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I refer the hon. and learned Gentleman to what Lord Jay said to the House of Lords Appointments Commission, which I think everyone in this place and most people in the other place would accept. He rightly said that a position in the other place ought to be a job, not an honour. If someone stops doing that job, that is a matter for them. The option is clear: they can resign their position in the other place and not be covered by these provisions, or, if they wish to maintain a presence in the House of Lords, they should be covered by them. Apart from that, I am grateful for the hon. and learned Gentleman's support, and to him and his colleagues for putting their names to the new clause. This is the right way forward.
Bob Spink: I thank those on the Front Benches for their support, but has the Minister noticed that, although there is not a single Tory Member on the Back Benches at the moment, there is almost a full house of four independent Members here to support the premise that those who set taxes in this country should pay taxes in this country?
The hon. Member for Cambridge (David Howarth) expounded at some length his view on the problems relating to deeming. He gave his argument full justification, and I will not repeat most of it. I am interested in his definition of "belonging", however. He seems to take exception to the symbolic perpetuation of the position of non-domiciled people, saying that it somehow undermines their commitment to this country. He acknowledged that there could be perfectly good reasons for retaining that position that would not have any practical impact on the commitment of a Member of the other place to this country. I am interested to find out why a symbolic affirmation of commitment, in relation to the status of domicile, is more important than the huge practical manifestation of commitment through paying tax in this country. That is the point.
Mr. Wills: I will give way, although I suspect that we shall hear a repetition of the hon. Gentleman's previous arguments. I just want to refer him to the main point, in the hope that he will support our proposals. The main point is that it is simply unacceptable that any Member of this Parliament should not be in the position of the vast majority of the residents of this country and pay the specified taxes that we have identified.
David Howarth: That point is fine, but my point was that the way the Minister is doing things, will force the individuals concerned to pay tax, even though they do not want to be domiciled in this country.
Mr. Wills: I am not quite sure what the hon. Gentleman's problem is with being forced to pay tax. I think we could find very few people who actually want to pay tax. Most people accept it as a price of citizenship, and most of us do so willingly and happily. However, the idea is that we have laws in this country- [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman can listen to the argument or not, as he wishes. I listened to him at great length, and he might at least do me the courtesy of trying to appreciate my argument.
Mr. Wills: I will in a moment, but first I wish the hon. Member for Cambridge to understand that the important point, which I hope he now accepts, is that the people who sit in this Parliament should pay tax, as the vast majority of UK residents do. I therefore hope that he will support the provisions.
Mr. Drew: Is not the answer to do what they do in the States? Every member of the legislature has to produce a full statement of their income and expenditure and their tax records. Those are all on the record, including President Obama's from when he was a Senator. Why are we so timid and so lacking in transparency in this country?
Mr. Wills: Tempted as I am to enter into a new discussion with my hon. Friend, which I am sure would be illuminating and revealing, if he will forgive me I will stick to the new clauses and amendments in question. That is a matter for another time, I am sure.
Kelvin Hopkins: My right hon. Friend said a while ago that no one wants to pay more tax. I have argued with the Liberal Democrats on the doorstep, saying that I do want to pay more tax, but for social equality and better public services, not so that millionaires can get away with not paying tax.
My hon. Friend the Member for Pendle made a number of points, and I am grateful for his contribution to the debate. He made an important point about retrospectivity, on which he has done a lot of work. As he says, there is no absolute prohibition on it, and it does happen from time to time. He mentioned one such situation. Nevertheless, it is a bad principle and axiomatically an affront to natural justice. There must be an overwhelmingly compelling case for it, and I am not sure that he made it. Our new provisions will deliver everything for which he has campaigned for a long time. He has been a diligent campaigner on the matter, and the Government have always accepted the principle behind the campaign. We have had problems finding a way to make the system effective so that it works in the way that most people want it to work. I am not sure that he has made a compelling case for breaching the fundamental principle against retrospectivity, because everything that he wants to achieve will be achieved in the Bill. I shall sit down shortly, so I suspect that there will be time for my hon. Friend to make the case for his
amendment, and then we will have a further discussion on it. I hope that he will reflect further on my fundamental point about retrospectivity.
Mr. Heath: It is retrospectivity that I wish to ask the Minister a question about. I can see that there should be a strong presumption against it when it means that a new requirement is applied retrospectively to a person who could not or should not have been able to foresee it. In this case, however, are we not talking about solemn undertakings given to a body of Parliament in order for people to take their seat? Should they not have anticipated that, one day, somebody would ask them whether they had complied with the undertakings that they had given?
Mr. Wills: I am not going to comment on one or two individual cases, because I am not familiar with all the details of them. All that I would say to the hon. Gentleman is that we are making law here, and hard cases make bad law. I hope that he will forgive the aphorism. We have to make law to cover the generality of the people who sit here. In the particular cases that he is talking about, all kinds of mechanisms have been set up.
That reminds me of a point that I wanted to pick up with my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle. He will correct me if I am quoting him wrongly, but I believe he said that it was a sad reflection that we had to rely on the Information Commissioner in such matters. It is not a sad reflection, as that is precisely why the Government set up the Information Commissioner's office-to ensure that people have access to the information to which they are entitled. That is a fundamental principle of our programme of constitutional reforms. We are proud of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and we are going to enhance it, not row back on it. It is not a sad reflection at all; it is a celebration of this Government's achievement with the Freedom of Information Act. I hope that my hon. Friend will recognise that when he comes to speak again shortly. He should be pleased with what the Information Commissioner's office has done; I would hope that he welcomes it.
Finally, I remind the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) that there are other mechanisms to deal with alleged wrongdoing in particular cases. No doubt they will be pursued and I have no doubt that my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle, along with many others, will be pursuing the issue in the weeks and months to come.
I welcome what I took to be the welcome of the hon. Member for Wyre Forest (Dr. Taylor) for the Bill's provisions and indeed for the Political Parties and Elections Act 2009 . I am grateful for his support, and I hope that the Committee will accept the new clauses.
'(1) This section applies if, before the end of the period of 3 months beginning with the day on which this section comes into force, a member of the House of Lords ("M") gives written
notice to the Clerk of the Parliaments that M does not want section [Tax status of MPs and members of the House of Lords] to apply to M.
(7) If, after the notice is given, a peerage under the Life Peerages Act 1958 (c. 21) is conferred on M, subsection (2) above does not stop M being entitled to receive writs of summons to attend the House of Lords by virtue of that peerage.
(8) If, after the notice is given, M becomes the person who is to hold the office of Earl Marshal or perform the office of Lord Great Chamberlain, subsection (2) above does not stop M being entitled to receive writs of summons to attend the House of Lords by virtue of the peerage that led to M becoming the person who is to hold or perform the office in question.
(9) A person to whom regulation 4 of the European Parliament (House of Lords Disqualification) Regulations 2008 (S.I. 2008/1647) applies is to be treated as a member of the House of Lords for the purposes of this section.'.- (Mr. Wills.)
Mr. Drew: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The debate that we have just had finished very early. Some of us felt strongly that new clause 52 should have been put to a vote, but we were told very clearly that when the Government new clauses were put to the Committee and accepted, that would be prevented. That would have made some sense if we had had no time in which to vote, but there was plenty of time. May we have a ruling from you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on why the procedure was dealt with in that way?
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. One of the problems that we experienced when the Committee stage finished early was that, because of the timetable motion, we could not continue to deal with amendments and new clauses which were quite properly tabled for discussion in Committee. Is there any possibility that the House could revisit the timetable motion, so that we can make proper progress on a constitutional Bill on the Floor of the House while we are here waiting to debate it?
Mr. Deputy Speaker: I entirely understand the point that the hon. Gentleman has made, which is firmly on the record, but I am sure he will appreciate that there is nothing that I can do to deal with it at this point.
John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I realise that you cannot comment now on procedures carried out when the House was in Committee, but may I ask you to request that the Speaker examine the Hansard record tomorrow and make a statement tomorrow about the procedure that has been applied? As a result of that procedure, a significant new clause tabled by a Back Bencher could not be put to a vote, although I believe it was the will of the House that that should happen. It would be helpful to have a ruling from the Speaker on the matter, or at least a statement that the procedure might be reformed in the future.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: I can say to the hon. Gentleman that Mr. Speaker always takes a very close interest in all the business of the House, but I will personally make sure that all these matters are drawn to his attention tomorrow morning.
Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Ind): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As a result of the procedural mix-up tonight, we have lost about six minutes during which time we could, and should, have been debating item 10 on the Order Paper on section 5 of the European Communities (Amendment) Act 1993, when arguments could have been made that we should not pass such motions, or move forward with that Act at all, until we have made progress on the common agricultural policy and root-and-branch reform of our relationship with the European Union. Will Mr. Speaker be minded to extend tonight's business by six minutes after 10 o'clock, so we that can make up that valuable time?
Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Will you confirm that if the hon. Gentleman were to look at the Order Paper, he would see that we have not yet reached that point on our agenda-and when we do so, who knows what might happen?
That the draft Communications Act 2003 (Disclosure of Information) Order 2010, which was laid before this House on 8 December, be approved. - (David Wright.)
That the draft Jobseeker's Allowance (Skills Training Conditionality Pilot) Regulations 2010, which were laid before this House on 15 December, be approved. - (David Wright.)
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