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Rob Marris: Not at all. If the right hon. Gentleman allows me to develop my points, he will understand them in a more rounded way—he may still disagree with them and we may not achieve consensus, but he will understand them.

Most hon. Members would regard it as unreasonable to hang a man for shoplifting a bar of confectionary, although that is a moral decision and I accept that the result might not be unanimous in this House. I sense that there are differing views in this House about what is a reasonable level of taxation and whether a tax is reasonable at all. For example, I think that a windfall tax on the profits of oil companies, which have made the market and considerably increased the price of oil in the past few months, would be reasonable, but I suspect that many Opposition Members would not think so.

Mr. Greg Knight: The hon. Gentleman is making an amusing and interesting point, but may I draw his attention to the scope of the amendment, which he has missed? The use of the word "reasonable", as my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch seeks to apply it, does relates not to the issue of taxation per se, but to the introduction of retrospective taxation, which is an entirely different matter.

Rob Marris: It is not an entirely different matter, because we are discussing the word "reasonable" in the context of a tax regime.

Mr. Newmark : On retrospection, which has been raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight), it may well be expedient for the Treasury to decide that it wants to claw in more tax revenues. As my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) has said, however, an independent body making an independent judgment may well say that such a decision is not reasonable, although it is expedient for the Treasury.

Rob Marris: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who makes my point for me. In the light of his remarks, I urge my right hon. Friend the Minister to be very cautious about accepting the amendment. The judgment of what is reasonable in a tax regime—whether we are talking about retrospectivity, the level of a given tax or its very existence—is ultimately a political judgment, as many such things are. It is much more difficult to make that political judgment if one tries to step away from it by suggesting that in some fantasy world taxation, per se, is reasonable. Some people regard it as reasonable and some do not. Some people do not want to pay tax at all.

2.45 pm

Mr. Newmark: Will the hon. Gentleman answer my question about the retrospectivity of taxation? It may well be expedient for the Treasury to claw in more money, but it may also be unreasonable for it to take that action. That is the point that we are making.

Rob Marris: I accept that some Members would see it as unreasonable. That is why I urged my right hon.   Friend to be cautious when considering the amendments. I prefer the word "expedient" to the word
 
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"reasonable" for the very reason that the hon. Gentleman highlights. These are political decisions; they are not, and cannot be, moral decisions.

I say to the hon. Member for Christchurch that I cannot comment on the antipodean definition of expediency that he mentioned. However, as a citizen of Canada who lived there for nine years, I am familiar with the way in which the English language is used across Canada, which is particularly distinctive in Newfoundland. I shall try to make the difference graphic. As Members may be aware, there is a federal election going on in Canada. The Canadians call constituencies "ridings". That word means something in this country, but it has nothing to do with parliamentary constituencies. That is an example of the way in which language evolves over time. One would have to be cautious about trying to import a definition from a Canadian law case into this Chamber—and doubly cautious, as most English-speaking Canadians would agree, when it comes from a case in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, as in that cited by the hon. Member for Christchurch. I am not sure, with due respect to him, that using that definition throws much light on our discussions in this Chamber.

Let me focus for a minute on the question of retrospectivity, which the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire—

Mr. Greg Knight: East Riding.

Rob Marris: I thought that the East Riding was bigger than East Yorkshire, but perhaps not.

Behind the amendments lies a great dislike of retrospectivity. I understand that, but I do not agree with it in this context, as they are halfway to being wrecking amendments.

James Duddridge: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the greater duty of care involved means that one needs to be much more careful with the wording in retrospective legislation than in normal legislation? That has been raised several times, but I am still unclear as to whether the hon. Gentleman recognises the distinction.

Rob Marris: I agree that one needs to be particularly careful when addressing matters retrospectively through legislation. That is why the question of retrospectivity deserves particular scrutiny in our debates today and in Committee and on Second Reading. In terms of these amendments, the House needs to put retrospectivity in the context—bluntly—of the rich friends of the Conservative party. We are dealing with a measure and amendments to it that are in no way addressed to the average person in the street. I made a calculation, which might have been wrong, on Second Reading and I am now working from memory. I calculated, using the regulatory impact assessment of how many people would be affected and how much money would be raised, that the average person affected by the measure would earn £300,000.

Stephen Hammond : On Second Reading, the hon. Gentleman held a discourse, which I am sure we are about to hear again, on rich friends in the City and
 
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across the world. In Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (Mr. Newmark) asked the Paymaster General whether she could provide only two examples of what the clause would do. She said that she had provided a long list on Second Reading. I reread the Second Reading debate and could not find it, and she then said that she would provide it for us. I hope that she will do that later. However, perhaps the hon. Gentleman could give two clear examples of the effect of the clause before embarking on his long discourse about prejudice against the City of London.

Rob Marris: I reject the concept of prejudice against the City of London.

If one reads the regulatory impact assessment, one realises that the clause will raise £240 million per annum after the initial £95 million in 2004–05.

Stephen Hammond rose—

Rob Marris: The hon. Gentleman is eager—I shall give way shortly. The amendments essentially seek to strip retrospectivity out of the Bill. As I said, we are not discussing a measure that affects the average employee in the street. It tackles artificial tax devices. They are artificial because they change people's conduct so that they behave in ways in which they would not normally engage. The individuals affected should sue their accountants if they did not warn them of the written ministerial statement that was made on 2 December 2004. That is as far back as retrospectivity would go if the Bill were passed as it is worded and the Government chose to exercise retrospectivity through the Treasury. There is a sort of long stop backwards behind the wicket.

Stephen Hammond: The hon. Gentleman speaks of limiting retrospectivity to 2 December 2004. However, he knows that, although the Paymaster General has given us an assurance to that effect, the Bill does not provide for that. That is clear especially from clause 5. We need to re-examine the matter and I am sure that we will do that on Third Reading.

Rob Marris: I shall not be pulled into discussing clause 5 because I am sure you would not allow that, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, clause 5 is entitled "Agreements and joint elections: Great Britain", so I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman meant to refer to it. We can discuss that on Third Reading, as he suggests.

We are considering artificial schemes, which do not cover the average person in the street but deal with people who earn on average £300,000. Almost all, if not all, receive professional advice. Their accountants should have warned them that, if the national insurance contribution device into which they entered began on or after 2 December 2004, they might be caught by what the Paymaster General had said in a written ministerial statement.


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