Previous Section Index Home Page

Ruth Kelly: I appreciate my hon. Friend’s concern on behalf of his constituents. Whichever way the decision goes, he is clearly concerned about delay in the process
8 July 2008 : Column 1279
and its impact locally. It is important, however, that we rigorously analyse the consultation responses. We have an independent process for doing that, which will be peer reviewed to ensure that all the responses are taken into account. I have promised the House that I will give an update later this year. We have to look, too, into the impact on the demographic groups and equalities in the boroughs likely to be affected by any change. However, I shall pass on my hon. Friend’s comments about the detriment that his constituents are facing to those involved in the consultation, so that they can think about how best to improve the situation locally.

Christopher Fraser (South-West Norfolk) (Con): Will the Secretary of State join me in welcoming today’s decision by the east of England regional planning panel to recommend prioritisation of the A11 upgrade from Thetford to Fiveways corner? Will she also assure me that the Government will take account of the East of England regional assembly’s advice and confirm funding without delay, thus bringing an end to years of waiting for a dual carriageway linked to Norfolk?

Mr. Tom Harris: The Government have already pledged £8 billion to regional transport boards throughout England over a period of 10 years. We always accept and take seriously the advice of regional transport boards, and things will be no different in this case. However, it remains up to the regional transport board in the hon. Gentleman’s area to look into the priorities that it has already established, in the light of the refresh that will take place in the second half of this year.

T8. [216851] Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): Given that the Secretary of State was led to believe by the Greater Manchester passenger transport authority and the Association of Greater Manchester
8 July 2008 : Column 1280
Authorities that public consultation on the transport innovation fund bid and congestion charge would be in depth and extensive, does she share my concern and dismay that of the four roadshows planned for Tameside not one will be in Denton, the second largest town in the borough and a community directly affected by the M60 outer charging zone? Can she ensure that my constituents’ views will be sought by the powers-that-be in that process and use her good offices to ensure that we have a roadshow?

Ms Rosie Winterton: I take my hon. Friend’s points on board. Obviously the TIF bid presents an important opportunity for the people of Greater Manchester, but it also involves a very big decision, and it is vital for all those affected to be able to have their say. I am sure my hon. Friend will appreciate that it not for me to comment on each specific aspect of the consultation, but it is important for it to be full and thorough. I urge him to continue to pursue the matter with the Greater Manchester authorities.

Adam Price (Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr) (PC): Why do Network Rail’s plans for a western high-speed rail route end in Bristol rather than extending to Wales? Do the Government support that vision of a two-speed Britain?

Mr. Tom Harris: I do not think anyone could honestly claim that the Government have done anything other than put their money where their mouth is in developing the railway network. The hon. Gentleman’s constituents are set to benefit from the upgrading and restructuring of Reading station, which is costing more than £400 million. It will relieve a crucial bottleneck on the Great Western line, which is also where I expect the new inter-city express programme trains to be piloted from 2015.

8 July 2008 : Column 1281

Point of Order

3.36 pm

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is there any way in which, within the rules, I can convey the House’s congratulations to Sir Igor Judge, who has just been appointed Lord Chief Justice? As you will recall, Sir Igor was one of the judges who decided that MPs’ home addresses should be made publicly available. Does not this promotion illustrate the fact that one silly mistake need not wreck a promising professional career?

Mr. Speaker: I think the hon. Gentleman is trying to draw me into an argument. As for his first point about congratulations, he could always table an early-day motion, at which he is very expert nowadays.

8 July 2008 : Column 1282

Public Contracts (UK Tax Requirements)

3.37 pm

Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): I beg to move,

I am glad to have the opportunity to present a Bill that is motivated by fairness and justice—values that are, I am sure, important to every hon. Member. I am not the first to raise the matter in the House: my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) tabled early-day motion 1108, for which I commend him.

Let me begin by informing the House of the Bill’s bald and brief title. It is called the Public Contracts (UK Tax Requirements) Bill. If I wished to translate that into the vernacular, I could do no better than direct Members’ attention to an article by Professor Prem Sikka on the private finance initiative that appeared in the May edition of the magazine Chartist . Prem Sikka is professor of accounting at the University of Essex, and I am indebted to him and his research on the complex workings of the PFI for much of the illustrative detail that I shall use to explain the purposes of my Bill.

I referred to the vernacular. The main heading that appears over Professor Sikka's article reads “Biting the hand that feeds them”. As if that were not sufficiently clear, the subheading is even snappier and more explicit: “Prem Sikka on the tax avoidance scam operated by some PFI companies”. Not much ambiguity there! Furthermore, tax avoidance is readily understood by the general public, and, in the United Kingdom, condemned as being unfair and unjust.

That is important. One of the selling points about PFI among the general public is how easy it is to understand in terms of our own lives in a modern, property-owning democracy. The vast majority of people, when buying a house or a flat, take out a mortgage. They agree to pay off their loan plus interest over a period of years, according to the terms of the mortgage. That is why many of the opponents of PFI talk in terms of mortgaging the future of our country. Be that as it may, the concept of borrowing and paying off the loan plus interest has become acceptable to the vast majority of the British people, who, until comparatively recently, even trusted the lender to behave both honourably and competently.

The private finance initiative is a partnership between public services and private companies. Private companies are paid from the public purse to build, and often to maintain, projects for what may well be a period of 30 years—a bit like our mortgage, the general public might be thinking. The problem is that some companies that have won PFI contracts would appear to have transferred their ownership to a tax haven. In this way, they could avoid paying UK tax on their income and profits. What I find particularly outrageous—and I think the electorate do, too—is that these profits come from the public purse; in other words, the untaxed profits come from hard-earned taxpayers’ money.

8 July 2008 : Column 1283

The real difficulty is that there is a lack of transparency, and that currently those awarding contracts in the public-private partnerships or PFIs are not required to request sufficient explanation and detail about the tax arrangements of the companies bidding for these contracts. We all understand that large companies will have projects and businesses in many different countries, but the British public want to be sure that their tax money is not going to fund schemes by paying companies that are somehow not paying their full dues in UK tax. There will always be a suspicion that an investment company such as 3i Infrastructure Ltd—which has a 50 per cent. equity stake in Alpha Schools, a company formed to bid for a £134 million project to build and refurbish 11 schools in the Scottish highlands—has a specific reason for being registered in Jersey. A company spokeswoman is reported as saying:

Is this really sufficient to allay the public’s fears? I suggest not, and that is why we need this ten-minute Bill.

It is not sufficient that Treasury rules state that Government Departments should pay attention to the “propriety of tax arrangements” of companies involved in public-private partnerships or PFI deals. To reassure the public that such firms are paying the appropriate UK tax for the money that they make on public-private partnerships, we must require firms to make more information available. It is important to note that these proposals do not impose any additional costs on companies, as they already have the information that is required.

A few minutes ago, I gave what I described as the “bald and brief title” of my Bill. Let me now describe what the Bill would mean in practice. It would mean that public contracts could not be awarded to companies
8 July 2008 : Column 1284
or investors resident outside the UK for tax purposes. It would mean that companies would be forbidden to transfer any aspect of PFI contracts to a location outside the UK. It would mean that all companies bidding for public contracts would have to include a public account of tax payments for the preceding five years. This account would have to include copies of their tax returns and a table showing the jurisdictions that they operate from, together with sales, costs, profits, employees, liabilities and assets in each.

In conclusion, my Bill is not only designed to tidy up an accounting anomaly. It is, rather, motivated by a sense of the unfairness and injustice that can be allowed by the current arrangements, and, perhaps just as importantly, by a wish to restore the public’s confidence that the accounting is transparent and that untaxed profits cannot come from hard-earned taxpayers’ money.

Regardless of what anyone thinks of the underlying principles of PFI, it cannot have been the intention of those who originally gave us the concept to have allowed such tax-funded tax avoidance, but that, in effect, is what we have. This, surely, is a blatant example of the law of unexpected consequences. Having had it brought to our attention, it is surely our duty to put right what has gone wrong, and to replace injustice with justice and inequity with fairness. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Nia Griffith, Gordon Banks, Ms Karen Buck, Mr. David Chaytor, Michael Connarty, Linda Gilroy, Kelvin Hopkins, Mr. Kevan Jones, Ian Lucas, Rob Marris, Ann McKechin and Dr. Alan Whitehead.

Public Contracts (UK Tax Requirements)

Nia Griffith accordingly presented a Bill to place certain requirements relating to payment of tax in the UK on companies bidding for public contracts; to prohibit the transfer of such contracts overseas; to require companies bidding for public contracts to provide certain information relating to tax payments; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 17 October, and to be printed [Bill 135].

8 July 2008 : Column 1285

Orders of the Day

Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) (No. 2) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

Question, That the Bill be now read a Second time, put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 56 (Consolidated Fund Bills), and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Question, That the Bill be now read the Third time , put forthwith, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.

8 July 2008 : Column 1286

Criminal Evidence (Witness Anonymity) Bill (Allocation of Time)

3.47 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Maria Eagle): I beg to move, That the following provisions shall apply to the Criminal Evidence (Witness Anonymity) Bill:

8 July 2008 : Column 1287

Next Section Index Home Page