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House of Commons
Session 2000-01
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Standing Committee Debates
Finance Bill

Finance Bill

Standing Committee A

Thursday 26 April 2001

(Morning)

[Dr. Michael Clark in the Chair]

Finance Bill

(Except clauses 1 to 3 and 16 to 53 and

schedules 4 to 11)

9.30 am

The Chairman: Before I call the Minister, I will make an announcement to avoid points of order. It is traditional that Finance Bill Committee members are given green boxes in which to put their papers, which can be taken away and treated as souvenirs. Some people did not expect a Finance Bill this year, so the boxes have not been specially made and prepared as usual. However, we rallied round to produce the boxes and they are in the Room. They are special because they are red rather than green, and Committee members will be able to take away a unique souvenir, unlike the green ones that have been had year on year. I hope that there will be no points of order on that; boxes are available.

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde): On a point of order, Dr. Clark. This is on a different subject. In last year's Finance Bill proceedings, I fell foul of a ruling from you about electronic aids in Committee. So that no Committee member falls foul of the Chair, I should be grateful for your guidance on which electronic aids may be brought into Committee.

The Chairman: I shall come back to the right hon. Gentleman with a more complete ruling but, as I recall from meetings with the Chairman of Ways and Means, any electronic device on which one can see the clauses and schedules to the Bill is not allowed in the Committee Room. In fact, electronic devices such as laptops are not allowed in the Room at all. I will check with the Chairman of Ways and Means to find out if anything has changed in the past three months. I hope that, until I have double checked, the Committee will respect that ruling.

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Andrew Smith): I beg to move,

    That—

    (1) during proceedings on the Finance Bill (except Clauses 1 to 3 and 16 to 53 and Schedules 4 to 11) the Standing Committee do meet on Tuesdays at half-past Ten o'clock and at half-past Four o'clock and on Thursdays at half-past Nine o'clock and at half-past Four o'clock;

    (2) 18 sittings in all shall be allotted to the consideration of the Finance Bill by the Standing Committee;

    (3) the proceedings to be taken on the sittings shall be as shown in the second column of the Table below and shall be taken in the order so shown;

    (4) the proceedings which under paragraph (3) are to be taken on any sitting shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the time specified in the third column of the Table;

    (5) paragraph (3) does not prevent proceedings being taken (in the order shown in the second column of the Table) on any earlier sitting than that provided for under paragraph (3) if all previous proceedings have already been concluded.

TABLE

SittingProceedingsTime for conclusion of proceedings
1stClauses 4 to 6, Schedule 1, Clauses 7 to 9, Schedule 2, Clauses 10 to 15, Schedule 3, Clauses 54 to 56--
2ndClauses 4 to 6, Schedule 1, Clauses 7 to 9, Schedule 2, Clauses 10 to 15, Schedule 3, Clauses 54 to 56 (so far as not previously concluded)7 p.m.
3rdClause 57, Schedule 12, Clauses 58 to 61, Schedule 13, Clause 93, Clause 62, Schedule 141 p.m.
4thClause 63, Schedule 15, Clause 64, Schedule 16, Clause 65, Schedule 17, Clause 66, Schedule 187 p.m.
5thClause 67, Schedule 19, Clause 68, Schedule 20, Clause 69, Schedule 21, Clause 70, Schedules 22 and 23, Clause 71, Schedule 24, Clauses 72 and 7311.25 a.m.
6thClauses 74 and 75, Clause 104, Clause 76, Schedule 25, Clauses 77 and 787 p.m.
7thClause 79, Schedule 26, Clauses 80 and 81, Schedule 27, Clause 821 p.m.
8thClause 79, Schedule 26, Clauses 80 and 81, Schedule 27, Clause 82 (so far as not previously concluded)7 p.m.
9thClauses 83 to 8511.25 a.m.
10thClause 86, Schedule 287 p.m.
11thClauses 87 to 891 p.m.
12thClause 90, Schedule 29, Clauses 91 and 92, Clause 947 p.m.
13thClauses 95 and 9611.25 a.m.
14thClause 97, Schedule 30, Clause 987 p.m.
15thClause 99, Schedule 31, Clauses 100 to 103, Clause 1051 p.m.
16thNew Clauses, New Schedules, Clauses 106 and 107, Schedule 32, Clause 108
17thNew Clauses, New Schedules, Clauses 106 and 107, Schedule 32, Clause 108 (so far as not previously concluded)
18thNew Clauses, New Schedules, Clauses 106 and 107, Schedule 32, Clause 108 (so far as not previously concluded)7 p.m.

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Dr. Clark, and to know that last year's proceedings were so gripping that you could not resist coming back and that they have also attracted Mr. O'Hara and Mr. Hood. I know that you will all keep the Committee in good order. Apropos your earlier statement, it befits a radical and innovative Finance Bill such as this that we have the unique distinction of red boxes to take away.

I welcome the hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin), who is leading for the Opposition for the first time on a Finance Bill. Committee members look forward to the ingenuity of his arguments and the spirit of intellectual odyssey that infuses his speeches, which might be sufficient to distract his hon. Friends from their priority campaigning task—to win over every last marginal vote in the Tory leadership contest. We also look forward to the contributions from the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) and his hon. Friends. I am sure that their inventiveness, even on this Bill, will find all sorts of ways to tax and spend.

This is a considerably shorter Finance Bill than we have had in recent years. Thanks to the generosity of our programming motion, more than one third of the clauses have already been disposed of in the House. As I look around at my hon. Friends, I can see that they are bearing their tragic disappointment stoically. Undoubtedly the proceedings will bring interest and enlightenment, perhaps even excitement, to hon. Members' lives in the coming weeks. It will be so compelling that hon. Members will not want to be distracted by any other business.

I shall take a strategic overview of the Bill and the proceedings, and will be especially indebted to my hon. Friends, the Paymaster General—who gives her apologies today—the Financial Secretary and the Economic Secretary. I feel sure that the brilliance and vigour of their arguments will persuade even the Opposition of the excellence of the Bill. In the remote likelihood that my hon. Friends need any further persuasion, it will be provided ably by our excellent Whip. I welcome all hon. Members to the Committee and wish them successful and expeditious deliberations.

Mr. Oliver Letwin (West Dorset): That was a charming exposition from the Chief Secretary and we shall remember him for it as we continue our deliberations, which we expect, I fear, to be rather abbreviated. I will confine myself to speaking for a moment about the programming motion. It is unusual at this stage to talk about the subject for debate, but is worth doing so briefly on this occasion.

We are grateful to the Government for having programmed this phase of the proceedings generously and sensibly. Regrettably, we were not able to debate the new clauses that we wished to debate on the Floor of the House. Liberal Democrat Members join us in that thought. We considered the possibility of trying to accelerate our perusal of the clauses and schedules in the Bill in order to move onto the new clauses more expeditiously, and in the anticipation of an early announcement from the Prime Minister. However, we rejected that possibility and have chosen instead with the Government to proceed in the normal workmanlike fashion through the various clauses and schedules.

That means that we will not be able, in all likelihood, to debate important new clauses. However, Parliament should have the opportunity to go through the details of as much as possible of the Bill before we are cast into a general election. I hope, as we proceed, given the short time available to us, that all Members, as well as Ministers, will seek to investigate the Bill in the true spirit of a Committee stage—that is, looking at the details and not at broad general principles, and trying to get the best possible outcome in a number of detailed respects.

I fear that the amusements purveyed by the Chief Secretary were on this occasion purely amusements, because I do not think that anyone could take any actual interest in any of the remaining clauses as a matter of high politics or general policy. It is without exception the most boring Finance Bill that any Government have produced for a very long time. There is nothing wrong with that. In fact, it is much better that it should be so than that it should contain a large number of exciting items such as the aggregates levy, which we were forced to consider on the Floor of the House, which is a catastrophic measure. There is nothing totally catastrophic in the remaining 250-odd pages. It is, therefore, sad that we shall all be boring ourselves to extinction, but it is necessary, because there are details in the Bill that need addressing.

We must remind ourselves, somewhat piously, that the lives of many of our fellow citizens will be affected by this boring material, so it behoves us to attempt to get the Bill as right as we can. I hope that Ministers will exhibit the same flexibility as on the previous Finance Bill, where they allowed substantial amendments. That may be all the more difficult in view of the likely high speed of our proceedings.

I echo the Chief Secretary's sentiments in welcoming you to the Chair, Dr. Clark, but I cannot think that the reason advanced for your presence by the Chief Secretary is correct. It must be in the spirit of self-sacrifice that you offered your services on this occasion. The self-sacrifice is likely to be great, but brief.

 
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©Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 26 April 2001