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When two people enter a civil partnership, they make a responsible commitment to each other. Our policy is that civil partners should be entitled to the same legal rights and responsibilities as spouses. This means that our tax system should, where possible, adapt to reflect the changes in society that brought civil partnerships into being. Last December, the Civil Partnership Act 2004 received Royal Assent. It provides a new legal framework that enables recognition of same-sex relationships through the new status of civil partnership. Same-sex couples across the UK will be able to form a civil partnership. That is reflected in the relevant clause, as it provides powers to ensure that civil partners are treated the same as married couples, both for tax purposes and to ensure that tax legislation is compatible with the Human Rights Act 1998.
Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West) (Con): Will the Minister remind the House of the reason for excluding from those tax benefits or tax reliefs couples who may have lived together for 30 or 40 years, such as siblings, a child and an elderly parent or, for that matter, a very close householder and housekeeper?
Mr. Boateng: We had a full discussion on that when the House was coming to a view on civil partnerships. I know and respect the hon. Gentleman's views on the issue, although I do not share them. I believe that the House came to the right conclusion on how to reflect societal change in the Civil Partnerships Act and the provisions of the Finance Bill.
The immense contribution made by our armed forces, who serve our country so well in peace and in war, is reflected in the clause that will ensure that lump sum awards paid to servicemen and women injured in the line of duty are tax free, whether paid to a serving member of the armed forces or to a person who has left the service. The provision amends the Income Tax (Earnings and Pensions) Act 2003 to ensure that benefits payable under the Armed Forces (Pensions and Compensation) Act 2004 are treated in the same way for
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tax as the equivalent benefits payable under the armed forces pension scheme. The new lump sum in-service injury awards will be exempted by the clausea measure that I know has the support, which it warrants, of all hon. Members.
The measures and others like them help to modernise the tax system. They will enable a fairer society to emerge and reflect the new challenges arising from that changing society. Britain also faces new and evolving environmental challenges, in respect of which we have an obligation to future generations. We have therefore provided for the standard rate of landfill tax to increase as part of a principled national policy to reduce the volumes of waste sent to landfill and to encourage more environmentally friendly alternatives. Building on the changes to vehicle excise duty made in 2003 that reflect vehicle carbon emissions, the Bill provides for an increase in VED rates only for the two highest carbon dioxide bands; the four least-polluting carbon dioxide bands will remain frozen.
The Budget lays down measures that will enable our country to respond to and meet the challenges of our changing society in the global economy. The Finance Bill enacts measures to which the House has already agreed in principle. I commend it to the House.
Mr. George Osborne (Tatton) (Con): We all enjoyed listening to the would-be high commissioner in what I suppose is his last appearance in the Commons. I am sorry that more of his hon. Friends did not turn up to listen to him, but we Opposition Members enjoyed his speech. In the past few weeks, the right hon. Gentleman has been showered with tributes every time that he has appeared at the Dispatch Boxhe has had more farewells than Frank Sinatra, which is appropriate, given that the Cabinet he is leaving is the biggest rat pack of them all. Like any good swan-song, his speech was somewhat theatrical and overblowntrue to form for the right hon. Gentlemanbut during his 18 years in Parliament no one has ever accused him of being a shrinking violet. I have certainly enjoyed shadowing him in recent months. He has always been courteous and I wish him well in the futurewhen I suspect he will join many other Labour MPs in the swelling ranks of the economically inactive.
It is a shame that we do not have more time to examine what remains after the extensive deletions on which we insisted of a complex piece of financial legislation. Four hours is wholly inadequate to debate, scrutinise and pass 106 clauses. In 1992, when the Conservative Government called an election immediately after the Budget, the Finance Bill presented to the House was a mere 11 clauses long, those 11 being the essential and wholly uncontroversial revenue-raising clauses that are required each year. Four hours was provided to debate those 11 clauses; even so, the then shadow Chief Secretary, now Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, proclaimed that it was a constitutional outrage, saying that
"Four hours for all the stages of a Finance Bill from start to finish . . . is a most extraordinary precedent . . . due not to accident or misfortune but to the sheer incompetence and mismanagement of the Government".
Given that he attended that debate and, judging by the Hansard report, got very over-excited during the proceedings, the putative high commissioner must remember the comment made by the present Chancellor's chief lieutenant, the right hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East and Wallsend (Mr. Brown), that allowing four hours for a Finance Bill was
Thirteen years later, we have before us a Labour Finance Bill of 106 clauses, not 11, which is also to be rushed through in four hours. Times have changed and so have the cherished principles of the Labour party.
Although more debate would have been welcomed today, it is fair to say that there is not much in the Bill to which we object. It contains the clauses that set out the various tax and duty rates that are required to maintain the flow of revenue to the Exchequer. We, of course, will reduce that revenue flow by £4 billion when we present our Budget and Finance Bill in two months' time. The Bill also contains more complex provisions that, although they deserve fuller scrutiny, are broadly welcome: they have been consulted on and we felt that it would be wrong to remove them from the Bill.
Mr. Michael Fallon (Sevenoaks) (Con): The point is not whether we in the House object to any of the clauses, but that they will not be exposed to scrutiny and proper deliberation by those outside the House, who may well have viewsindeed, some have sent us representations on certain clauses. The travesty of taking more than 100 clauses in four hours means that many items will pass on to the statute book without having been subjected to the proper deliberative scrutiny that they should have and would have received in a Committee.
Mr. Osborne: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. My approach to the washing-up negotiations with the Chief Secretary was to concentrate on removing those clauses on which there had been no consultation with outside bodies and ensuring that those that remained were those on which there had been at least some consultation. I readily accept that that is no substitute for adequate parliamentary scrutiny, going through the Bill in proper detail and at length in Committee
Mr. Osborne: Because the negotiations took part as part of the washing-up process covering every piece of legislation that we will discuss today and in the next couple of days. We have let certain provisions through, and I shall explain why.
We have let through the new regime for trusts for vulnerable people, which has been consulted on, which all the disability charities broadly welcome and which we support. We have agreed to the alternative finance arrangements to ensure that people whose religious beliefs forbid them from receiving or paying interestsuch as those who adhere to Sharia laware not discriminated against by the tax system. We think that is fair.
The Chief Secretary unfairly implied that my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Prisk) had been dismissed from the Front Bench;
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in fact, he is an Opposition Whip but he is using his experience to speak in today's debate from the Back Benches. My hon. Friend said that the clauses on film tax relief continue the sorry tale of the Government's increasingly convoluted attempts to give tax breaks to film production without creating huge tax loopholesa tale of how not to write tax law. As I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon) agrees, we should consider those clauses in much greater detail, but in the past two days we have received strong representations from the film industry expressing its wish that the relief be extended past July, when it is due to run out. The industry felt that the confusion and chaos caused by the changes that the Government have made in the past couple of years would be increased if the measures were not included in the Bill. Having listened to the representations made by the film industry and by MPs representing film production companies, we are prepared to allow the clauses to pass to enable the extension of the tax relief beyond July.
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