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I do not think that identifying the individuals concerned will be especially difficult. A statutory declaration is already made for the requirements of the annual minerals raised inquiry. As the information is already gathered by the Government, we will have a pretty good idea of the organisations involved, so compiling the register will be relatively straightforward. The list drawn up for the purposes of the levy will be slightly different because of the exemptions, but compiling the list of who should be affected will not be difficult.
Mr. Letwin: The Financial Secretary's use of words was interesting: he referred to the position if Mr. Jones "intends commercially to exploit" an aggregate. However, that is not what Mr. Jones does; he wants to cut rock to produce dimension stone, which is exempt. That brings us back to the core question. If he also produces
Mr. Timms: That is a matter for the commissioners. The issue is whether an individual appears in a register, not whether that individual pays tax. Does the hon. Gentleman assume that anyone thought fit to be included on the register would automatically pay tax? That is not so: the tax will be based per tonne on aggregate commercially exploited. If the individual involved commercially exploits--sells--aggregate produced as a by-product of his primary activity, that will be taxed, as it should be.
Mr. Letwin: Is the Financial Secretary saying that in the case of Mr. Jones and similar cases it is possible that someone who will never be taxed will nevertheless be registered and, presumably, inspected? Is it possible that people who never produce anything taxable and never intended to produce anything taxable but who appeared to the commissioners to be intending to produce something taxable will be subject to intrusive inspection?
Mr. Timms: It is certainly conceivable under the terms of subsection (6) that someone who is thought by the commissioners to be intending commercially to exploit aggregate will be included in the register but never pay tax because he does not commercially exploit aggregate.
The hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton anticipated correctly that there would be a regulatory impact assessment. It is available for inspection--I think that it is on the web. The analysis set out in some detail therein indicates that the total set-up costs to the industry will be approximately one ha'penny per tonne extracted; and total recurring costs will be roughly equivalent to 0.3p per tonne extracted. Those are modest sums. I assure him that our aim in all the consultations with the industry as the regulations are drawn up will be to ensure that the burden imposed by compliance with the requirements is minimal.
The hon. Member for West Dorset appears to have explicitly repudiated the landfill tax. We are witnessing a significant change in the Conservatives' position on environmental taxation. Leading figures in past Conservative Governments believed that there was a role for environmental taxation and most people believe that
It is unusual for me to be able to quote in support of the Government's actions the Council for the Protection of Rural England, but its position is clear. It strongly supports the proposed aggregates levy and the steps that we are taking to use the tax system to promote environmental benefit. The CPRE says that the aggregates levy will help to ensure that the price of primary aggregates
Many people, including those who support the Conservative party, agree with that view. I urge the hon. Gentleman to be cautious about repudiating environmental tax measures introduced by the previous Government, because many feel that they were appropriate and that others, such as the aggregates levy, are needed.
Mr. Letwin: I am astonished and delighted by the latitude that has been allowed to the Financial Secretary and me to range way beyond the scope of clause 24. It would therefore be wrong of me to dilate at length now, but I want to respond to the general points that he has just made and then return to the points that relate more narrowly to the clause.
The principle of environmental charges--genuine charges that are not mishandled into pieces of taxation behind which lies a fiscal aim--is one thing. There is much to be said for making polluters pay through charges that are genuinely not abusable into fiscal measures. However, as the Government's actions in respect of the landfill tax clearly show, that is not the position when a Government enter power who intend to use every means of taxation at their disposal and to invent means of taxation not hitherto at their disposal. I again remind the Financial Secretary that he did not reduce national insurance contributions when he increased the landfill tax.
However, whatever else one thinks of the landfill tax, given that it was a tax--the thing to which I object--as opposed to a charge, it was at least fairly clear and transparent. That is a major difference between the landfill tax and the legislation before us now. It is a principle of taxation that it should be simple, clear and transparent, but this measure is not simple, clear or transparent.
Mr. Edward Davey: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it would be possible for the Government to hypothecate all revenues from the tax to a fund or to rebates? They could make it clear in the Bill that they have no intention to raise revenue from the tax.
Mr. Letwin: That is an ingenious suggestion, although my hon. Friends and I have not had time to reflect on it. The proposal may have occurred to the hon. Gentleman as an inspiration of the moment. It would involve a sort of Rooker-Wise amendment to environmental taxes, which would turn them by law into crypto-charges. We might be beginning to get somewhere with such a proposal, which could provide some common ground. I do not know whether it will do so, as we need to think about it, but I assure him that the Financial Secretary will not support an amendment that would introduce such a change. It would be more than his job is worth to do so. He would be out of Great George street before he could say "Jack Robinson", or, indeed, "Geoffrey Robinson".
Mr. Letwin: Exactly. My hon. Friend is right: the Financial Secretary wants the money, and he wants a lot more of it later, when he wants to claim that he is doing something innocuous in relation to something for which legislation has already been introduced. In this case, it is called the aggregates levy, but there is also the climate change levy and so on. The hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) is lobbing a huge grenade into the Government's programme. I look forward to debating in Committee a series of amendments such as that which he proposes. In fact, if we put our minds to the proposal, we might spend most of the Committee stage debating it. I think that that would be much better than discussing most of the rest of the Bill.
I apologise for that intrusion on your good will, Mrs. Heald. Having responded to the Financial Secretary's goading, I shall return to his remarks about the clause. I am genuinely perplexed about the register. I did not understand how perplexed I was until I heard his remarks. I do not know why the register is being introduced, and he did not tell us why, although he suggested that it was entirely innocuous. He did not say that a person's inclusion on the register has no impact on
However, let me deal with the more charitable hypothesis that, despite the Financial Secretary's unguarded remarks, the register has a purpose and is not being introduced merely to create an extra clause. If that is the case, we must speculate on its purpose. I do not know about that, although I take it that the point of including people on a register is to get them into the Weberian grip of bureaucracy. Bureaucracies are about information, and that is what registers provide. Once people are on the register, they are in the hands of the bureaucracy. In other words, one is a datum on the bureaucracy's data sheets. It knows about us. What is the consequence of the bureaucracy's knowing about people? It comes to visit them. It inspects and looks into them. They are part of what it regards as the possibly taxable community.