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Lord Haskel: My Lords, I believe that some sports have converted to metric units. Certainly that is true in

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the case of rugby. As far as concerns roads, it appears to be the overwhelming wish that road signs remain in miles. Britain has a special derogation for that purpose.

Lord Monson: My Lords, the Minister has given an assurance that shopkeepers who continue to use imperial measurements will not locked up. Can he also give an assurance that they will not be fined?

Lord Haskel: My Lords, traditionally the use of fines is directed towards those shopkeepers who intend to mislead or defraud the public in some way by mixing up the measurements that they use.

Lord Chesham: My Lords, is the Minister aware that when Australia went metric a number of farmers said that the only consequence of metrication was that their properties were half the size and twice as far away from town as they were before?

Lord Haskel: My Lords, I am sure that British farmers will take careful note of that.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that old habits die hard and that over 50 per cent. of the population, even among the young, still think in terms of imperial measures? Has my noble friend heard the story of the old lady who went to the market and asked for a pound of potatoes only to be told by the shopkeeper, "They're kilos now, madam"? She replied, "All right, I'll have a pound of kilos".

Lord Haskel: My Lords, I have not heard that story. Certainly old habits do die hard, but in schools and most education institutions metrication is pretty standard. I believe that our children and grandchildren are more at home with metric units of measure than we are.

Tax Returns: Self-Assessment

3.26 p.m.

Lord Newby asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What proportion of taxpayers had submitted their self-assessment tax returns by 31st January 1998.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, 8 million taxpayers sent their self-assessment tax returns in by the 31st January deadline. This represents almost 90 per cent. of those who received a return, which is a very satisfying achievement in this first year of the new system.

Lord Newby: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. Despite the relatively high proportion of forms already submitted, there are still a large number outstanding. I understand that, of those forms that have been submitted, a very large number contain errors and that at some point all those people must pay a penalty. In those circumstances, will the Minister urge the Inland Revenue to adopt a lenient policy to avoid many hundreds of thousands of taxpayers being asked to pay a penalty simply because they have found the

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introduction of the new system and the need to fill in for the first time that most daunting piece of paper--a tax form--both difficult and confusing?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, it is not the case that all the people who have not sent in their tax returns will pay a fine of £100. First, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury has made it clear that in cases where there are relatively minor errors taxpayers will be given 14 days to correct them without any penalty being imposed. Secondly, it has been made clear that no penalties will exceed the amount of tax due so that if, for example, £50 were outstanding there would be a penalty of only £50. Thirdly, we understand that a very considerable number of taxpayers, including the self-employed, have sent money in advance even before they completed their tax returns. They shall certainly not be subject to penalties.

Lord Peston: My Lords, can my noble friend enlighten noble Lords on what all the fuss is about? I suppose that, like me, my noble friend submitted his tax form on time. I believe that it is an easy and straightforward form--certainly much easier to fill in than completing a lottery ticket. Can my noble friend take into consideration the view that those who have sent in their forms on time and have already received--certainly in my case--too large a tax Bill do not wish to see leniency shown to those who have not done what appears to be perfectly reasonable?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, my noble friend is quite right to assume that I sent in my tax return on time. Indeed, I sent it in before the 30th September deadline, which meant that the Revenue did the calculation for me. I found that I was one penny out. I cannot remember in which direction the penny was, but I know that very reasonably and properly the Inland Revenue did not send me either a cheque or a demand for one penny. The change to a self-assessment system is one that avoids many of the difficulties which particularly the self-employed have suffered in previous years with estimated assessments--the requirement for detailed accounts and a confrontational aspect to tax collection. I hope that that will at least diminish, if not disappear.

Lord Taverne: My Lords, as it is important that a tax system should be as acceptable as possible, or--to be more realistic perhaps--should achieve the least degree of unacceptability, does the Minister agree that a draconian and rigid approach to the introduction of a new system would not just be unfair in many cases, but it would be unwise, and, in the long run, might cost the Revenue dear?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I would agree, but that is a hypothetical question. I do not accept that what has been introduced is a draconian or rigid system. All the penalties which now apply to late or inaccurate returns, including those relating to interest payments for late payments, have been in existence for a number of years. The self-assessment system has been within public knowledge for a number of years now. It has

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been extensively piloted in Southampton and Leicester. It has not been found to be significantly less acceptable than the system which it supplanted.

Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: My Lords, as my noble friend will be aware, with the introduction of self-assessment the Inland Revenue has taken the opportunity to move the basis of assessment for the self-employed from prior year to current year. When that was announced originally, the impression was given that that change would be tax neutral. While that will be the case in the future, will my noble friend tell the House whether, in the current year, additional taxes will be raised on the self-employed, and, if so, the extent of them?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, my noble friend is of course right that the change to self-assessment has happened concurrently with the important transitional year of the current-year basis of assessment for the self-employed, although the two are not necessarily connected. He is also right when he says that in the year in which the change takes place the Revenue's cash flow will benefit and the self-employed will therefore suffer. Apart from that transitional year, the effect of the current-year basis of assessment is, as he rightly recognises, tax neutral. The same tax will be paid on the same amount of profit.

Competition Bill [H.L.]

3.32 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Simon of Highbury): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the amendments for the Report stage be marshalled and considered in the following order:

Clauses 1 to 3, Clauses 17 to 19, Schedules 1 to 4, Clauses 4 to 16, Schedule 5, Clauses 20 to 24, Schedule 6, Clauses 25 to 44, Schedule 7, Clauses 45 to 48, Schedule 8, Clause 49, Schedule 9, Clauses 50 to 52, Schedule 10, Clause 53, Schedule 11, Clauses 54 to 69, Schedules 12 to 14, Clauses 70 and 71.--(Lord Simon of Highbury.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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Greater London Authority (Referendum) Bill

Read a third time, and passed, and returned to the Commons with amendments.

Human Rights Bill [H.L.]

3.33 p.m.

Read a third time.

Lord Campbell of Alloway moved Amendment No. 1:


Before Clause 1, insert the following new clause--

Special provision for religious bodies

(". Section 4(2A) of this Act makes special provision for religious bodies.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the question is whether special provision should be made for religious bodies, as proposed in Amendment No. 8 to Clause 4, incorporating subsection (2A) as stated in Amendment No. 1. Until the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lichfield spoke in Committee, no consideration appeared to have been given to any need for some special provision, by the Government, by the General Synod of the Church of England or, indeed, by anyone else.

In his speech in Committee on 24th November the right reverend Prelate--this is the nub and essence of the amendment--stated:


    "I greatly regret that I am not comforted by the remarks of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. He seems to have rather deliberately left out the question of religious freedom. I am concerned that a very strict, rather totalitarian view of 'public' is endangering the freedom of choice of very large numbers of people in this country who see, as part of their democratic freedom, the freedom to have their children educated in a particular type of school without so-called public rights being used against that very freedom. At Second Reading I was glad to speak on behalf of the Churches very much in favour of the Human Rights Bill. But if a sense of rights is being introduced in this total kind of way, at the expense of the choice of individual families, then something very serious is being lost. Church schools in my diocese welcome in considerable numbers children of other faiths. That is seen as a freedom that we respect in their case. I hope that we shall resist any infringement, on this very delicate matter, of the religious nurture of the young in our country.".--[Official Report, 24/11/97; col.799.]

In the wake of that speech I had some private discussions in the Bishop's Upper Room, which prompted my Amendment No. 24 discussed on Report on 3rd December. The amendment was supported by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lichfield and my noble friend the Duke of Norfolk. I spoke to Amendment No. 24 and I supported Amendment No. 23, tabled by my noble friend Lady Young.

Your Lordships gave leave for me to withdraw Amendment No. 24 and to return on Third Reading on the undertaking, which I gave, to study with care what had been said in the debate. Having read the Official Report it became wholly apparent that Amendment No. 24 was not well conceived. It sought exemption

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from Clause 6--the public authorities provision. It is now well understood why the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon abstained on that Division.

The amendments to which I speak today seek to reflect the substance of the speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lichfield. They have the support of my noble friend the Duke of Norfolk who cannot attend because he is abroad, the noble Lord, Lord Jakobovits, and the two right reverend Prelates who have kindly set down their names.

Although there is a distinct divergence in concept between the amendments to which I speak and Amendment No. 6 in the name of my noble friend Lady Young, there is no inherent conflict or mutual inconsistency. Each is freestanding on its own merits. I respectfully canvass the support of my noble friend and that of noble Lords who propose to support her amendment.

As regards Amendment No. 11, which stands in the name of my noble friend Lord Renton and which is grouped with my amendment, I say with respect--and I mean it--that we are not concerned with religious courts or with corporate religious bodies and the exclusion of such under Clause 6. That matter was dealt with some time ago and those Divisions were lost. But we are concerned with the exclusion of the fast track in proceedings in a court under Clause 4. Amendment No. 11, although grouped with my amendment, is also freestanding.

The concept of Amendment No. 1 is similar to that of the amendment prompted by the right reverend Prelate. It is to provide an all-creed exemption for religious bodies from the fast track procedure by removing the discretion of the court to make a declaration of incompatibility under Clause 4. However, the discretion of the court is always preserved to refer any alleged breach of the convention to the commission or to the European Court of Human Rights if so advised in accordance with extant procedures.

The concept of my noble friend's Amendment No. 6 differs. It is to introduce a statutory defence where a question has arisen in connection with a convention right for determination under the Act. The effect of that would not only afford exemption from the fast track procedure but also inhibit the court from referring such questions to the commission or to the ECHR. It is assuredly a wide and fundamental exclusion from the jurisdiction of our courts. There is within it a difficulty, as anyone conversant with the convention would understand. It provides a statutory defence in a Bill which does not as such incorporate the rights and obligations under the convention. Therefore, there is to some degree a difficulty in that concept.

Under the treaty obligations, all bodies, whether religious or not, are subject to the jurisdiction of the commission and the court, to which there is direct access having exhausted our domestic procedures. All bodies, whether religious or not, all persons acting under their authority, are subject to our criminal law and to our civil law. Under the Bill, if in any proceedings the submission is made that certain conduct, albeit justifiable according to our domestic law, constitutes a

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breach of the convention, the court has the discretion as to whether to refer the convention issue to the commission and to the ECHR for adjudication or to make a declaration of incompatibility which triggers the ministerial remedial action to amend our domestic law by affirmative resolution of both Houses.

However, under the amendment to which I speak, in this context, if a submission is made concerned with any spiritual matter--examples of which are given in the amendment--the discretion to make a declaration of incompatibility under Clause 4 is removed. However, the court may, if so advised, formulate and refer the convention issue to the commission and the court of justice. It will be for the court to judge on the facts of each case and to consider whether the amendment applies and whether the submission as to alleged infringement is of sufficient cogency as to warrant such a reference. It will not be for the court to determine the submission as to whether the alleged breach is well founded or not. It is wholly accepted that it is not the business of the Secretary of State to designate religious bodies. It would be a matter for the court on the facts of each case and on the evidence adduced. It is accepted that there can be no finite exclusive definition of spiritual matters and examples have been given.

According to Rolv Ryssdal, a distinguished and long-serving member of the court at Strasbourg, the convention was not intended to destroy the richness of our cultural heritage and other variety of life found in Europe by imposing rigid uniform solutions, but to recognise the right of free societies, within limits, to choose for themselves human rights policies which suit them best. There are 40 signatory states. The amendment to which I speak will inhibit the imposition of a rigid uniform solution in this context in the United Kingdom in a situation where I say unashamedly that uniformity should never be sought and should never be sought to be imposed.

We have heard much about Articles 8 to 10 relating to the right to respect for private and family life, freedom of thought, conscience and religion and freedom of expression. In that context, your Lordships may well believe that alleged breaches of the convention by all religious bodies and persons exercising functions under the authority of such institutions should not be a matter for adjudication in our courts and tribunals, but by the commission and the court of justice, multinational judicial bodies to which there is direct access under our treaty obligations.

Your Lordships may also believe that it is neither appropriate, acceptable nor necessary that our courts should make declarations in this context so as to trigger remedial measures by affirmative resolutions.

In this all-creed context, is it really the business of government to seek to devise and impose upon our country some rigid, uniform solution, some ethical moral code, based upon ad hoc case-by-case decisions of our courts and tribunals? Is it really the proper business of courts? As to that, there is considerable doubt about how our courts would approach the matter. What would happen in a family situation under Article 8?

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On that, as I said on Report, the opinion on the approach as between the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, differs and there can be no certainty. To save time, I shall not repeat the matter. But we are predominantly a Christian society tolerant of all manner of creeds, dissenters, agnostics and atheists. Each religion has its own dogma, teaching, rituals, ceremonies and discipline according to its own concept of the universal grace of God. Each religion has its own concept of respect for family life. I give that as but one example.

As the noble Lord, Lord Williams, truly said on 9th December, families in our society vary infinitely; the Government are not in the business of preaching or prescribing.

This is no exercise in confrontation with the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor or with noble Lords on the Benches opposite. It is but an effort at persuasion as to how your Lordships should exercise the advisory role as to making special provisions for religious bodies, with an expression of gratitude to the two right reverend Prelates for having added their names in support of the amendment. I beg to move.


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