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Lord Goodhart: My Lords, I was well aware that it did not apply to Northern Ireland. It was simply that in this age of saving paper I decided to save some by not putting down an amendment which would have been in identical terms, would have been equally long and would have applied to Northern Ireland, because the main purpose was to raise this for discussion. Any discussion relating to Great Britain applies in exactly the same terms to Northern Ireland.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I knew that it could not possibly have been an oversight or a technical deficiency, but that it was a wisely considered

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and considerably reflected-on decision not to introduce into the House an amendment that was defective, knowing it that would have to be withdrawn. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, on exhibiting his drafting skills in order to ensure that he has good grounds for taking back his amendment, given that he has conceded that he has good grounds.

I have advanced six reasons. It was worth putting those on the record because they are important issues. It is clear that different companies are coming from different perspectives, as illustrated by the fact that one company, QXL, was unhappy with this and another company, NTL, supported the proposal. We believe that they cancelled each other out.

For all those reasons--and I hope because of the very full answer I have been able to give tonight since we could not do this at Committee stage--I would ask the noble Lords to withdraw their amendments.

Lord Goodhart: My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister for the full and detailed answer which she gave. It is clearly right that we should have had this discussion tonight because it is a most important issue. It will affect a large number of companies in what is a very important sector of our economy. It will involve many hundreds of millions of pounds. Having listened to the explanation which the Minister gave, I must say that my initial reaction to it certainly is that NTL is correct and QXL is wrong on this, that the Government's proposals are more in the interests of both the Government and the companies involved in this field than the alternative I put forward, which is to charge NICs on the value at the date of grant.

However, one aspect remains with which the Minister did not deal in great detail. It is now clear that the form in which this legislation was introduced in 1999 has created very serious problems. There are important drawbacks for companies which granted options between 6th April 1999 and 18th May 2000.

It could be said that those companies did not need to grant options, but in many cases options were granted pursuant to a contract of employment entered into earlier or have become so central to this sector of the economy that companies would have been unable to employ people without. I know that NTL did not grant options during that period, but it is clear that some companies did.

In that case, would it not be possible to consider giving some form of relief against the excessive liabilities faced by the companies which granted options during that period?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, for obvious reasons, including the fact that the subject is beyond my normal range, I should be loath to give any such assurances. However, I repeat in good faith the offer I made to arrange a meeting with the noble Lords, Lord Goodhart and Lord Higgins, to discuss the issue with the relevant officials. They will be able to have a much more informed discussion than I could possibly have

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at this time of night on a subject that is technical but none the less of major significance to the companies involved.

Lord Goodhart: My Lords, I am grateful and should provisionally like to accept that invitation. I should like to discuss the matter with those who briefed me on the subject in order to see whether they believe that there is an issue worth debating. I believe that they will.

Lord Higgins: My Lords, we ran into similar technical problems last year with the IT industry and I recall an extensive discussion with the individual groups concerned under the inspiration of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. It might be helpful if a similar meeting could be arranged, not least because the representations we are receiving are on both sides.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, no, I would not want to go that far. I am happy to hear their voices through the opinions put by your Lordships, but the constituency of such a meeting would produce major problems. That would not be appropriate. However, I am happy to offer a meeting in order to explore some of the technical issues. If, on reflection, noble Lords believe that questions are unanswered or that there are some partial moves that the Government might make--no commitment as to the outcomes--your Lordships would have the opportunity to pursue them.

Lord Goodhart: My Lords, I am happy to take up that invitation. Provisionally, I shall accept it and, subject to confirmation, I shall contact the Minister accordingly. In view of that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 78 [Liability of earner for secondary contributions: Great Britain]:

[Amendment No. 135 not moved.]

Clause 79 [Contributions in respect of benefits in kind: Northern Ireland]:

[Amendments Nos. 136 to 138 not moved.]

Baroness Hollis of Heigham moved Amendment No. 139:

    Page 86, line 7, at end insert--

("( ) In paragraph 8(1)(ia) of that Schedule (power to provide by regulations for repayment in prescribed cases of the whole or a part of a Class 1B contribution), after "part" there shall be inserted "of a Class 1A or".").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Higgins moved Amendment No. 140:

    Page 86, line 14, leave out ("with 6th April 2000") and insert ("on 6th April of the year after the date of commencement of this Act, or, if this Act comes into force on various dates, the earliest of those dates,").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise briefly to move the amendment. The group of amendments is related to contributions in respect of benefits in kind

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in Northern Ireland. I am not sure whether a similar passage appears in--perhaps I may have the Minister's attention.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I was taking advice from my learned friend, the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh.

10.45 p.m.

Lord Higgins: My Lords, this requires very little learning. It is an extremely simple point in one sense in that it appears to introduce retrospectively the provisions of Clause 79, which is concerned with national insurance contributions in respect of benefits in kind for Northern Ireland. It states:

    "This section shall have effect in relation to the tax year beginning with 6th April 2000 and subsequent tax years".

However, it is already mid June. I am not in the least clear as to why this particular measure is so urgent that it should be backdated to 6th April 2000. I do not believe that that would be the normal practice. Similarly, Amendment No. 141, which refers to subsection (8), states:

    "Regulations made by statutory instrument under any power conferred by virtue of this section may be made so as to have retrospective effect in relation to any time in the tax year in which they are made".

I have the greatest difficulty in recollecting any piece of legislation which sets out in terms that it will have retrospective effect. That is something which, generally speaking, we are reluctant to do unless there is a good reason. However, no doubt the noble Baroness can provide us with one. I beg to move.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, in answer to the noble Lord's last question my friends on the Front Bench refer me to the Sea Fishing Grants (Charges) Bill. Therefore, there are plenty of precedents such as that. I have a long answer and a short answer, but I do not believe that your Lordships want a long answer tonight. The amendments before us relate only to Northern Ireland. Clause 79 mirrors the GP provisions in Clause 75 in Northern Ireland and the NIC scheme is UK-wide. Therefore, my remarks make no specific reference to Northern Ireland.

If the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, is seriously worried about this matter, my brief answer is that, given that we are proposing to arrange a meeting, I shall be happy to add it to the agenda. However, if your Lordships wish me to offer the House a fuller reply at this time of night on the amendment as tabled, I shall be happy to do so; but I suspect that the amendment as tabled is not the substance of the amendment to which the noble Lord spoke, which essentially relates to the Northern Ireland situation. Therefore, I am happy to read into the record a reply to the amendment as tabled, but it would not be a reply to the speeches made. It may be

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that, in the light of those circumstances, the noble Lord would prefer to put the matter on the shopping list for our meeting.

Lord Higgins: My Lords, I am puzzled as to why the noble Baroness's answer does not refer to the speech which I made. The normal procedure in this House is that it should. However, so far as concerns the amendment, I believe that what I said was exactly the same as what the amendment does; namely, it queries why there should be a retrospective effect. However, if the noble Baroness's reply does not seem relevant, perhaps it would be easier if she wrote to me and, if necessary, we can consider the matter at Third Reading--assuming that no one votes me down in trying to do that. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 141 not moved.]

Schedule 9 [Repeals and revocations]:

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