Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Stewart Hosie : The hon. Gentleman gives two interesting examples. However, an entire industry was set up to deal with SIPPs and the second property issue, and almost an entire industry was set up to deal with tax-free home computers. The BBC reported the possible loss of 2,000 jobs in connection with the latter, and that the SIPPs provision could cost tens of millions—if not hundreds of millions—of pounds. So it was not simply a case of making a mistake and correcting it; the situation was rather more significant than that, was it not?

Rob Marris: I understand the hon. Gentleman's point. I am simply trying to make the broad point that if a Government listen—as they should—there will sometimes be costs. The alternative was for the Government to proceed with an idea that many people, including me, had reservations about. They could have   said, "We don't want to be caught doing a so-called U-turn." They could have taken the view that they did not want to have to say, "We're sorry that you had to spend hundreds of millions of pounds"—to use the hon. Gentleman's figures—"trying to avoid tax. We are now changing the provision." So the question is: should the Government clam up and do absolutely nothing, or should they say, "We've listened and perhaps we will make a change"?

If the Government are not listening, what is the point of our being in this Chamber today? Not all my comments about the Government are positive. If we say, "The Government never listen, so why have the debate?", or, "The Government listen, and when they do we are going to give them a kicking", that is the end of public debate. It is monstrous.

Chris Huhne (Eastleigh) (LD): As the hon. Gentleman well remembers, there were extensive debates on SIPPs during last June's consideration of the previous Finance Bill. The issue is not whether the Government listen, but how long they take to listen and to take these matters on board. I am afraid that the reality is that Treasury
24 Apr 2006 : Column 411
Ministers were extremely deaf not just to the protests made by Opposition Members, but to the hue and cry in the City of London. Any Minister who had kept their ear to the ground would have been aware of what they were walking into and would have performed the U-turn much more rapidly.

Rob Marris: I remember having the great pleasure of serving on the Committee that considered that Finance Bill, and the Government did listen. What do we get from the Opposition? One can never tell what the Liberal Democrats' policy is from one week to the next, and the same is true of the flip-flop Conservatives.

Chris Huhne: Will the hon. Gentleman at least recognise that we tabled an amendment that the Chancellor finally accepted, almost word for word, after the pre-Budget report? Under the arcane rules of the House, because that amendment raised revenue, we were not allowed to debate it other than in a circumlocutory manner. The reality is that we were right about the amendment that we tabled and argued for in June, and it was not until October that the hon. Gentleman's friends on the Treasury Bench finally got round to admitting as much.

Rob Marris: It takes some people longer to listen and learn than others. The hon. Gentleman's party has been trying to get the electorate to listen and learn for the past 70 years and still has not succeeded, so these things can take time. The same point may also apply to his future leadership hopes; perhaps the membership of his party will listen a little more carefully next time.

The fourth leg of the argument advanced by the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet concerned trusts, to which we have already referred. I hope that the Government will look at that issue again, because I would like greater clarity. The tenor of her remarks suggested that she wanted to defend the rich. There is a lot to be said for the rich, but we do not need to defend them too much in terms of trusts taxation, because they can afford to employ a whole team of people to defend themselves. However, we do need the Government to clarify whether the provision applies to just the very rich. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) tempts me to mention the opening passage of "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber", by Ernest Hemingway. The character Julian says, "The rich are very different from me and you", to which the other character replies, "Yes, they have more money." That is always the way. They also have more power, but Hemingway, who came from a nice middle-class background and—like me—had a doctor for a father, did not mention that. He should have.

The contribution of the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne was a bit vague. The hon. Member for Eastleigh referred to the Liberal Democrats tabling amendments to Finance Bills in Committee, and occasionally—when they are allowed to—they do table concrete amendments. However, the hon. Lady employed a device that many Members—including, I freely confess, me, on occasion—have used. When the Member concerned asks a question, the listener assumes that they know which policy the Member supports. However, on examining the question—I say this as a
24 Apr 2006 : Column 412
lawyer—it is clear that it is simply an open question. For example, the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne talked about a possible charge on aircraft movements, but she did not say whether she supports such a proposal. I am happy to take an intervention on that point.

Chris Huhne rose—

Rob Marris: I would rather take an intervention from the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne than from her puppet-master.

Chris Huhne: The hon. Gentleman should be aware, given that it has been mentioned in the House many times, that we back reform of air passenger duty, so that it is levied not per passenger but on the movement of each aircraft. That would provide the incentive to ensure that, when an aircraft takes off, it is full rather than half empty.

Rob Marris: Well, I am grateful for that clarification, because that was not apparent from the hon. Lady's speech. I apologise to the hon. Gentleman and others for not having picked up on that in the course of many, sometimes turgid, debates in this House.

The hon. Lady said that her party supports the climate change levy, but it is a bit complicated. However, she did not say how her party would simplify it. She talked about starting from the principle that the polluter pays, but was vague about how that would be achieved. So much of the Liberal Democrat approach to green taxes, including vehicle excise duty, is a bit vague.

Chris Huhne: It cannot be said that we are unclear on the matter of green taxes. My own speech in the Budget debate made it clear that we were in favour of reversing the fall in real terms in green taxes under this Government. Green taxes were 3.6 per cent. of GDP in 2000, but that has fallen to 3 per cent. The Bill will do nothing to reverse that downward trend, but it is important to do so, because it is essential to have an ongoing tax to encourage an ongoing change in behaviour. That is the answer to the hon. Gentleman's earlier point about behavioural change.

Rob Marris: The hon. Gentleman puts his point more lucidly, perhaps, than the hon. Lady, but it is still a little vague. Perhaps he could give her a copy of his speech, so that she can be clearer next time. The hon. Lady mentioned the law of unintended consequences, and we should indeed beware of it. However, I caution the Liberal Democrats to beware of it when it comes to their intended levy on aircraft movements instead of individual passengers. It is possible that that could lead to jumbo jets flying around with four people on board—

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): That is patently absurd!

Rob Marris: Well, I do not think that it is.

Chris Huhne: The hon. Gentleman should be aware that our proposal is that the duty per aircraft movement
24 Apr 2006 : Column 413
would be scaled according to the size of the aircraft. I assure him that when he takes off in his 737 it will be subject to a lower duty than a jumbo jet.

Rob Marris: I do not actually own a 737, but I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman does—

Mr. Redwood: The Liberal Democrats have revealed more than they meant to reveal. It sounds as though they are saying that green taxes have to rise by at least 25 per cent., so we can now work out the figures and what that would mean for petrol, car ownership and aircraft movements.

Rob Marris: We are teasing out some clarity. We have learned that the levy on aircraft movement would depend on the size of the aircraft, but I did not hear that in the fairly long speech by the hon. Lady.

Next Section IndexHome Page