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The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Renton, for that helpful suggestion. That might be feasible. The noble Lord,

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Lord Peston, asked whether Written Answers were on the Net. I can confirm that they are. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, for having said to me sotto voce while I was listening to your Lordships' contributions that that could be a way of dealing with long Answers.

Reverting for a moment to the example that I gave at the outset that had led to the proposal, that 31-page Answer prompted an investigation into previous practice with Written Answers of comparable length. It was discovered that the formula had been applied on previous occasions, although not always consistently, it has to be admitted. It is only right to mention that to your Lordships.

Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn: My Lords, does not the preparation of a Written Answer of 31 pages involve considerable public cost? Is it not therefore desirable that the fruits of such labour should be on the public record? Will the noble Lord deal with the point made by my noble friend Lord Swinfen that an Answer deposited in the Library may well not be considered part of the public record unless, as the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, has suggested, it might be put on the Internet--if that was his suggestion? That might be a less expensive solution in some respects. Is it not a waste of effort if the Answer is concealed in the Library and not part of the public record?

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, that is a valid point. I do not wish to go further than that this afternoon.

Long tables are often involved in such Answers. Printing them requires a large amount of time and manpower, with consequent staffing costs to add to the other costs to which I have referred. The noble Lord who asked the Question would in any case receive the full tables and information with the signed Answer provided to him or her, a copy of which would be placed in the Library.

Lord Peston: My Lords, before the noble Lord comes to his conclusion, when noble Lords from both sides of the House have gone to some trouble to speak at length and cogently it is traditional in your Lordships' House that a brush-off, which is what the noble Lord seems to be giving us, is not appropriate. It is too late now, because we do not tend to reject such Motions, but the least that I expected was that he would promise to go away and think about the matter again. I hope that those words will pass his lips before he finishes.

En passant, I should also like to know who decided that the value of such tables was less than their cost. I should like to see that analysis and know who carried it out. The fact that a table is long is irrelevant. What matters is whether it contains worthwhile material that justifies the cost of producing it. The intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew, was decisive. If the cost of collating the information has already been incurred, the marginal cost of publishing it is trivial. Before he finishes, I hope that the noble Lord will reflect on who has spoken today, at what length and why and will at

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least say that he will think again. I do not require any promises, but I would like to be treated slightly better than we have been so far.

Lord Swinfen: My Lords, before the noble Lord the Lord Chairman replies, will he tell the House what publicity is given to Answers placed in the Library, bearing in mind that not everyone is on the Internet?

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, as regards the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Peston, if he had felt able to contain himself for a moment or two longer, he might have found it unnecessary to impose his second speech on your Lordships' House. However, I take no more exception to what he said than that. It is open to noble Lords to say whatever they please.

I do not know the answer to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen. I shall inquire into it. However, as I have already indicated, it is the case that these Answers are on the Internet and therefore, to that extent, there is publicity. However, I shall at a later stage give the noble Lord a specific answer to his question on publicity.

It is clear that your Lordships are very concerned about this matter. As I have already indicated, all noble Lords who have spoken on this part of the Procedure Committee's report have supported the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford. In those circumstances, I am prepared to ask the Procedure Committee to take another look at the matter. I am sure that noble Lords will appreciate that I am not able to give a definitive answer as to the result of any deliberations, because that is a matter for the committee. However, if it is acceptable to your Lordships, I am prepared to ask the Procedure Committee to take another look at it.

I also ask your Lordships to accept that I should prefer not to tie either myself or the committee to a specific time. I believe that the next meeting of the Procedure Committee has been suggested. Your Lordships have found that in recent times the intervention of urgent and weighty matters has replaced the Procedure Committee's normal agenda. Such contingencies must be provided for. However, if your Lordships would like me to do so, I am happy to follow up my suggestion on the matter of principle and to ask the committee to look at this again to see what might be possible.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Commonwealth Development Corporation Bill [H.L.]

6.43 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I beg to move that the Commons amendments be now considered.

Moved, That the Commons amendments be now considered.--(Lord McIntosh of Haringey.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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COMMONS AMENDMENTS
[The page and line refer to Bill 60 as first printed for the Commons]
COMMONS AMENDMENT

1

After Clause 19, insert the following new clause--

TAX

(" . Schedule (Tax) shall have effect.")

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 1. In moving this Motion, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 2.

Amendment No. 1 is a paving clause for the new schedule in Clause 9 which, for the convenience of the House, I should point out that the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, wishes to have debated separately. Amendment No. 2 removes the amendment on taxation purposes added to the Bill at Third Reading by the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale. I understand that they agree that the need for the amendment has been dealt with by the insertion of Amendments Nos. 4 and 5. I beg to move.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 1.--(Lord McIntosh of Haringey.)

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, in speaking to Amendment No. 1, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 2. It is with considerable relief that we see this amendment, which seeks to include on the face of the Bill a reference to a schedule laying down the CDC tax arrangements. I should like to thank the Minister for his clear description of this unusual arrangement, and for the briefing notes provided by his department. We should also like to take the opportunity to pay tribute to the achievement of the Secretary of State in finding a solution to this difficult question with the Inland Revenue and the Treasury.

Our relief, however, is mixed with a persistent sense of disquiet. We shall have the opportunity to discuss the detail of the tax provision when considering a later amendment. Now, we should like to raise only a few more general points. As the Minister will recall, during the first passage of the CDC Bill through the House, both opposition parties felt very strongly that the tax status had to be resolved at the outset; otherwise, the PPP design would be half-baked and its chances of success dramatically reduced.

We shall not detain the House rehearsing the arguments yet again. Nevertheless, I wish to record that I remain sceptical about the PPP concept. We remain convinced that three elements are crucial to the CDC public/private partnership if it is to have a chance to succeed: that it has a strong balance sheet; that its sale is not rushed; and that its tax status is clarified. On the first two elements, the Minister gave us assurances at Report stage. On the third, the Government have introduced in the other place two very important amendments settling the issue. It is a step in the right direction.

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Of course, we cannot legislate for success, but we can try to create the right framework. In the Bill the Government have applied considerable ingenuity in creating a framework for a third way--between public and private--which we on these Benches doubt exists.

When passing the Bill, my honourable friend the Shadow Secretary of State said,


    "we are taking a step of faith".--[Official Report, Commons, 14/7/99; col. 529.]

It is in the nature of faith never to be disjointed from hope. For the sake of the third-world beneficiaries of the CDC's work, we therefore hope that the Bill does not just embody a clever abstract construct, which in practice will fail to live up to its expectations. Notwithstanding those anxieties, we agree to Amendment No. 1.

I turn now to Amendment No. 2. Subsection (3), which we are now being asked to take out, was inserted in this House at Third Reading, after grappling with considerable drafting difficulties. I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, for his support in this matter. Our intention was to put pressure on the Government to settle the tax status of the new CDC at the outset. We felt that achieving tax efficiency was of paramount importance and that it would be wrong to postpone it.

I appreciate that both CDC and DfID wanted the tax issue settled as well, but it has ostensibly been a long and difficult struggle with the Treasury, not least because of its difficulty in terms of delivering the Government's vision of PPP. I feel that our amendment contributed in nudging it in the right direction. I am therefore glad that we were able to do something, however small, to put pressure on the Inland Revenue and the Treasury to assist in the negotiations. We agree that the subsection is now redundant.


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