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Street Furniture (Graffiti)

Siobhain McDonagh accordingly presented a Bill to make provision for local authorities to remove graffiti from street furniture owned by statutory undertakers; to enable local authorities to recover costs from the statutory undertakers; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 11 July, and to be printed [Bill 106].

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Finance Bill (Programme) (No. 3)

12.44 pm

The Paymaster General (Dawn Primarolo): I beg to move,

The programme motion sets out the clauses and schedules to be considered in the Committee of the whole House, the days to be spent on consideration, and the day on which the Bill will be reported from Standing Committee. Two days have been allocated for debate. All the measures tabled for consideration in the Committee of the whole House have been selected by the Opposition parties. Six debates have been selected by the minority parties and 14 by Her Majesty's Opposition, the Conservative party. The Government have not added any new topics for discussion. As you will see, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the proceedings also include two new clauses specifically requested by one of the minority parties; unfortunately, none of its representatives is yet present in the Chamber.

To ensure that the time for debate is not curtailed by other business of the House in the two days allocated, the motion guarantees six and a half hours of business each day even if the start of the debate is delayed. Without such provision, the debate would usually finish at 7 pm each day. That facilitates the discussion of topics requested by all the Opposition parties in the days agreed through the usual channels for the Committee of the whole House.

12.45 pm

Mr. Howard Flight (Arundel and South Downs): It has been my privilege over the past three years to participate in the consideration of Finance Bills. While the Opposition did not agree with a number of the measures previously introduced, they were properly considered and proper opportunity and sufficient time were given for the Opposition to express the views and criticisms raised by various outside professional bodies. Furthermore, on more than one occasion, I have

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complimented the Paymaster General as having been, during the time in which I have been interested in politics, more on top of the Revenue and tax law than any of her predecessors.

I am therefore extremely disappointed about what seems to have happened this year. The Bill seems poorly drafted and a number of crucial changes have been made without proper consultation and by an unacceptable and authoritarian railroading through Parliament. The major tax changes self-evidently relate to the stamp duty land tax, employee securities and options, approved share schemes and a considerable number of VAT and other anti-avoidance measures.

This is the fourth longest Finance Bill on record. It has 447 pages and there are 659 pages of explanatory notes, at least one of which was so badly drafted that it contained the wrong figure for the basic rate of income tax. Seven days and 14 sittings in Standing Committee are wholly inadequate to consider a Bill of such complexity and volume. As to the Floor of the House, the Conservative Opposition requested that we discuss a number of key introductory clauses in order to debate the principles that they involve, and not the accompanying schedules, after checking with the Public Bill Office that that was constitutionally appropriate. The Government agreed to withdraw schedules 21 and 22—some 80 pages of legislation—and I understand that they now realise that they will have to rewrite part of schedule 21, but we are left with schedules 5, 6 and 25. Together with the other items to be taken on the Floor of the House, they are too much to allow a proper debate and a full airing of the issues raised.

The Government's growing disregard—nay, contempt—for Parliament is widely recognised. Many people will have heard the comments made on the radio this morning by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), who criticised the Government's abuse of Parliament and expressed alarm about the state of Parliament.

The Government's decision to cut short debate on the Finance Bill means that there is a danger that shortcomings in the Bill as it stands will pass into law. The Bill includes 180 pages of provisions rewriting and completely changing the nature of stamp duty land tax, including the new tax on leases, without any proper calculation or estimate of the additional tax that is likely to be raised. The extent of the changes was not made clear in the Budget speech. Clauses 1, 3, 8 and 9, with their accompanying schedules, introduce, again without warning, badly drafted rewrites of tax law relating to employee securities and options and approved share schemes, that, as the comments submitted by the professionals show, are full of mistakes and unintended consequences and will leave many genuine share schemes in a complete mess. Such a total overhaul of complex legislation that has not been subject to thorough consultation merits detailed debate and consideration in Parliament.

Mr. George Osborne (Tatton): Is my hon. Friend aware that the Government are already amending the Bill just days after its Second Reading? That amply illustrates his point.

Mr. Flight: I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. I referred to just one aspect of the Government amendments of which I am aware, but I expect many more.

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The legal and accounting professions contribute to the proper scrutiny of such legislation by considering the detailed drafting and passing on their proposals for improvements and the correction of mistakes, and those representations are considered in Committee. If that process is curtailed, the chance of mistakes increases, and they will surface only when it is too late and the Bill has passed into law. Of crucial importance, of course, is the fact that a Finance Bill does not receive the secondary scrutiny of the other place. In our view, a quite insufficient and unacceptable amount of time is being given to the Committee stage, which will result in bad law, damage to business and damage to jobs.

There has been widespread professional criticism both of the Bill and of the lack of adequate consultation. The Law Society produced comment running to 130 pages, with 90 pages of draft amendments. The Chartered Institute of Taxation provided 44 pages of detailed problem issues that the Bill raises. The tax faculty of the Institute of Chartered Accountants produced 31 closely printed pages of critical issues. If I may, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall quote a few of the comments that were made by those professional bodies. The Law Society notes:

    "In 2002 we welcomed the fact that much of the Finance Bill had been circulated in draft prior to publication. This year a very significant proportion of the bill consists of complex legislation which had not been previously published. This might not have been a concern, had agreed policy intentions been translated into clearly worded statutory drafting. Regrettably, this appears not to be the case in many areas. These failings are compounded by the extremely limited time available for consideration, both by professionals and by Parliament and the poor quality of many of the Explanatory Notes."

The institute—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman. I have been generous in allowing him the general remarks that he has made until now, but I have to remind him that the motion relates only to the content of the two days' debate in Committee of the whole House.

Mr. Flight: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

We have of course selected clauses from the whole Bill for the two days' debate on the Floor of the House. The key point that I made at the beginning is that we will end up with three key schedules being debated on the Floor of the House. If I may crave your indulgence, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the programme motion gives rise to a grave problem in that the most important item that we will discuss on the Floor of the House is our amendment to schedule 19, which proposes a further year for full consultation and consideration of the changes to stamp duty and the new stamp duty land tax. There is a risk that we may not reach that important amendment today, and if we do not, we will have little chance to debate it later on in the course of our very limited timetable. That issue arises again in the context of the first tranche of Standing Committee proceedings, where the two most important amendments, Nos. 21 and 22, are to be debated at the end, so we will face a major problem if there is insufficient time.

In short, we see no good reason why the Bill has been given insufficient time overall. We selected clauses for debate on the Floor of the House with the intent that

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there would be sufficient time to do so, but the adding of the schedules renders that impossible. If there is a means of doing so, we ask the Government seriously to consider giving schedules 5, 6 and 25 sufficient time for debate, if not on the Floor of the House, in Standing Committee.

My main point is that the process of debate on the Floor of the House and in Committee affords consideration of the comments, criticisms and proposed changes of the professionals and of those who act for the businesses who will have to work with the new legislation. If that process is not given sufficient time, we will end up with bad legislation that is bad for individuals, bad for business and bad for jobs.

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