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Mr. Timms: I shall be brief given the time constraints that we are under. Our corporation tax rateat 30 per cent.is lower than in any other major European country. The hon. Gentleman implicitly stated, and I shall make it explicit, that this Government reduced the rate to 30 per cent. from the higher rate that it had been under the previous Government. In addition, in the Budget of 2002, we cut the starting rate of corporation tax from 10 per cent. to zero, and the lower rate for small companies from 20 per cent. to 19 per cent. I have no doubt at all that that is one of the reasons that the World Bank in September last year ranked the UK first in Europe and seventh of the top 20 countries to conduct business in and why the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development last year put the UK's economic and administrative regulations among the lowest in the OECD.
It is important that we continue to maintain a competitive and attractive tax environment in the UK for businesses. The fact that we have such an attractive environment is the reason that we continue to be the most attractive destination in Europe for inward investment. We are determined that that should continue.
Mr. Dorrell: I would like to speak briefly to clause 13 because it makes well a point that several of my hon. Friends raised on Second Reading. The Bill is being rushed through without the opportunity to consider fully the practical effect that it will have. Of course, clause 13 is in the Bill only because there was an ill-considered proposal to introduce new arrangements to encourage incorporation by businesses that were previously incorporated in an earlier Finance Bill. The Chancellor himself introduced an unnecessary complexity into the tax system, so we are now being asked, at the run, to agree to the clause, which I think has the practical effect of dealing with one of the consequences of the Chancellor's earlier rushed and ill-advised legislation.
The clause is a good example of a measure that would have been better dealt with after mature reflection in the summer following the general election when it would have been available to hon. Members
It being four hours after the commencement of proceedings on the Ways and Means motion, The First Deputy Chairman put the Questions necessary to dispose of the business to be concluded at that hour, pursuant to Order [this day].
Mr. Stephen Timms accordingly presented a Bill to appropriate the supply authorised in this Session of Parliament for the service of the year ending with 31 March 2006: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be printed [Bill 103].
One of the fundamental principles in our democracy is accountability to the public. They rightly expect that, when something goes wrong, it will be investigated and put right. We have a long tradition of establishing formal independent and open inquiries into matters that have caused public concern. We have seen how valuable inquiries are at getting to the truth and learning lessons to prevent the same thing from going wrong again. In that sense, they serve to restore public confidence by doing just that. We have also seen the significant impact that they have had on our public services.
The Stephen Lawrence inquiry brought about profound and important changes that continue to this day in the police force and other public bodies. The Victoria Climbié inquiry into a young girl's tragic death in my constituency is another example of an inquiry that was instrumental in bringing about reform to public services and, in this case, children's services.
The Bill has a simple purpose: to enable the people who conduct inquiries to do their job and to get to the truth in the most open way possible more effectively. It contains new measures to ensure that the three vital principles of independence, transparency and accountability of those inquiries are achieved. It is essential that any inquiry is independent and is seen to be so.
The Bill strengthens the independence of an inquiry by creating a new statutory requirement to ensure that inquiry panels are impartial. It also gives the inquiry chairman full legal powers to seek whatever evidence he needs within the inquiry's terms of reference. It does not, as some have suggested, give Ministers free rein to control inquiries in a way that suits their interests. It clearly sets out the respective roles of Ministers and those conducting the inquiry. It clearly spells out in statute what has been regarded as good practice in many inquiries.
The Bill will lead to greater accountability to the public, bringing new requirements to publish and contain costs. The chairman must have regard to costs as well as fairness when planning and conducting proceedings. The procedural rules to be made under the Bill will also aid decision making and strengthen the chairman's hand in controlling costs.
Many hon. Members made valuable contributions to the Bill's scrutiny and we had the opportunity to examine key aspects in debates on probing amendments. My hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Tony Wright) and his colleagues on the Public Administration Committee merit particular credit for their work. The Committee produced a thorough report on many aspects of the inquiry system and helped to inform debates. It will no doubt be a valuable source of best
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practice. I also express my thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell), who contributed her useful experience from the Select Committee to the work of the Standing Committee.
Of great concern to the Select Committee and to other hon. Members is the proper role of Parliament in inquiries. The hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) raised the matter earlier. The Committee made a number of recommendations that led to much interesting debate.
The Government accept that there is an important role for Parliament in all types of inquiry. We have introduced the requirement for Ministers to make statements to Parliament about the establishment of every inquiry under it so that Parliament can scrutinise those decisions. The Bill builds Parliament into the process for every inquiry conducted under the legislation and provides a framework for an appropriate amount of parliamentary involvement in each case. Under most of the legislation that the Bill will replace, there is no provision for any parliamentary involvement.
"The Government can see some merit in a formal channel for considering representations made via Members of either House of Parliament concerning whether an inquiry should be set up on a particular issue."
That is clearly for Parliament to consider, but the Government would be supportive of any work that Parliament wanted to do on developing parliamentary mechanisms of inquiry. From this point, we head out into a general election, but I have no doubt that my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase will play a part in that work after the election.
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