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Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North) (DUP): I join the Secretary of State in his warm tribute to our armed
 
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forces. As he knows, we in Northern Ireland have more reason than most to be grateful to them and proud of their courage and dedication. He mentioned the critical importance of the aerospace industry and the business opportunities that arise. He will know, too, from his previous experience, of the excellence of the Bombardier company in Belfast and the skill of its work force. Will there be a role for Bombardier and Northern Ireland in general as part of the roll out of the strategy?

John Reid: I join the hon. Gentleman in his tribute to the forces. As he knows, I was involved in trying to work in partnership with Bombardier. I certainly hope that there will be a role, not only for Thales—formerly Bombardier—but for a lot of small and medium-sized companies that are perhaps not mentioned here today when we deal with the big shipyards and companies. I hope that by allowing the big companies to plan, through systems integration and project management in the United Kingdom and by indicating to small companies the direction in which the market is likely to move, it will assist smaller companies.

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): What consideration has been given in the strategy to the importance to the United Kingdom of having an independent strategic heavy lift capability?

John Reid: We have given that continual attention. I am musing on the word "independent". I am not sure what the hon. Gentleman means. Certainly I take responsibility as the person who, during the controversy about whether we should buy the C-17s, with Lord Gilbert was on the side of leasing C-17s. We believed that the operational capability of those huge aircraft overcame any objections that we should buy a less capable European alternative. We bought the C-17s and we are looking at buying more. As far as I can make out the RAF, whose morale will be flying a little higher than it was a few years ago, regards the C-17 as a great success. I forgot to mention it earlier. The independence of strategic airlift at European level is important. Some years ago it was identified as completely insufficient in the strategic defence review, so we tried to remedy that. We will continue to have a view on it.

SECTION 5 OF THE EUROPEAN COMMUNITIES (AMENDMENT) ACT 1993

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation) and Order [5 December],

Question agreed to.


 
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Orders of the Day

National Insurance Contributions Bill

Not amended in the Standing Committee, considered.

Clause 1


Earnings: Power to Make Provision in Consequence of Retrospective Tax Legislation: Great Britain

1.48 pm

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 1, line 13, after 'Treasury', insert



', following consultation with the Commissioners for Revenue and Customs,'.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments:

No. 14, in page 1, line 17, leave out



'appears to the Treasury to be expedient'

and insert 'is reasonable'.

No. 4, in page 1, line 17, after 'Treasury', insert



', following consultation with the Commissioner for Revenue and Customs.'.

No. 15, in page 1, line 17, leave out 'expedient' and insert 'reasonable'.

No. 7, in page 3, line 16, after 'Secretary of State', insert



', following consultation with the Commissioners for Revenue and Customs,'.

No. 17, in page 3, line 16, leave out



'appears to the Treasury to be expedient'

and insert 'is reasonable'.

No. 10, in page 5, line 43, after 'Treasury', insert



', following consultation with the Commissioners for Revenue and Customs,'.

No. 11, in page 13, line 37, after 'Treasury', insert



', following consultation with the Commissioner for Revenue and Customs,'.

Mr. Forth: It might be appropriate to say a word or two about the context of this afternoon's business, because this is one of those Bills that sadly seems to have received all-party support to date, and that usually means very bad legislation indeed. Time and again in the House, we are confronted with that revolting political concept, consensus, which usually involves a lack of proper debate and scrutiny of the legislation. A few of us hope to put that right and give the Bill something of a proper examination in the limited time that is now available to us this afternoon. In doing so, I start with the group of amendments that you have just identified, Madam Deputy Speaker.

It is fair to say that the thrust of the amendments covers two principal areas of consideration—one is the general concept of consultation and the other is the contradistinction of expedience and reasonableness, which we shall perhaps come to later. In framing the amendments on consultation that my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) and I have tabled, I underwent a rollercoaster ride in deciding
 
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finally where to end up, because the amendments suggest that the Treasury be obliged to consult the Commissioners for Revenue and Customs. I was in two minds about that, because when I looked at the genesis of the Commissioners for Revenue and Customs, I found a rather mixed picture, and it is fair to say—I should warn the House—that this is perhaps not quite so straightforward as it would seem.

I wanted to create a vehicle, a mechanism, whereby somebody other than the Treasury can look at the very important matters that we are dealing with in the Bill—retrospection and all that goes with it—and I lit upon the commissioners as the most appropriate body. In doing so, I went to the Act that set up the commissioners and, indeed, to the explanatory notes to that Act, and I want to share them briefly with the House, so that hon. Members can judge whether my amendment is appropriate. Obviously, I will argue that, on balance, my amendment represents the way forward, but I want to attach a health warning to it.

I refer first to paragraph 7 of the explanatory notes to the Commissioners for Revenue and Customs Act 2005, which states:

Straightaway, we have run into a possible problem in that I am arguing that we give the commissioners the opportunity to be consulted, whereas we have right there in front of us the phrase,

That is my first health warning on the amendment.

Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con): Is not what my right hon. Friend has just read out a lethal health warning in that, in effect, even if amendment No. 1 were accepted, the provision would have no teeth?

Mr. Forth: I understand what my right hon. Friend is saying. If he will bear with me for just a short while, I shall try to balance out the argument. I thought that, in fairness to him and other hon. Members, I should make them aware of these things, as part of their judgment and that of the House on my amendment.

I am afraid that my right hon. Friend's reservations will be perhaps strengthened by the fact that paragraph 36 of the same document says:

I confess to my right hon. Friend that things are going downhill rapidly, and we must bear that in mind.

I am happy to say that the ray of light comes somewhat later because, further on in the document—this is slightly more encouraging—paragraph 46 says:

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It then makes reference to national insurance contributions, just to tie this into the Bill and the amendments that we are considering.

Switching back from the explanatory note to the 2005 Act itself, I shall now draw the attention of the House to section 5(1) to (4), which spells out how the commissioners will be

and "other functions". Section 5(4) states:

We are on reasonably firm ground there.

The ray of light that I have detected in the 2005 Act—this may help my right hon. Friend and other hon. Members to balance their judgment—is that section 9(1), on ancillary powers, states:

So we have in the 2005 Act itself the possibility that the commissioners will be able, where they see fit, to act rather more independently of the Treasury than the previous words that I mentioned would suggest.


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