dialogue, rather than the many meetings and paper drafts. Those of us who have been in professional practice, as I was before I entered the manufacturing industry, know that it is very time consuming to have to measure one draft against another. On the internet, as my hon. Friend well knows, time can be saved, not least because, in a rather professional way, there is a chat room to exchange good ideas.

Mr. Forth: I worry when I start to hear talk of chat rooms and e-things. Is not my hon. Friend worried that a large proportion of the population is disfranchised by this ghastly modern process? Every time I hear glib talk of internet chat rooms and the like, it comes to my mind that the latest figures show, I think, that only 40 per cent. of households are connected to the ghastly internet. Therefore, potentially 60 per cent. of households are disfranchised from the so-called consultation process. How do we non-cyber folk get to know about these things, and how are we simple, non-electronic people, consulted?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. Before the hon. Gentleman responds, I would point out that we are going a little wide of the Third Reading of the Bill.

Mr. O'Brien: I am grateful for your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Indeed, I could almost say

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"rescue". I was concerned that my right hon. Friend might be referring to E-substances in food, given the nature of his question at one point, but I understand where he is coming from in terms of his non-cyber existence. I recognise that he inhabits the non-cyber world in a very firm and, I suspect, unshakeable way. But when he quotes statistics as to who is and is not hooked to cyber, it is important to recognise that we are not talking about the broad citizenry at large. We are talking about the professionals and those with particular expert knowledge in the field, who can help on the consultation Committee and also as consultees in the process. It is also important to recognise that it would be very difficult for them to do their professional work if they were not prepared to join what is regarded as the more modern e-world, with all its opportunities—and indeed shortcomings, as my right hon. Friend is never remiss in observing and pointing out to the rest of the nation.

I shall move forward as rapidly as I can with opening remarks that have taken somewhat longer than I had expected. I support and reiterate what my right hon. Friend the Member for Fylde said in our Committee proceedings, that we not only hope that the precedent of issuing a regulatory impact assessment of the Bill will be followed for all future tax law rewrite projects, but also believe that it should be applied to all future tax changes, to include economic tests and an analysis of what the Chancellor expects any tax measure to achieve.

Dawn Primarolo: Has the hon. Gentleman been following the same debate in the United States, where Congress and the President disagree on how to make an assessment on that basis? Given that they cannot resolve the problem, is he seriously suggesting that it would be helpful for us to engage in such a dispute?

Mr. O'Brien: In a sense, the Paymaster General gives me the assurance that I seek. The fact that she is conscious of the debate in the United States means that Treasury Ministers are keeping a watching brief on it. That gives me some encouragement. The model in the United States is often much more fruitful than models nearer to home. It will be helpful to see how the debate develops and how—if at all—the Americans manage to resolve the problem. If it is resolved satisfactorily, it will help to underpin the settlement between the citizens of this country who have to pay tax and the state, as represented through the Executive, which takes and applies the money. We need to ensure that they have the best possible information to understand how the money is valued and what is expected up front.

It is no different in the private and commercial world. It is no bad thing for hon. Members to experience the discipline of working in the real world that everyone else inhabits before they come here. If someone wants to raise money by going to a bank, he would be held to his business and repayment plans and would need to have an idea of how things might work out. That is not the habit of Government, as the Paymaster General knows. It is worth considering such a project, especially on the back of what is being considered in the United States. I am grateful to know that that might be under the gaze of Treasury Ministers, and we look forward to further reports on it.

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As my right hon. Friend the Member for Fylde said in Committee, tax legislation is too often enacted

but all it can add is further complexity. Therefore, for all users of tax legislation, the overriding need is for both clarity and certainty. Indeed, the Paymaster General made that point in her opening remarks. Although the rewrite project addresses clarity, I hope that the Paymaster General and the Chancellor will listen carefully, especially as the Budget is coming soon and the planned tax increases, which will hit everyone's pockets, are just 53 days away. They need to act on that, not least to make it easier for tax practitioners and taxpayers, but also to gauge, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Fylde said, the "before-and-after effects" of tax measures. That is, perhaps, the equivalent of the proposal, coupled with a post-audit review that one would expect in any walk of private business and commercial life. My hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) touched on that in the context of the compliance issue. I am grateful that the Paymaster General is nodding. She obviously acknowledged the importance of that, and I look forward to further announcements from the Treasury.

I hope that I am pushing at an open door, because in Committee the Paymaster General concluded with the words:

That is a fair test and we need to adhere to it.

As we said in Committee, there would be no harm in submitting the document for scrutiny by the Plain English Campaign. That would help with clarity. Some of us have tried to earn a return for shareholders' money while at the same time supplying high-quality goods and services that customers want at a fair price. Many of us who have worked in the manufacturing, wealth-creating side of the economy have had to produce annual reports, especially if we have done that on the back of other people's money. In this ever challenging, regulated and, at times, politically correct world, annual reports have to contain all manner of things. They assume that people are always driven by the worst of motives rather than the best. Given the plethora of regulations that have to be satisfied in companies' annual reports, the application of the crystal mark by the Plain English Campaign has been particularly helpful. One of the first companies to use it, to its credit, was the National Westminster bank, in which, I hasten to add, I have no interest. I was going to say that I have no money, but that is another point. The bank's annual reports are a model of their kind, especially as many of the areas that they cover, including compliance and liquidity, are not dissimilar to those covered by the Bill. As part of the rewrite project, it would be exceptionally useful to submit the Bill to the campaign, as it is more likely to be read by private citizens than by businesses, which, with their professional tax advisers, are more likely to read the Capital Allowances Act 2001, the first of the tax law rewrite measures.

It would be useful to submit the Bill to the Plain English Campaign to discover whether the test that the Government have set themselves satisfies the campaign

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as well. The campaign would also have to recognise that it is not possible to reduce everything to a small novella. In our earlier debate, there were some interesting examples of fictional novellas from Government Members, who were trying to pretend that they were delivering a critique of Conservative policy. We, however, had the chance at last to hold the Government to account for their disastrous economic policies. I am straying outside this debate, so I shall simply tell the Paymaster General that it would be helpful to introduce a further test in the tax law rewrite project by submitting the Bill to the Plain English Campaign to discover whether it could attain a crystal mark, which would be a signal demonstration of the success of all the fine work that has gone into it.

Clause 176, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Fylde highlighted in Committee, can be understood with the aid of the exceptionally helpful flow chart on page 72 of the first volume of the explanatory notes. For the assistance of Members following our debate with intense interest, there is another chart on page 91. It is unusual that explanatory notes should include helpful diagrams that make the flow of money readily understandable. In Committee, my right hon. Friend strongly recommended that such diagrams be more widely used, not just as part of the rewrite project but more widely in legislation, not least draft legislation to assist with pre-legislative scrutiny. I, too, urge greater use of that form of explanatory communication, and I ask the Paymaster General to tell us in her winding-up speech whether there are any impediments against the wider use of the technique. Diagrams are included in the explanatory notes, but are notably absent from the Bill. It would be helpful to have a flow diagram, even if only in a schedule or annexe, as our education system relies heavily on computer technology. I know that it would be a burdensome challenge for my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, but the rest of the population is familiar with menu options—people are being educated to respond to more diagrammatic ways of learning and understanding. A chart may therefore have a greater resonance with them than the product of the more literary, arts-based education of the past.

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