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House of Lords

Tuesday, 7th December 1999.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Derby.

House of Lords: Finance Bill Discussion

Lord Jacobs asked the Leader of the House:

    What steps she proposes to take, following the passing of the House of Lords Act 1999, to improve the procedures for debating the Budget and the Finance Bill in this House.

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington): My Lords, I am sorry if I disappoint the noble Lord, but the House of Lords Act has no bearing on the position of this House with respect to taxation. Budget resolutions are passed in another place on the day of the Budget and have effect immediately. Debate in this House is not part of that process. As the noble Lord is probably aware, the Finance Bill is debated in this House on Second Reading, although other stages are taken formally. There are no plans to change this arrangement.

Lord Jacobs: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for her reply. Does she agree that there is great expertise in this House on economic and financial matters which is rather wasted when the Finance Bill is debated on the same day as the Bill is finally passed? Will the noble Baroness examine the possibility of having an informal debate on the Finance Bill soon after it is published in order that the ideas emanating from this House to improve the Bill can be considered adequately in another place?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord that there is great expertise in this House on many of these matters, including previous Chancellors of the Exchequer--I am glad to see the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, in his place. On the other hand, it is the situation--and has been since the 1911 Parliament Act--that the Budget resolutions are not debated in this House. I would always hesitate, even on an informal basis, to give any commitment about other forms of debate without consultation through the usual channels and in the first instance with my noble friend the Chief Whip.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, is the noble Baroness the Leader of the House aware that while I strongly believe that this House can and should take up a much more vigorous place in the constitution now that the House of Lords Act has been passed, I do not believe that it would be right at this stage to consider unbundling the 1911 Act provisions as the Question suggests? I am glad that the noble Baroness agrees that there is considerable expertise in this House on

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financial matters. Therefore, as the noble Lord, Lord Jacobs, said, we should use it. Would it be in line with the new conditions in this House to change practice in future so that we have two days of debate on the Finance Bill, the first day on the Second Reading and the second for the remaining stages where amendments could be taken and dealt with; and to take steps to avoid that happening on a steamy Friday in July?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, if the noble Lord looks back at immediate history and recalls his time as a chief whip, he will recollect that the steamy Fridays in July were usually agreed between the usual channels as being precisely the time when the House wants to deal with immediate legislation rather than detailed provisions of the Finance Bill. As the noble Lord said, any different way of dealing with the Finance Bill would be part of a reorganisation of the 1911 Act. The noble Lord will know that the Finance Bill is customarily certified by Madam Speaker as a money Bill and therefore not susceptible to further proceedings in this House.

Lord Barnett: My Lords, I declare a past interest, having put a few Finance Bills on the statute book. Most tend to finish up being badly drafted--from all governments. Amendments to Finance Bills in Committee upstairs in another place tend to be put down by both parties in a party political manner. Consequently, serious scrutiny does not take place.

The noble Lord, Lord Jacobs, has a serious point; so does the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, although he did not take it up when he was in charge. Your Lordships' House has a great deal of expertise which could be used to advantage to put better drafted Finance Bills on the statute book. I understand the problems to which my noble friend refers. However, would it not be sensible at least to consider whether there is another way--by ad hoc methods, or whatever--to deal with the issue? I see that the Deputy Chief Whip is already shaking his head; he must have seen the Treasury brief. There is a serious problem which needs to be carefully considered. It should be possible to put better Finance Bills on the statute book without the party politics. Will my noble friend at least reconsider her Answer?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I do not think I shall reconsider my Answer which was given in the context of changes that might be made in the light of the House of Lords Act. I apologise to my noble friend Lord Barnett. My line of vision was not sufficiently acute to see him sitting there and to pay tribute to his expertise in my original supplementary reply.

I can only reiterate that there are people with enormous expertise and government experience in this area. I am sure that their contributions on broad economic policy as well as the details of financial Acts are extremely valuable. As I said to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, it is difficult in the present context to see a way of developing this within the bounds of the

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Finance Act. However, these may be relevant questions when we consider the long-term changes which may come about in this House.

Lord Lawson of Blaby: My Lords, given the financial expertise which the noble Baroness has been kind enough to acknowledge exists in this House, and consistent with her earlier reply, will she ensure that early in the new year there is a full debate on European taxation so that this House can give full support to the Government in their efforts to prevent the European Commission and other European countries imposing a misbegotten withholding tax on this country with threats that unanimity in fiscal and taxation matters will be removed? I am sure that she could use her considerable influence to procure a debate which would be of great benefit, not least to the Government.

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord for his support in this difficult area of policy. As I said earlier, and as he will know, in this House the timing of debates is always agreed through the usual channels. He will also be aware that his party has regular positions for debates on Wednesday afternoons and, judging by the response from around the House the subject would be popular should he propose it for that slot.

Lord Taverne: My Lords, I am sure that the noble Baroness has read in full the proceedings of the joint pre-legislation Standing Committee on the Financial Services and Markets Bill and will have seen the disproportionate contribution made to the debate by Members of this House, in particular the chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Burns. Does that not reinforce the point, made from several sides, that as regards at least the technical issues in the Finance Bill there should be an opportunity for this House to make its expertise felt?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I can only reiterate that I acknowledge that expertise. Although I must confess that I have not read every part of the report to which the noble Lord refers, I know that the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Burns, and colleagues from this House was extremely important. Perhaps without breaching any confidences I may say that that was one of the reasons why my noble friend the Chief Whip, in consultation with other people in the usual channels, was anxious to see this House properly represented on that committee and would be so again in similar circumstances. As a result of the points made from different parts of the House, I suggest that if Members want a broader context for discussing the issues, it may be relevant to refer them to the Procedure Committee or to those parts of the House's administration which discuss, for example, ad hoc Select Committees. The subject might be most appropriate to that.

Baroness Hogg: My Lords, will the noble Baroness accept the precedent established in 1995 and 1996 for earlier debates; that is, shortly after the Budget under

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discussion? Will she do so particularly in the light of the comment, made in 1996 from the Labour Benches by the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, that he very much hoped that the precedent would be made permanent?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, frankly, I can only repeat what I said in answer to the other questions. If there is a feeling around the House that the issue should be addressed in the way the noble Baroness, Lady Hogg, suggests, there are appropriate ways of doing it.

National Curriculum: Non-religious Teaching

2.45 p.m.

Lord Dormand of Easington asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What provision is made in the revised national curriculum for the inclusion of the non-religious point of view.

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone): My Lords, the school curriculum requires schools to offer a broad and balanced curriculum which promotes the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils. Opportunities exist within the curriculum for teaching about a breadth of religious and non-religious views. The Government have no plans to change the status of religious education or to remove the statutory framework for it.

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