§ Not amended (in the Committee) and as amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.
§ 4.5 p.m.
§ Sir Geoffrey Howe (Surrey, East)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will remember that on Thursday a number of points of order were raised about the absence of facilities for hon. Members on both sides of the House to consider amendments that had then been tabled or were being tabled. You will also remember that the Leader of the House repeated a number of times his undertaking that all the material necessary for Members to consider the legislation would be made available in time. He repeated that time and time again in the hearing of many hon. Members.
On Friday we had occasion to raise the matter yet again. I did so, as reported at column 989 of Fridays Official Report, because by then it was clear that there was no print available to hon. Members of the amendments that had been tabled throughout Thursday, up until the close of play on Thursday. Moreover, no print has since been made available of amendments tabled on Friday, by the Government or Opposition side, to Part III. All that hon. Members have today is an Order Paper containing amendments to Parts I, II and IV. There does not exist a marshalled list, or any comprehensive list, of those tabled to Part III.
This is a serious state of affairs. It makes it impossible for proper consultation on that part of the Bill to take place.
The Government Deputy Chief Whip was also drawn into the matter, to his misfortune, on Friday. To try to rescue something from the wreck, he told the House that he would ensure that every hon. Member who had served on the Standing Committee would be supplied with at least a copy of the Xeroxed amendments, out of order and unmarshalled, that were available to about 30 hon. Members on Friday. I understand that that undertaking has not been fulfilled either. Although efforts were no 1056 doubt made by the Government, some of my hon. Friends did not receive even that inadequate summary of the amendments on Friday, Saturday or Monday, either at their home address or at their constituency address.
This is an intolerable state of affairs. I wish to find out from the Leader of the House, by raising this point of order, what excuses there are for this state of affairs and what remedy he proposes. We know that the printing was not taking place on Thursday. That is not sufficient excuse. Either the time table for the production of the amendments and for the consideration of the Bill was impossibly tight, or there may be some other reason for the failure to have these documents printed. The situation suggests that the social contract, of which we are told the capital transfer tax is an important part, is failing even to achieve its objective of securing continued activity by the Government's printers.
The House is entitled not only to a remedy but to an apology from the Leader of the House.
§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Edward Short)
At your suggestion, Mr. Speaker, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer put down a business motion for today. If the House is prepared to pass that motion, the undertaking I gave on Thursday will have been carried out.
§ Mr. Jeremy Thorpe (Devon, North)
Further to that point of order. Following the exchanges on Friday, the situation is even worse. My right hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) and I went to the Government Chief Whip's office on Friday to find out where we could go on Saturday to obtain the amendments. It would not be fair to say that we were barred entry, because every door was wide open, but there was no one present. They had all departed, and there was not even a sign to say that they had gone for a tea break. Constant attempts on Friday and Saturday to find out were without avail. Now the final selection is not received until 1.45 p.m., which is without precedent.
§ Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Could you clarify the rule on the starring of 1057 amendments? I am aware that you generously said that today you would suspend the normal practice of not calling starred amendments, but the rule needs clarification. I tabled three amendments which appear starred on today's Notice Paper—Nos. 326, 327 and 328. They appeared on the photostat copy of the list of amendments which the Vote Office released on Friday. Therefore, I was surprised to find that on today's list they appear starred.
As I understand the rule, if amendments have already been released by the Vote Office, they should not appear starred on a subsequent list on a subsequent day. I also understand that this rule does not depend on whether the Notice Paper is printed, Roneoed, typed or copied by photostat, or whatever method is used for its presentation.
Clarification is needed, because on another occasion the Chair might not waive the rule whereby starred amendments are not normally selected, and as a result of amendments being starred the second time they appear on a Notice Paper released by the Vote Office their selection by the Chair might be prejudiced. I should be grateful, Mr. Speaker, if you would say whether I am correct in believing that the form of reproduction of the Notice Paper should not be material to whether an amendment is starred on a subsequent Notice Paper.
§ Mr. Speaker
I shall go into the point the hon. Gentleman has made. I have completely disregarded whether or not amendments are starred today. I have selected amendments on merit, irrespective of whether or not they are starred.
§ The Minister of State, Civil Service Department (Mr. Charles R. Morris)
As anxiety has understandably been expressed about printing, and in so far as printing by Her Majesty's Stationery Office falls within the ambit of my ministerial responsibilities, it might be in order for me to make a statement on the printting situation as it has affected the Stationery Office over the weekend.
It may be for the benefit of the House if I explain that 720 amendments have been tabled. The Notice Paper this morning contains 32 pages of marshalled amendments covering Clauses 1–18 and Schedules 1–3. Because of the complexity 1058 of the amendments and the time taken to select the relevant amendments for the marshalled list, the Stationery Office was not able to marshal more than 32 pages.
Five hundred sets of the first 60 pages of the unmarshalled amendments were delivered to the House this morning. Copies of the remaining amendments, covering a further 60 pages, are now available in the Vote Office.
Because of the complexity of the operation and the efforts devoted to producing a marshalled list of amendments for today's business, together with the volume of the amendments and the time-phasing of the tabling of amendments, this situation has produced a position where Her Majesty's Stationery Office was left with a task over the weekend beyond its capacity. I regret that copies of the final 60 pages were not available for the consideration of hon. Members this morning.
§ Mr. John Peyton (Yeovil)
I think that the whole House will be grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his gallant attempt to take the blame in this difficult situation. No blame attaches to him. The trouble is that we are dealing with an intolerably complex operation and the Government simply have not been able to make arrangements in time for the House to consider this matter in an orderly fashion.
I take it—the Leader of the House can confirm or deny—that the situation that we have now reached means that it will be quite impossible for any of Part III to be taken until Thursday.
§ Mr. Peyton
In that case the right hon. Gentleman is saying that the amendments to this vital part of the Bill will not be available to the House in time, which is certainly in conformity with the very bad habit that the right hon. Gentleman is now forcing on the House.
I put it to the Government once again that, in fairness to themselves and to Parliament, they should agree to withdraw the capital transfer tax and put it to a Select Committee so that it may be given reasonably mature consideration and not thrust down the throats of hon. Members in this unconsidered, inconsiderate, discourteous fashion. That would enable the right hon. Gentleman at least to salvage for himself and his 1059 Department some shreds of a reputation for doing things in a proper and civilised fashion.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Denis Healey)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wonder whether the views that the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) has just expressed to the House would have been different had he heard the statement by his right hon. and learned Friend the Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer on the radio this morning, when he said that the aim of the Opposition in this operation was to stop this tax from reaching the statute book—in other words, there was no question of giving it mature consideration at any stage. Would his attitude have been somewhat different if he had known that, after making a fuss about the non-availability of amendments on Thursday, the Opposition tabled 100 pages of new amendments, nearly half of which were tabled between 10 o'clock at night and 1.45 in the morning?
§ Sir Geoffrey Howe
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The right hon. Gentleman must know perfectly well that if the Government bring this new tax from Committee to Report stage with very few days available for us to consider it, a substantial volume of amendments is bound to be tabled by the Opposition even in relation to the Government Amendments that we have actually seen. He should know perfectly plainly that when I said that we were determined to secure sufficient time for consideration of this tax, and, indeed, determined so far as we could to use all the legitimate parliamentary means available to us to prevent its reaching the statute book, that was a perfectly proper thing to say.
It is a perfectly proper thing to say because it is absolutely lunatic, even by the conventions adopted by this Government, to suggest that proper consideration can be given to amendments of this fundamental importance within 24, 48 or even 72 hours of receiving them—or even within a week. This legislation is so complex that it requires consideration of a kind that can be given to it only if it is remitted to a Select Committee for proper consideration.
§ Mr. Speaker
So far as these matters are matters for the Chair, I promised that I would do my best for hon. Members. In fact, the Vote Office put in a great deal of very hard work to try to facilitate production of the amendments. However, we are now in the field of argument, and that may arise on the motion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. We are clearly getting into the field of debate and there is about to be a debate on the motion that the Bill should be taken in the order proposed.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
On a different point of order, Mr. Speaker. Surely the House should be protected against the suggestion that there is something objectionable to putting down amendments to the Finance Bill.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Grimond
Yes, Mr. Speaker. When it was agreed that half the Finance Bill should be sent to Standing Committee, it was said that hon. Members would have a proper chance to consider it on Report if they had not been members of the Standing Committee. It is not good enough, therefore, to say that a substantial effort should be made to supply copies of amendments to those hon. Members who were members of the Standing Committee. There are other hon. Members who require them.
§ Mr. Lawson
It is a different point of order. You will be aware that on Thursday the Leader of the House said:I have given more time to the Finance Bill than"—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. This is the same point of order. It is a matter of the time allowed. That is not a matter for the Chair.
§ Mr. Lawson
The right hon. Gentleman said:I have given more time to the Finance Bill than has been given to any Finance Bill since 1909."—[Official Report, 27th February 1975; Vol. 887, c. 709.]
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Member must resume his seat. That is not a matter for the Chair. Those are comments. Those are matters germane to a debate or criticism, but they are nothing to do with the Chair.
§ Mr. William Clark (Croydon, South)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have looked at your provisional selection of amendments, which is displayed in the "No" Lobby. The motion to be moved by the Chancellor of the Exchequer states:That the Finance Bill, as amended, be considered in the following order, namely, new Clauses not relating to capital transfer tax or estate duty, Amendments relating to Clauses 1 to 18 …".Your selection of amendments, Mr. Speaker, is headedTo end of Clause 18".Do I take it from that that all the new clauses are to be debated? The selection of amendments has been made, but all that we are told is that the new clauses will be taken before consideration of the amendments starts.
§ Mr. Speaker
This is a very simple one: none of the new clauses has been selected. To rub it in—they are all out of order.
§ Mr. David Mitchell (Basingstoke)
This is a different point of order, Mr. 1062 Speaker. You have been kind enough to indicate your selection up to the end of Clause 18. There are amendments which have not been tabled to Clause 18 on the assumption that they did not need to be tabled until today because the House was originally programmed to debate new clauses today. May I have your assurance that such amendments, when they appear on the Notice Paper, will be considered by you as though they were not starred?
§ Mr. Speaker
I have made it perfectly clear that in this situation I will consider manuscript amendments if need be.
§ Mr. Peter Rees (Dover and Deal)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. During the watches of the night in Committee the Financial Secretary in particular, and the Chief Secretary on occasions, was prone to say that he would take a particular problem away and consider it, without, of course, giving any undertaking about what he would bring back on Report. I have always understood—
§ Mr. Peter Rees
I am coming to the main point in a moment but it is necessary to develop this. I have always understood it to be the convention of the Committee, the House or the Government in that situation for the Ministers concerned to write to the hon. Member who moved the amendment—
§ Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne)
May I raise a completely different point of order, Mr. Speaker? In your discretion you permitted the Minister of State to the Civil Service Department to make a statement a few moments ago. [Interruption.] Is it not the convention of the House that when a Minister makes a statement that statement should be subject to questioning by hon. Members?
§ Mr. Nicholas Ridley (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. [Interruption.] I would like you to consider the point that Clause 39 of the Bill is outside the Financial Resolutions and should not be included in it and, further, that it would be quite improper for the House to consider or debate it in any circumstances. The Financial Resolutions say that a capital transfer tax may be introduced but Clause 39 is not about a tax on capital; it is about a tax on the income arising from capital. It says—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. It is not down for debate today. I am trying to get on with today's business. The hon. Member can make his point to me later. If I get a suspicion that attempts are wrongly being made to delay the business on this Bill it may affect my mind on other decisions I may have to take. If the hon. Member has a point about Clause 39 he can perfectly well put it to me later, if he will. Let us get on with this other business today.
§ Mr. Ridley
I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker. [Interruption.] I would like to give you notice that I will seek to argue at a later stage that Clause 39 is outwith the Financial Resolutions and should not be included in the Bill.
§ Mr. Peyton
There are two points of order I wish to raise with you, Mr. Speaker. The first is that in this difficult situation when my right hon. and hon. Friends are trying to raise points of great importance to Parliament, there is a stream of interruptions from what I can only call the usual quarters which makes it difficult for the Opposition to put a reasonable point of view.
The second point of order concerns the remark you have just made, that if you get a suspicion that the Opposition are trying to hold up business this would affect your mind. The point is that we are not trying to hold up business in any way. We are merely trying to point out the difficulties which the House is in as a result of having this stuff thrust at it at the last minute with the minimum of opportunity to consult all the outside interests or to represent our constituents adequately.
§ Mr. Speaker
I certainly have not attempted to prevent the right hon. Gentleman saying that. What I am not prepared to do is to have the same thing said a hundred times.
§ Mr. Edward Short
May I apologise to the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson). In fairness to him, I believe he was trying to correct something I said the other day. I do not wish to mislead the House. I said that this was the longest time given to the Finance Bill since 1909. I have done some more researches this weekend and I have discovered that in 1965 five days plus a little time for Third Reading were given. If we add to the time that I have given the 163 hours spent in Committee it amounts to one of the longest periods ever given in this century to a Finance Bill.
§ Mr. Speaker
That is not a matter of order. However long the Finance Bill has taken in the past, it is not a matter for me.
§ Mr. Joel Barnett
I beg to move,That the Finance Bill, as amended, be considered in the following order, namely, new clauses not relating to capital transfer tax or estate duty, amendments relating to Clauses 1 to 18 and 50 to 56 and to Schedules 1 to 3 and 12, new clauses relating to capital transfer tax or estate duty, amendments relating to Clauses 19 to 49, new schedules, and amendments relating to Schedules 4 to 11.It may surprise you, Mr. Speaker, to be told that this motion has been tabled to help the House. It was done in co-operation with some hon. Members on the Opposition benches to make it possible to discuss the non-capital-transfer-tax clauses before we get to the capital-transfer-tax parts of the Bill.
It seems that, given the time we have debated the non-capital-transfer-tax clauses in Committee, both here and upstairs, it should be a comparatively simple matter to debate this part of the Bill pretty quickly, given the customary co-operation and good will we have learned to expect from the Opposition. I therefore think there will be ample time within the remainder of the five days allotted to Report to debate the Bill. It might be worth saying that if it is the intention of the House and of the Opposition to have a serious examination of the 1065 capital transfer tax, there will be, by the use of this motion, ample time so to do.
§ Sir G. Howe
Clearly it would be churlish of me not to express gratitude to the Chief Secretary for the motion which he has moved. Equally, I make it perfectly plain that as a means of concentrating proper or sufficient parliamentary consideration on the capital transfer tax it is simply not good enough. What the hon. Member is suggesting is a partial solution to the problem we have already spent some time discussing today, namely the non-availability of the amendments in any printed or digestible form.
This motion cannot be an answer to the problem which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has created for the House and the country—the problem of presenting a tax half-digested, ill-considered, ill-explained, far too late for it properly to be considered before it is placed on the statute book. It is to that to which I address my remarks. Of course this motion will enable us to consider the various important points that still arise on Parts I, II and IV of the Bill. What is not clear at this stage is when the Government intend or expect us to get on to Part III of the Bill and the capital transfer tax.
We were told several times in the statement by the Minister of State to the Civil Service Department that it had been quite impossible for the Stationery Office even to marshal and print the various amendments, Government and Opposition, within a weekend of working because of the complexity and number. That is the premise from which we have started. If it has taken that long and has caused that much difficulty even to marshal and print these amendments, how much more impossible will it be for us to consider and debate them? It will be quite impossible.
The Leader of the House said that he hoped to have the Order Paper in a sufficient condition for us to consider these matters in due course. What does he mean by "in a sufficient condition" and "in due course"? He reiterated his undertaking given to the House on Thursday that these matters would be available in sufficient time to be considered. If I understand him correctly, all amendments so far tabled are now apparently available. I hope that that will be confirmed by the Chief Secretary. Even if 1066 they are available, those now on the Notice Paper cannot include any amendments tabled by any hon. Member to those Government amendments that were to be tabled on Friday which we shall presumably be seeing for the first time this afternoon.
Even if they are available to that extent, it is impossible for any legislative assembly which has any pretence to consider matters seriously and with deliberation sensibly to consider the Bill between now and the end of the week. We shall certainly aim to make reasonable progress on Parts I, II and IV, but we want to know what the Lord President has in mind when he says that the amendments will be available for us to consider in sufficient time.
The real grievance remains unremedied. Not only will there be insufficient time to consider and debate the amendments. The fundamental point is that there is no time for us or for those in the country whom we seek to represent to consider the whole raft of fundamental Government amendments which have been tabled in the last two days. This goes to the heart of our parliamentary functions. It is impossible for us to do other than make a mockery or charade of parliamentary government in the fact of what the Government seek to do.
The capital transfer tax, which we and many people outside regard as thoroughly destructive, has been introduced in such a way that no Government who seek to call themselves responsible should be prepared to drive ahead and get it on the statute book in the way that the Government have in mind. It is an impossible way to proceed. There is no need for them to do it. The Bill has been separated in Parts I, II and IV as one section, and Part III is to come later. The Government can sensibly and practically secure, by recommittal of the Bill or in other ways, that Part III and the capital transfer tax no longer remain part of the vehicle which they intend to get into its home port in time to comply with the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act.
Let me examine the timetable which has been followed for the Bill. The Government announced their intention to introduce the legislation as long ago as March last year—almost 12 months ago. 1067 From then until August the entire Government machine, fired only by the initial inspiration of Transport House, devoted itself to the generation of a White Paper which was meant to clarify what the Government would do. From March until August the Government machine was able to produce the White Paper. Therefore, five months were occupied in that process of deliberation.
In the White Paper the Government indicated a number of principles which they hoped to embody in the legislation and others which they intended to reconsider. For example, they said that they did not consider it appropriate to continue the specially favourable treatment accorded to woodlands; that they were considering the possibility of continuing relief for full-time working farmers and business men in respect of agricultural land and business assets; and that they were considering the question of dealing with the national heritage and works of art. They also set out aspirations in relation to gifts to charities and said that it was outside the scope of the White Paper to give a detailed account of the provisions which they proposed to introduce to govern the liabilities of trustees in respect of settled property.
That shows that after five months of deliberation the Government and their advisers were still considering those important, fundamental matters. By the time that they had published the Finance Bill in November last year, after eight months deliberation, they still had not sufficiently resolved matters to be able to propose any solutions to those problems. Last week they brought forward amendments to deal with all those matters only so far as they think they can or should—to our mind, by no means adequately. If it has taken the Government, in making changes which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has described as the most important tax changes since the end of the war, almost 12 months to present us with inadequate solutions, how can any legislative assembly which describes itself as responsible, which claims to be the Mother of Parliaments and which sets an example for parliamentary procedure round the world, consider and debate these matters in the next few days? It is intolerable.
1068 Let us consider parallels. Take a modest case in the type of county court which considered the sort of litigation with which years ago no doubt Mr. Speaker was concerned in Birkenhead. Let us suppose that it was an action between a citizen and his neighbour about a boundary dispute or an alleged assault. If during the hearing of the case one side sought to amend its statement of the case, it is axiomatic that the court would grant an adjournment of weeks rather than days.
We are not faced with that situation. We are the parliamentary representatives of hundreds of thousands of people whose businesses, farms and forestry plantations will be affected by the Bill, with millions of other people employed in such enterprises whose interests will be gravely threatened by this absurd legislative hotch-potch.
This is not a debating point. It is not advanced in order to delay discussion. It goes to the fundamental merits of the Government's position. The Chief Secretary must learn, if he has not learned already, that he cannot escape from his responsibility for the mess that we are in by smirking, laughing and giggling. We have had quite enough of that, and the sooner he wipes the grin off his face the better it will be for him and the country. Every utterance by the Chief Secretary only underlines the extent—
§ Mr. David Weitzman (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. What do the right hon. and learned Gentleman's remarks have to do with the motion? It is a simple motion. Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman in order in what he has said? He is merely wasting time.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. George Thomas)
The hon. and learned Gentleman should not make his own contribution to wasting time. The right hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe) is in order.
§ Sir G. Howe
The situation is intolerable and it cannot be laughed away.
The Government have failed, in the months that they have allowed themselves to get the matter right, to table amendments which satisfy their own limited aspirations. The position in relation to 1069 discretionary trusts is a measure of the absurdity of their situation. On the Notice Paper for Tuesday 25th February there is a splendid, shining, resplendent New Clause No. 5 in the name of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to deal with the position concerning certain trusts. On Wednesday, within 24 hours, under the same inauspicious parentage, New Clause No. 7 was tabled which apparently does the same as New Clause No. 5, but the Government have had to introduce into it a subsection (4). How can there be any credibility about parliamentary consideration when the Government amend their own amendments within 24 hours and only a few days before we debate them?
One can give an almost infinite number of examples. On Thursday last week the Government tabled a long and complex series of amendments relating to the forestry industry. I have nothing but admiration for the parliamentary counsel who must be working night and day in an endeavour to produce the amendments. But he has the privilege of being an expert in this matter and of being able to devote the whole of his time to it. Other people have not seen the documents, and we are told—I understand it to be so—
§ Mr. Ridley
My right hon. and learned Friend praised the parliamentary draftsman, but he has made an almighty mess of the clause, which does not make sense and is unworkable in terms of the forestry industry. The clause requires a Committee stage. Will my right hon. and learned Friend suggest the recommittal of the forestry new clause, which we cannot possibly deal with on Report?
§ Sir G. Howe
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. I praise the industry, assiduity and nicety of parliamentary counsel to the bounds of that well-known office. I know that the view of parliamentary counsel is that they would not contemplate clauses which have been subject to their most careful consideration reaching the statute book without the benefit of a Committee stage.
Here we have a new schedule with a substantial series of amendments which, far from having a Committee stage, will receive virtually no consideration because 1070 we shall not be able to consult the people who will be affected by the amendments. As I understand, there has been no consultation at all between the Government and the forestry industry about these matters. That is another indictment about the way in which the matter is being handled.
As I understand—and I do not pretend to understand it completely in view of the limited time I have had—I am sufficiently modest to make that point and I appreciate the Chief Secretary's further giggle about it—the Government in the new schedule propose to move from their original disastrous position to one in which on the disposition of every tree that is felled, and conceivably on every twig that is lopped off the forests, a further chargeable event shall take place. The country will be dominated from end to end by as many chargeable events as there are twigs upon the trees.
§ Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch and Lymington)
As I represent a constituency one of the boroughs of which has as its motto "By sea and forest enchanted" may I ask my right hon. and learned Friend to extract from the Chief Secretary whether there was any consultation with the Forestry Commission and other responsible bodies before the amendments were tabled?
§ Sir G. Howe
I hope that my hon. Friend will have his own opportunity for making such an extraction and his own special methods of carrying out such a delicate surgical operation. I will leave him to undertake that, if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
The Government gave certain undertakings in Committee to make changes in relation to charities on public bodies and political parties. We know that they have made some in relation to charities. They were intending to table further amendments dealing with political and public bodies. It may be that in the document that is winging around the House, about which the Leader of the House told us a few moments ago, some such texts appear. I know not. The fact that on such a vital matter we are still uncertain shows that this is an impossible way of handling major tax changes. It is intolerable. It stretches the bounds of toleration of a legislative assembly 1071 positively to the limits and beyond those limits.
The Government have a remedy in their own hands if they will accept the advice that has been given not just by hon. Members but by many commentators outside to take away Part III the capital transfer tax provisions, to consider it again and to bring it forward in a subsequent separate Bill or remit it for consideration by a Select Committee.
I want to quote from one of the many documents which seek to enshrine the parliamentary traditions of this place, a book called "The Procedure of the House of Commons" by Mr. Redlich, published in 1908. Volume III of that analysis says:The political development of our own day has laid bare—in the first instance in England, and then in nearly all the constitutional states of Europe—the conventional foundation of parliamentary government. Parliamentary conventions appear above all in the forms of parliamentary action, in the limitations to party strategy imposed by the inviolable bounds of the rules and in the tacit agreement among all who take part in parliamentary life to handle these rules in a reasonable way.It may be that the rules of this place allow the Government to handle major tax changes of this kind in this way. If that be so, they may deserve re-examination. What is certainly not the case is that the conventions of this place by which we have all been bound, the entire tradition of our parliamentary government, allow us to be treated in the way in which the Government propose.
I mentioned earlier the extent to which in the most modest case in the most modest court in this country we should expect to be given days if not weeks to consider a simple change in the way in which either party was presenting his case. That proposition is enshrined in what we have all come to regard in this House and outside as the rules of natural justice. Natural justice inside the House as well as outside it requires that people who are likely to be affected by administrative acts, decisions or proceedings should be given adequate notice of what is proposed. The rules of natural justice require that for very good reasons, so that the parties may be in a position 1072 to make representations on their own behalf.
What opportunity has been given in a practical sense to the millions of people I have been speaking about to make representations of that kind? Absolutely none. They must also be given that consideration so that they may have a chance effectively to prepare their case. That chance also has been denied to them, and that is equally intolerable. We have substantial reasons behind us when we argue for a change in approach.
The Government have only one solution, which is to withdraw Part III of the Bill and to accept the advice which was given to them by many commentators in the Press during the weekend. I hope that the Chief Secretary has seen—and I am sure he will not be able to rebut—the proposition contained in the leading article in this morning's Financial Times which says:The method of putting forward this major tax reform has so far been an object lesson in how not to do it;We can all say "Hear, hear" to that.
Mr. Patrick Hutber in yesterday's Sunday Telegraph summarises the point:It is not just that those affected will not have heard of them. It is not that outside experts will have no chance to make their contribution. It is not even that the Opposition may not have had a chance of understanding them.I make no apology for saying that we agree with that. How could we understand this horrendous torrent of amendments? Mr. Hutber goes on to say:The likelihood, the overwhelming balance of probabilities, is that the Government will not understand the effect of its own amendments either.When I look at the Treasury's pantomime horse I feel sorrier for the front legs than the back. Mr. Joel Barnett makes some attempt to understand what it is he is talking about. But the back legs, 'Dr.' John Gilbert"—He will not be smiling much longer—as arrogant as he is incompetent, will on his committee form plough doggedly through his departmental briefs barely understanding the parsing of the sentences, let alone the meaning.That is also a valid comment.
I quote finally from today's The Times, from Mr. Hugh Stephenson in the Business Section: 1073All this, however, pales in comparison with the autumn Finance Bill. The presenting symptoms of the chaos are the extreme complexity of the capital transfer tax and the fact that, despite the long Christmas break, the Bill has to be on the statute book by 14th March, to comply with the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act. As a result, scores of basic amendments to the Bill, proposed by the Government themselves, have not been published until after the Committee stage, where the detailed examination of the Bill is supposed to take place. These are partly in response to outside pressure and partly in the realisation that the original Bill was saying things that were never intended.All those comments and verdicts are valid. The answer is to abandon consideration of this part of the Bill. Let the Government recommit it for consideration in any of the alternative ways open to them. The Government do not need to have Part III of the Bill to comply with the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act. I have no doubt, given patience and hard work on both sides, that in the time available the Government will be able to have Parts I, II and IV. They do not need to have Part III nor should they have it. What is a glimmering of realisation in the Government's mind of the way in which this should be handled is apparent from an amendment on the Order Paper that reached us during the weekend. It is on page 441 as it then was, Amendment No. 92 to Clause 39 standing in the name of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in these words:but no period beginning before 6th April 1976 shall be a chargeable period.The Chief Secretary well knows that that amendment relates to a clause dealing with free loans. It is a clause which was criticised in Committee, in relation to which he acknowledged that many amendments were necessary and in relation to which very few, if any, amendments have been brought forward because the Government have not been able to solve their own problems. The Government are therefore seeking to solve their own problems by including this amendment saying, "O.K. chaps, let us call it a day for another 12 months." That clause will not begin to take effect until 6th April 1976.
If the Government are able to take that course in relation to that important provision of this horrendous, abortive, unnecessary, unjust and destructive tax, they are able to take precisely the same 1074 course in relation to the whole subject of capital transfer tax. They should make plain to the House that they will not press ahead with consideration of Part III. Unless they do that their handling of this legislation will be a disgrace to parliamentary democracy and to their record.
§ Mr. William Clark
In supporting what my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe) said, I wish to point out to the Chief Secretary that he must understand the true position. He said that he was making this proposal to help the House. I have been a Member of this House for some time, and I have never heard such political arrogance. What the right hon. Gentleman is proposing is not to help the House. It is to get the Government off the hook. It is unworthy of the right hon. Gentleman to say that he is helping the House.
I come next to the number of amendments which have been tabled. On Friday we had a brief debate about them, and subsequently it was agreed that certain hon. Members would be sent amendment papers over the weekend. It was said that those hon. Members who served on the Committee should have them. I wish to point out that I was a member of the Committee, though not necessarily of the Standing Committee. Every hon. Member was a member of the Committee on the Finance Bill, because the Committee stage started on the Floor of this House. Part of the Bill was sent upstairs.
I hope that we are not creating a precedent whereby we have first-class and second-class Members. I take exception to the fact that because I was not a member of the Standing Committee I was precluded from getting the amendments over the weekend. I was a member of the Finance Bill Committee, as every other Member was. The Committee stage started on the Floor, and the Report stage is taken on the Floor. It is no good the Chief Secretary trying to pacify some hon. Members because they have spent time in Committee upstairs. He must satisfy all hon. Members—
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Robert Mellish)
The list to which the hon. Gentleman referred was supplied by his own party. If the Conservative Party believes that there are 1075 first-class and second-class Members of Parliament, that is not our fault.
§ Mr. Clark
I do not take that from the Patronage Secretary. He knows that the direct responsibility for supplying any papers to hon. Members of this House is that of the Government. The Government should not be deflected in their choice of those hon. Members to whom Notice Papers should be sent. They should have gone to every Member. I maintain that I am a member of the Finance Bill Committee. I cannot see why, just because I did not serve on the Standing Committee, I should be precluded from having these amendments.
§ Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South-West)
Is my hon. Friend aware that some hon. Members who were here on Friday and who requested Notice Papers did not receive them over the weekend?
§ Mr. Clark
That is another administrative difficulty into which the Government have got themselves.
I also support what my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East said about the duties of a Member of Parliament to his constituents. My right hon. and learned Friend logically and clearly described how long the Government have had to frame this legislation; yet here we are at the last moment with no one knowing exactly in what form the CTT may eventually be. What is more, I suggest that not one member of the Government, not one member of the Inland Revenue and not one member of the Treasury understands it.
I am a member of the Select Committee which is considering the wealth tax. Recently we were discussing the product of the capital transfer tax, which is quite obviously analogous to the wealth tax. If the capital transfer tax is successful in fragmenting wealth, the product of the wealth tax will be that much less. The Select Committee examined witnesses from the Inland Revenue. I asked whether in their forecasts of the product of the capital transfer tax and that of the so-called wealth tax they had projected what the product might be to the Exchequer. They could not tell me. I can understand why. They do not understand 1076 the capital transfer tax. No one does.
One day the Chief Secretary himself will be in opposition. He ought to remember that a Member of Parliament is the buffer between the executive and the general public. It does not matter who the general public may be—farmers, industrialists, widows, or whatever. The Member is the buffer between the executive and the general public. How can a Member of Parliament, not knowing what the tax is about, possibly say to his farmer, his forestry owner, his business man or any other constituent "I cannot explain what the capital transfer tax means"? We cannot know. How can we know? We have had the whole Government machine, with all its expertise in the Civil Service, thinking about these facts for the past 10 or 11 months. Even that has not come up with the answer.
I put this to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as a serious point. How can a back bencher or an Opposition Front Bench spokesman get the expertise in two or three days to match that of two or three months from the Civil Service? It is monstrous that the Government have brought forward this legislation in this way.
I mentioned the wealth tax allied with the capital transfer tax. The Inland Revenue's witnesses admitted that they could not tell me how much the product of the capital transfer tax would be and how much the product of the wealth tax would be. My comment to them was that they were groping in the dark, and they agreed. What an indictment of our taxation system that is. Here we have a very important tax. The Inland Revenue's representatives admit that they are groping in the dark. If they are groping in the dark, what about the poor backbench Member of this House? What is he to do? He is put in an impossible posiiton.
I hope that the Chief Secretary will take to heart, and I trust that he will tell the Chancellor of the Exchequer—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where is he?"] He is trying to understand the CTT—
§ Mr. Ridley
Is my hon. Friend aware that those Opposition Members who served on the Standing Committee understood a great deal more about this tax than the Inland Revenue? Our real 1077 worry is not that we do not understand the tax. Our worry is that the staff of the Inland Revenue have not a clue what they are doing and that, after the Committee stage, they have given up trying. That is the danger. We have to give them a little time in which to sort out their ideas and to get the legislation redrafted altogether.
§ Mr. Clark
If those in the Inland Revenue have given up trying, certainly we have not. I hope that the Chief Secretary will talk to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. With all his accountancy experience, he knows as well as I do that the tax is ill-thought up and that the Treasury, the Inland Revenue, the parliamentary draftsmen and the economists want to look at it again. There is no urgency about it. In bringing out the Bill in November with a tax which is more revolutionary than any that we have had in the past 50 or 60 years and in expecting this House, without proper amendment papers, to pass it, the Chief Secretary is treating us with tremendous disrespect.
I hope that the Chief Secretary will take what I say in the spirit in which I say it. My advice to him is that it would be much better to take back Part III, if he wishes to do so to put it to a Select Committee, but not to rush it through in this way, and certainly not unless both sides of the House understand it.
§ Mr. Grimond
My remarks will be brief, because most of the arguments on this matter have been deployed already.
I begin by pouring a little oil on troubled water. It would be disingenuous of me not to thank the Chancellor of the Exchequer and his team for the courtesy with which they have received certain representations on this theme from me. I was not a member of the Standing Committee, but certainly from outside the Committee I have not found them to be arrogant.
The mere fact that there are to be so many changes, so many admendments, and so much correspondence is in itself a reason against rushing this legislation through in the way in which it is being done. Over the years, under every Finance Act certain innocent people have found themselves clobbered, not for any 1078 reason, not according to the intentions of the then Government or the House, but because we constantly attempt to rush through Finance Bills which neither we nor the Inland Revenue fully understand.
I underline what has been said about the Inland Revenue. I have the greatest admiration and sympathy for its officials. Goodness knows how they keep informed even about the changes in VAT or income tax, far less about new taxes of this sort. I receive more correspondence about delays over taxes than on any other subject. This is the fault not of the Inland Revenue but of successive Governments and this House of Commons.
When it was agreed that part of the Finance Bill should be sent upstairs to a Standing Committee many of us were concerned that we should not be able to carry out our fundamental duty as Members of Parliament and examine the Bill. But we were to some extent mollified by the assurance that there would be adequate time on Report to consider what the Committee had done. Further, we believed that we should have adequate time between Committee and Report to consult those who might be affected, and also our advisers.
It is no good the House or the Government saying that they are caught up in a procedural difficulty about 14th March. We are masters of our own business. If the Government have got into this difficulty, it is they who are responsible for it, not the public. The public never asked for this tax, or anything like it, and it is no good telling the public that the Government are caught up in a net which is of the Government's own setting.
It is important that ordinary Members of Parliament should have an opportunity to consider proposed taxes, to amend, and to discuss them with their constituents and explain to them what has happened. This is still a varied country, and hon. Members have different industries in their constituencies. We represent different trades, and we have to interpret taxation to those industries and trades in such situations.
For instance, in the northern counties of Scotland there is a system of land holding which is unknown in the rest of the United Kingdom. I do not believe that the possible repercussions for that were taken into account in Standing Committee. There are areas in which forestry 1079 is of great importance. There are areas which pursue particular trades, and often Finance Acts have clobbered these trades without the House understanding that there was any danger of that happening. The reason is that there cannot be in Standing Committee Members who represent all the different trades and interests of this country. It is essential for the House to maintain the right of individual Members to take part in the Report stage of a Finance Bill and to have adequate time to consider it. I do not believe that anyone can say that is the present situation.
It would be scandalous if any Bill were treated in this way, but when the effect of this Bill reaches the public and they realise how they were treated there will be a still further decline in the reputation of Parliament.
§ Mr. Percy Grieve (Solihull)
It shows the depths to which we have descended, when we have been considering Finance Bills in their complexity over the years, that the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) should even, as it were, have to defend the right and duty of hon. Members to examine a Finance Bill in detail. I should have thought that that was the first duty of a Member of the House, because the House of Commons established its power and position in Parliament by its control over supply.
The whole question of taxation depends upon consent, and that means the consent not only of the House of Commons in Parliament but also of the people whom we represent. If we pass the Bill in this way it will mean that we shall be hurrying through consent on behalf of our constituents and those who will be affected in their businesses, in their farms and in their families by this ill thought out, malicious, envious, hateful legislation. I make no apology for those words. I do not think there has ever before been legislation so destructive of the family as an entity as this Bill will be.
The capital transfer tax is designed to stop up, divert and pollute the stream of benevolence and natural love and affection and duty in the family. It is designed to destroy the family as an entity in society and the savings which 1080 it is the natural and human instinct of individuals to pass on from one generation to another.
Part of the Bill has been considered in Standing Committee. I did not have the honour of serving on that Committee, but on behalf of my constituents I desire to play my part in our discussions on Report. Last week I went every day to the Vote Office and asked for such amendments as had been put down so that I might consider them. What there was available by Friday was a mere trifle compared with what I obtained at five minutes to 1 o'clock today. At that time I was given not only the 60 pages to which the Lord President of the Council so cavalierly referred when he made his statement this afternoon, but a further few pages numbered 64 to 67. I have not yet had the benefit—though some of my hon. Friends may have—of receiving pages 61 to 63.
During the lunch hour, I endeavoured to look through the amendments. They are not numbered. They are in no conceivable order relating to the various clauses with which they are concerned. There is amendment piled upon amendment piled upon amendment. I am a practising member of the Bar, and I would say without any hesitation or fear of contradiction that to study these amendments, which were available at five minutes to 1 o'clock, would require the undiverted, uninterrupted labour and concentration of a skilled tax counsel for at least one month, and possibly a great deal longer.
It is inconceivable that the House of Commons can be asked to deal with these matters at the end of the consideration on Report of the other parts of the Bill. That may take us tonight and tomorrow and possibly into Wednesday, leaving one day only for a consideration of this tax with its horrific effect upon the whole organisation of life and society and the family in Britain.
I therefore add my voice to what has been said by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe) and others who have spoken this afternoon. There is only one course which the Government can properly take in this matter, and that is to withdraw Part III of the Bill altogether and to refer 1081 it to the Select Committee which is considering the wealth tax so that the two matters can be considered together.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Clark) said a few moments ago, there is a link between this tax and the proposed wealth tax. The Chancellor's avowed policy—and let no one blink at it—has been announced as clearly as Hitler announced his policy in "Mein Kampf". It is to destroy the middle class of this country, or as he said, to make the rich howl and the pips squeak. I have no doubt that what is sought by this legislation is to make it impossible for families to disperse wealth amongst their own members so that units of wealth may be available to pay a far larger proportion of the wealth tax when that tax is instituted. If that is so, the right hon. Gentleman should have said as much. However, the matter is as plain as a pikestaff.
For those reasons I submit that this Part of the Bill should be referred to the Select Committee so that the two matters can be considered together. It is plainly politic that that should be so. Further, it is plainly just. I support my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East. Blinkered as they may be by malice, hatred and envy, I trust that the Government will see the light and do what is just and right.
§ Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe), asked how soon we should reach Part III of the Bill if we accepted the Chancellor's motion. I repeat that question because in Standing Committee, on scores of occasions, the Chief Secretary or the Financial Secretary said that they would be prepared to consider Opposition amendments. They indicated that there might be some value in them and that they were prepared to consider them. That proved to us that we were putting forward reasonable and constructive amendments on Part III in particular.
It will be within the recollection of the Chief Secretary and the Financial Secretary that on two occasions I asked, bearing in mind the assurances which were given that amendments would be considered, whether we would be informed before Report whether the Government were doing anything about the 1082 amendments. I asked that we should be informed if the Government were not doing anything about them so that we might table our own amendments. That is a normal, common courtesy that has always been recognised between Committee Members and Ministers between Standing Committee and Report. It is an ordinary common courtesy if not a convention of the House. I suppose that the Government are so busy sorting out courtesies between Ministers that they are not prepared to give ordinary common courtesies to the House.
The fact is that I have received no notification since Standing Committee on any of the assurances that I was given by the Chief Secretary and the Financial Secretary. To my mind the convention of the House has not been carried out.
All I received by post this morning—I looked carefully at the envelope to see when it was posted and I found that it was posted on Saturday—were 134 foolscap pages of amendments. How on earth can anyone be expected to look through those pages to find out which amendments refer to the matters with which he is particularly concerned and to what extent the Government have met the amendments moved in Standing Committee? It makes me feel that if I and my colleagues serve again on a Standing Committee on a Finance Bill we shall never be so accommodating to the Government as we were on this occasion. On many occasions in Standing Committee we cut down the length of our debates because we received assurances from the Government not only that they would look at certain matters again but that they would let individual members of the Committee know what they thought so that they might take further action on Report. We have not been given that chance. There is no chance now to sort out our own amendments, let alone consult outside sources.
Parliamentary government is not just using one's knowledge and experience; it involves consultation with those who know the subject well. Parliamentary government involves trying to understand various matters by discussing them with experts and making a proper contribution by amending Government legislation by tabling constructive amendments and new clauses. In this instance we have not had 1083 the opportunity to do so. The Government have broken the conventions and courtesies of the House.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Hordern (Horsham and Crawley)
The House is clearly in great difficulty. I do not recall an occasion before when in the middle of points of order a Minister responsible for the Civil Service has come to the House to announce the Government's position and to inform us of the breakdown of the Government's printing machine. I am still not clear about the latest position. Are we to understand that future amendments and all Government amendments are to produced in cyclostyle, or are we to have the proper printed form with the amendments conveniently marshalled and arranged? I hope that the Chief Secretary will tell the House the correct position. It is obviously unsatisfactory that we should be expected to consider amendments in this form when they are not even marshalled and are not even in order.
The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) referred to the deeply unsatisfactory position which arises for those right hon. and hon. Members who have to consider the Bill in its present form as amended in Standing Committee. The right hon. Gentleman said that he had not received proper notice of the amendments to be considered at this stage and had not been able, on behalf of his constituents, to discuss amendments which had been debated in Standing Committee. That underlines the whole weakness of the present system. It was not so long ago, when I was first elected to the House, when the whole of a Finance Bill was discussed in Committee on the Floor of the House. Every right hon. and hon. Member then had the right to intervene at any stage of the Bill to make his point. With a measure such as the capital transfer tax I am sure that at least all my right hon. and hon. Friends would wish to make many interventions to try to improve such a disastrous measure.
I recollect the arrangement and agreement that was made between both sides of the House, the idea being that a Standing Committee in considering a Finance Bill was to consider only those 1084 clauses which were of a marked technical nature and not of general interest to all right hon. and hon. Members. The capital transfer tax cannot conceivably be considered as a mere technicality which right hon. and hon. Members would not wish to consider fully. It imposes many new principles on the taxation edifice of our country and is a matter which is worthy of detailed consideration by all right hon. and hon. Members.
The House is now placed in the position of looking anxiously to see what occurred in Standing Committee. It is now presented with a Bill as amended by Standing Committee, and it is led to understand that further amendments will be laid before the House in this highly unsatisfactory form. I do not know the printing position. No doubt the Chief Secretary will make further comment upon that. It is highly unsatisfactory that a Minister representing the Civil Service should have to make an intervention in this debate on such a matter, an intervention which apparently is not even to be questioned. It would have been much more appropriate if the Secretary of State for Employment had made the statement. As he is so concerned with the subject of economic literacy I would have thought that that was the least that he could do.
It is clear that the House is in considerable difficulty in considering a vast wad of amendments. Let us consider the position. On several important points—particularly those concerning forestry, agriculture and the national heritage—the Government are now bringing forward further amendments to the capital transfer tax. We do not know whether they have completed their task, and I doubt very much whether they have done so. I know that in one instance concerning national heritage I received an undertaking from the Chief Secretary. I naturally looked with great care at the list of amendments which has so far been produced. The result is that I see no sign of that undertaking being carried out.
I want to talk with my constituents and to consult those experts who are interested in the matter. I want to test their reaction to the Government amendments. Supposing that they are tabled tomorrow, Tuesday. I could consult various people tomorrow who advise me on these matters and the amendments would presumably 1085 come up for discussion, if that stage of the Bill is reached, by Thursday. But what an unsatisfactory position that is. There is no way in which right hon. and hon. Members can consider the proposals and be given proper time in which to do so.
The position of charities and other public bodies is highly unsatisfactory. We cannot discuss the facts realistically and my right hon. and learned Friend is right to recommend its withdrawal and consideration at a later stage. The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland talked about the problems of a net from which it was impossible to escape. A net is only a lot of holes joined with string—and that is what this tax is.
§ Mr. Gow
I support the suggestion that the Government should remove from Report stage the consideration of Part III. Part I contains four clauses, Part II 14, and Part IV seven, but Part III, which we find particularly offensive, has no fewer than 31 clauses and eight schedules.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe) was unkind to criticise the Chief Secretary for smiling. Children smile when they do not understand what is going on, so I do not find it surprising that he should smile as we discuss these matters, particularly the capital transfer tax:
On the final day of the Committee debate, the Chief Secretary, in almost his final words, said:It has been a historic Committee in which a magnificent tax has seen considerable progress."—[Official Report, Standing Committee A; 18th February, 1975, c. 2301.]So much progress was made that more amendments and new clauses have been tabled since Committee than with any other Finance Bill.
We have also had the astonishing admission by the Leader of the House two hours ago that only hon. Members who serve on the Committee had been supplied over the weekend with details of some of the amendments. I understand that even that suggestion was more in the Lord President's mind than in reality. In any case, by what token do the Government assert that those who serve on the Committee are entitled to preferential treatment? Surely it is elementary that every hon. Member is entitled particularly in the preparation for a crucial Report 1086 stage, to be treated with the same courtesy.
I must also refer to the time allowed for consideration of Government amendments. On 16th September 1967, in the Queen's Bench Division of the High Court, a judge was asked to rule about the period of five days which the then Secretary of State for Education, now in another place, had laid down as the time limit in which objections had to be laid before he amended the articles of Enfield Grammar School. The court held that five days was unreasonable and contrary to natural justice. The learned judge allowed four weeks.
If natural justice required and a High Court judge asserted that four weeks was reasonable for objections to be lodged relating to the articles of Enfield Grammar School, how much more notice should there not be for us to consider, not a measure which affects a limited category, but something which will affect the whole nation for the future—or at least until this Government are replaced by one presided over by my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher)?
In seeking to force the capital transfer tax provisions through the House on Report, the Government have given a derisory period of notice which means that my right hon. Friends and I cannot give these complicated provisions the consideration they deserve. But there is another factor—that of natural justice—which should compel the Government to withdraw Part III. I hope that the Government will do so.
There is another matter which should affect hon. Members. On the Chancellor's own admission, the revenue from capital transfer tax during the financial year 1975–76 will be significantly lower than if estate duty had continued. Those of us who are concerned about the Government's borrowing requirement would on that ground welcome a continuation of estate duty. There is no urgency over capital transfer tax. On the contrary, as my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Clark) wisely and rightly said, its whole concept should be submitted forthwith by the Government to the Select Committee which is considering the wealth tax. This measure needs more careful consideration. The only way in 1087 which that can be achieved is to refer the whole of the concept of Part III to that Select Committee.
Another consideration weighs with my hon. Friends. The Government are in enough hot water already. You will have read, Mr. Deputy Speaker, of the disagreements between the Secretary of State for Employment and his wiser right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science. Why should we heap more problems on this Government? We shall shortly be coming to the next Budget. The Cabinet has enough problems without adding to the Government's embarrassment by proceeding with this tax. One can only hope that in drafting the referendum Bill, the Government will be a little more careful—
§ Mr. Gow
Of course I defer to your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was only expressing the hope that the Government do not compound their own folly by drafting future Bills as negligently as they drafted this one.
Finally, I want to spare the Government further embarrassment. That thought is uppermost in the minds of all of my right hon. and hon. Friends. We on the Opposition side of the House are not bullies. We do not wish to pile further humiliation on to the Government Front Bench. Why does not the Chief Secretary smile a bigger smile than usual and oblige not only us but many of his hon. Friends and the overwhelming majority of people by withdrawing this mean, miserable and ill-considered proposal for a capital transfer tax?
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Patrick Mayhew (Royal Tunbridge Wells)
There was one remark made by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he introduced the Bill with which we on the Opposition side of the House could agree. It was possibly the only remark with which we could agree. It was that the capital transfer tax represented the single most important change in tax policy since the war.
One consequence flows from that fact—that if a large number of important amendments to what is the most important 1088 single change in tax policy are introduced, they themselves constitute amendments of major importance. Parliament cannot do its job if we do not consider them diligently, thoroughly and carefully. That is the point on which we ought to be fastening today, the more so, perhaps, as this measure will not get the degree of revision in another place that another measure would.
I believe that if any lawyer were to consider and give an opinion to his client upon a measure or a provision of this difficulty and complexity and should get it wrong after considering it for only the very brief time that is being allowed to us by the Government, he would have no answer to a claim for damages for professional negligence. How much more important is it that we, the legislature, who have a duty to form the law rather than simply to pass an opinion upon it, should take sufficient time at least for ourselves to understand what it is we are being asked to legislate upon?
If the Government were to give way to the protests that have been made this afternoon, they would attract to themselves only respect. They would not lose anything. They would not forgo the opportunity to get their tax in the end. They would not run out of time. They would lose nothing of any consequence. But if they persist, if they are obdurate, not only will they bring themselves into contempt—they are at liberty to do that, and, indeed, welcome to do it—but, what is far more important, they will bring Parliament into contempt. That is something that is not only unjustifiable; it is unforgivable.
§ Mr. Nicholas Fairbairn (Kinross and West Perthshire)
I agree with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Royal Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Mayhew) that the greatest danger of this type of legislation is that of bringing Parliament into contempt. There is not the slightest doubt that the legislation that we pass is far too complicated. It is too complicated for the citizen to comprehend and too complicated for Members of Parliament to understand. It is too complicated for Members on the Treasury Bench to understand. I do not believe that the Treasury Bench understands a word of the implications of their own amendments. That is the condemnation that 1089 deserves to be put upon the matter, and that these amendments should be put down by those who are trying to say that the simple taxpayers are consistently finding loopholes in their insane legislation is hyprocrisy itself.
It is because you pass legislation which, in all English and sense—far less in law—is incomprehensible, and you put down amendments which you do not understand, which are ill-digested—which cannot be digested—that you are inviting the House to be in contempt of its duty and authority. Upon you, and you alone, the blame will fall and, I trust, fall hardly.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. Just for the record, I have not done this. Let the blame fall elsewhere.
§ Mr. Adley
I wonder whether the reason why the Opposition are so concerned about the need to consult their constituents and others contrasts so deeply with the way in which Labour Members do not seem to regard that as necessary may be because it is normal practice for the Opposition to consult their constituents whereas on the Government side of the House it may well be normal practice to receive instructions from sponsors such as trade unions.
I intervened during the speech of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe) and invited the Chief Secretary to say whether he had consulted the Forestry Commission or others about the clauses and the amended clauses as they related to forestry. I can draw only my own conclusions from the Chief Secretary's silence.
Because the manner in which this Finance Bill has been handled in such a shambles, a very large number of worthy amendments and new clauses will not be debated at all as a result of the Government's behaviour.
The motion allows us to discussnew Clauses not relating to capital transfer tax or estate dutyas the first of a number of items which are detailed. I wish to turn my attention to one particular new clause. Before doing so, however, I should like to say that the House, in being denied the opportunity to discuss New Clauses No. 13 and 14, 1090 in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler)—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman was not present earlier when Mr. Speaker said that those new clauses were out of order.
§ Mr. Adley
I was indeed present, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have sat here throughout. The point I am making is that the reason that so many of these new clauses have had to be declared out of order is, I suspect, largely that insufficient time has been available to Members to take the necessary steps to ensure that they would be in order. If, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you are ruling that it is impossible for me to discuss any of the new clauses which have not been selected, I am delighted to be able to inform the House that most of my speech will remain unsaid. I should be grateful for your ruling on this matter.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
My ruling on the matter is that no clause will be discussed in detail at this stage. We are discussing the order in which they shall be taken.
§ Mr. Adley
I appreciate your point, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I certainly do not wish to abuse that ruling. But I was seeking to refer to the words on the Order Paper in the Chancellor's motion, in which the first point is the reference to clauses not related to capital transfer tax or estate duty. There is nothing on the Order Paper to say that this shall be with reference only to those amendments selected. We are, therefore, in some difficulty. In order, therefore, not to abuse your ruling, I shall conclude my remarks almost before they have started—remarks of regret and shame for the way in which the Government are handling the House of Commons and, by their actions, preventing the raising of many issues which ought properly to be raised on the Finance Bill annually.
That is the point at which I wish to conclude. Many of my hon. Friends will know that for me to subside in silence is not a usual occurrence. I do so with great regret.
§ Mr. Peter Rees
I intervene briefly to support the plea which my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, 1091 East (Sir G. Howe) made to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and to the Chief Secretary.
I had the privilege of serving on the Standing Committee. The brutal relish with which the Chancellor described the way in which he proposed to lay the lash on the broad backs which he is always singling out for such treatment and the personal attacks which he made on my right hon. Friend who represents Finchley with such distinction did not conceal from me, nor do I think it concealed from the House, the fact that the Chancellor had barely condescended to master the outlines of his own Bill.
I suppose that was to be expected. This is what we have come to expect from the Chancellor, who always considers that an ounce of malice and prejudice will suffice in this kind of fiscal tight corner.
It became a little disappointing and worrying to those of us who served on the Standing Committee that the Chief Secretary and the Financial Secretary did not in great measure understand the details of their own Bill. I sympathise with them greatly in their predicament. They have been considering other matters. However, it rested with them, if they felt that they could not get the measure of the new tax which they were proposing to introduce, at least to withdraw it for a period of leisurely consideration. This they did not choose to do.
The result was a flurry of notes passed in the early hours of the morning from the Government advisers upstairs to the Chief Secretary and the Financial Secretary. I pay tribute to the dexterity with which the Chief Secretary and the Financial Secretary read out the briefs which they barely comprehended. Still, this is no way in which to pilot through Committee a highly complex piece of legislation.
One of the consequences was—I speak from personal recollection of Schedule 5, to which I was privileged to move one or two amendments—that the Chief Secretary was time and again compelled to say that he would take the matter away for further consideration. In a sense, this was the generosity which the right hon. Gentleman habitually shows 1092 in such debates. In another sense, it was because, as I said, he barely understood the brief that had been thrust into his quivering hand and certainly had had no time to master the notes which had been passed down to him.
As a consequence, between 20 and 30 amendments were withdrawn on the assurance that the Chief Secretary would take the matter away and consider whether there was a point of substance.
I have always understood it to be a practice in the conduct of our business, when a Minister takes away a point and says that he will consider it before Report, that he writes to the Member who moved the amendment and who was concerned principally in the debate and informs him of what the fruits of his consideration might have been.
I must tell the House that on Wednesday of last week I had still not received such a letter from the Chief Secretary. So I wrote to him. I believe that I put my case modestly. I appreciated the difficulties under which he was labouring. I asked him, in effect, what conclusions he had reached on these points which he had recognised to be points of substance. If they were not points of substance, presumably he would not have taken them away for further consideration.
Today I received a reply. I do not complain of the politeness of the language. The reply is that the pressures are such that I shall have to thumb my own way through the Notice Paper to find all the amendments and that, because of the pressures under which Ministers have been labouring, the right hon. Gentleman cannot give me any consideration on these points.
One understands the pressure under which the Financial Secretary and the right hon. Gentleman are labouring, but is this a satisfactory way for us to conduct our business? Let me tell the Government Front Bench through you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, what the practical consequences of this have been and will be. The Chancellor, with the sneer which comes too readily to his lips in financial debates, said that a great number of amendments had been tabled late on Thursday night. I tabled some of them. I take full responsibility for that.
1093 5.45 p.m.
I cannot have been the only hon. Gentleman who tabled amendments, but I tabled a great number of amendments. It took me a considerable time to work them out, with the assistance of expert eyes both inside and outside the House of Commons. Of those amendments, at least 20 were on points which we had considered in Standing Committee and which the Chief Secretary had said that he would take away and consider.
Had the Chief Secretary given the close consideration to these matters which he should have given them, and had he and his hon. Friends allowed themselves reasonable time for the consideration of these admittedly abstruse matters, I might not have had to late table those 20 or 30 amendments.
I make this point particularly to the Chair, because I hope that those amendments will be selected for debate, even though they were the subject of close-fought debates upstairs, because, as I have said, we had an assurance in Committee that they were worthy of consideration and that the right hon. Gentleman would take them away and consider them.
§ Mr. Gow
It will be within the recollection of the House that my hon. and learned Friend said that he had a letter from the Chief Secretary complaining of the enormous pressures under which Treasury Ministers have been suffering. Does not my hon. and learned Friend agree that this is a further reason why the whole of Part III should be scrapped so that the intolerable pressure to which Treasury Ministers are being subjected can be relieved, if I may coin a phrase, at a stroke?
§ Mr. Anthony Kershaw (Stroud)
On the contrary, if Ministers are under such very great pressure is it not very much in the interests of the House that that should be so? Nothing concentrates a man's mind so much as the thought that he might soon be hanged. As quite clearly Ministers have not been concentrating 1094 upon this matter up to now, would it not be much better that they now started to think about it and in that way sought to advance our deliberations to a far greater degree than they have done?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. If we have too many more interruptions like that something will happen to me, I think. We are at the very beginning of our deliberations and they are likely to be extensive. I hope that hon. Members will try to keep to the point.
§ Mr. Kershaw
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I hope that that is not a hint that you will curtail in any way a thorough examination of the Bill.
§ Mr. Rees
At an earlier stage in my brief intervention I expressed concern from the Government Front Bench. I hope, with profound respect to the Chair, that I am allowed to express concern for you, too, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Naturally I shall do all that I can to preserve not only your health but your kindly interest and continued benevolence towards us as our debates proceed on this complex Bill.
I return to the difficulties under which we have been labouring. By working under extreme pressure and drawing on such support as we could from those who have had the time and application outside the House to study our debates in Standing Committee, I was able to table a modest few amendments late on Thursday night. Those amendments were tabled before I had even had the opportunity of seeing the last of the new clauses tabled in the names of the Chancellor and his right hon. and hon. Friends. I have not yet had an opportunity of tabling any amendments to the new clauses. They deserve very close consideration. As others of my right hon. and hon. Friends have pointed out, there is the new clause on forestry.
§ Mr. Adley
My hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right. This is the point. New Clause 15 has more than 50 signatories of members not only of the Conservative Party but also of the Liberal Party and the United Ulster Unionist Party. I am grateful to my hon. and 1095 learned Friend for raising this point and I hope that he will elaborate on it.
§ Mr. Rees
I will leave it to my hon. Friend to deal with that point, about which I know that he is greatly concerned. He has a greater expertise than myself in these matters, though I press close behind him on the trail of that scent.
I refer to the capital transfer tax. The Bill as amended in Committee was not published and available for us to read until Monday of last week. This is a very grave indictment of the way in which the Government are attempting to manipulate our business. By the most remorseless application some of us were able to get down amendments to the Bill as amended in Committee by Thursday night. I think that the sneers of the Chancellor came very ill on that point. Fortunately, we did not have his interventions in Standing Committee, otherwise, our deliberations would have been further extended because I have never yet heard a practical point of significance in a tax debate from the Chancellor. He is concerned merely with party prejudice and personal attacks. With great good sense, he left our Standing Committee debates to the Chief Secretary whose unfailing courtesy, charm and good humour I am happy to acknowledge. I only wish that his courtesy and charm had been matched by a greater consideration of the underlying issues in this Bill.
If I may coin a very inelegant phrase, Part III of the Bill is a dog's breakfast. In coining that phrase—and I am conscious that it may grate a little on the sensibilities of the House—I am aware that I am doing a disservice to dog owners and dogs. Any dog owner who served a breakfast of this kind to his dog would very soon have the RSPCA after him.
It is time that we had a society for the protection of taxpayers. In view of the very intemperate and ill-judged amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Luton, West (Mr. Sedgemore)—whom I am sorry not to see on the Government benches at the moment because from time to time he graced our debates in Committee—it may be that such a society would enjoy royal patronage. I believe that the Government owe it to themselves, to the House and to the general body of taxpayers to withdraw 1096 this odious Bill for more detailed consideration than we could possibly give it—even with your benevolence and good humour, Mr. Deputy Speaker—in the five days that have been allotted to us.
§ Mr. Michael Morris (Northampton, South)
I rise to speak briefly because I had not intended to intervene in this debate. In the one year and a few days that I have been in this House I have never seem such a shambles. I am reminded by the intervention of an hon. Member opposite about the printing dispute, of the situation which we faced last summer. I had the privilege of serving on the Standing Committee which considered the Rent Bill. At that time we had to deal with many amendments which had to appear in manuscript form and were then copied by photostat and marshalled. I have to tell the Chief Secretary that his hon. Friend on the Government Front Bench on that occasion took considerably more trouble than has been taken on this occasion to meet the needs of hon. Members in debating this Bill.
I was not on the Standing Committee of this Finance Bill although I did table one or two modest amendments. However, at 7.20 a.m. this morning I received by special delivery the bundle of papers which I hold in my hand. I have had the privilege of working for an American firm, and therefore I know what a working breakfast is, but to deal with over 100 pages of amendments is, I am sure, beyond the powers of any hon. Member in the time allowed.
May I also suggest to the Chief Secretary that no one who has come to this House from local government would dare to try to drive this sort of legislation through our local authorities. All of us know that our first duty is to our constituents and to consult those people who are interested in this matter. I have had more correspondence about Part III of the Bill than about any other Bill since I have been in this House. How does the Chief Secretary expect me or any other Member who has received this bundle of amendments on a Monday morning to be able to consult those whom we wish to serve and then debate those amendments on Monday afternoon? I hope that I shall hear from the Chief Secretary or from the Chancellor of the 1097 Exchequer how I am to go about this. I do not believe that it is possible either physically or mentally.
There is only one honourable course open to the Government, and that is to take back Part III of the Bill. The Chief Secretary would lose nothing by so doing. Indeed, he might gain in stature because he would show that he had listened to all quarters of the House. I hope very much, now that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has joined him, that he will take this point seriously. If he values the consideration of the people, he should chop this Bill so that in the next few days we may deal with Parts I, II and IV, and he should take Part III back and consider it anew.
§ Mr. Douglas Crawford (Perth and East Perthshire)
The hon. Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Clark) brought a wry smile to my lips when he alluded to the difficulties of the Conservative Party and the paucity of their resources in order to comprehend what is in the Bill. How much greater are the difficulties of the two minor parties who do not have anything like the resources of the Conservative or Labour Parties. In addition, neither the SNP nor Plaid Cymru were represented on the Standing Committee, and in view of the contempt which the Government are showing to the House and to those parties in particular, I do not intend to join in this filibuster. All I would say is that the Government are giving short shrift not only to the House but also to Scotland and Wales on this issue.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)
I remember very well, when I came into this House some years ago, the election of Mr. Speaker, who said that his duty was to protect the minority parties and the back benchers. It is quite evident today that Parliament has lost the respect of the country, because the ordinary Member of Parliament finds himself greatly frustrated when he comes to this House and discovers that it is well nigh impossible on many occasions to put the points on which his constituents continually lobby him. It is that sort of matter which I should like to discuss on the Floor of the House on Report.
We back benchers have often listened to a dialogue between the two Front 1098 Benches. How many times have back benchers been frustrated as a result? Then when we come to important matters we find that because of the pressure of business in the House, Standing Committees have to deal with these issues and, as has been said by the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Crawford)—and I support him in his complaint—when the party to which he belongs is not even represented on the Standing Committee he has a legitimate grievance.
We as United Unionists had one Member on the Committee, but it could very well have been that my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross) would not have been selected to serve on that Committee, and then the wisdom from Ulster would not have been available to the Committee. We would have been in exactly the same position as the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire.
It is essential that the voice of protest should be raised by back benchers. I repudiate any suggestion that there has been an arrangement come to among back benchers to take part in what amounts to a filibuster. I am speaking as a back bencher on an important parliamentary principle.
We shall not be able to discuss many matters arising on the Bill simply because of time, and there are matters of great significance which demand careful thought and debate. The danger now is that we shall have not only undigested legislation but indigestible legislation set before us. The Government should listen to what is being said. The Chief Secretary, whose praises have been sung by all hon. Members—he always has what we in Ulster would call an ideal bedside manner—ought to listen to the humble plea of those who have points of vital importance to put before the House.
When the Bill passes into law, it will affect every citizen. All of us have been snowed under by representations. I passed on those which I received to my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry so that he could speak of them in the Standing Committee—which, of course, he did—but there remain many matters which should be further discussed under your able guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
1099 I urge the Chief Secretary, therefore, to listen not to the scoring of political points but to the genuine concern expressed by hon. Members on behalf of the people they represent. We must have reasonable opportunity for debate. Of course, there are hon. Members who want to defeat the Bill. That is why they are here, and they are entitled to do their best to that end within our procedures. But the Chief Secretary must think again about the way this matter is being handled and do all he can to ensure that back benchers are able to express in this Chamber the representations which have been made to them by their constituents.
§ Mr. Peter Morrison (City of Chester)
I suppose that we should be grateful to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Chief Secretary for putting the motion down. It is an attempt, they say, to bring some order out of chaos. But I cannot find it in me to be particularly grateful, since the moving of it does not get over the fact that the amendments were put down exceptionally late.
It is all very well for the Leader of the House to talk about 165 hours in Committee. Many of us were not members of the Standing Committee, and in that sense we are not so lucky, being unable to understand these matters as readily, perhaps, as those who were on the Committee can understand them.
I support my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe), therefore, in his plea that Part III be taken out and be considered at a later stage in more leisurely fashion. I support that plea especially because I represent a constituency with a myriad small businesses. It has within it an enormous number of owner-occupied shops, it has a lot of forest land, it has some farmers, and, what is more, it has a great number of buildings of historic interest. All these people and interests which go to make up my constituency are affected by Part III.
Over the past four weeks, I have had a large number of letters from constituents about the Finance Bill, but since the amendments were published not one letter have I received because people have not had time to consult me, let alone time 1100 fully to understand what the Government amendments mean.
The implications for my constituents are horrendous if Part III is retained, for the very nature of a great city such as the one I represent can be changed by the Government's proposed capital transfer tax. My constituency is part of our national heritage. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I am sure, it has been chosen as one of the two cities to represent the United Kingdom in European Architectural Heritage Year. No one wishes to see such a city demolished by taxation ill conceived, not properly understood and certainly not fully thought out.
There is, moreover, the vital matter of employment as it will be affected by the implications of Part III. Since so much of my consituency is, so to speak, owner-occupied, as the small business men, farmers and so on are put out of business—"So what?", some may say—unemployment will rise, and that is not a responsibility which I am prepared to accept on behalf of my constituents. If the Government do not reconsider Part III, it will be their responsibility when unemployment is caused.
I hope, therefore, that the Government will come to their senses and recognise that they can easily remedy this situation by setting aside Part III for consideration at the right time in the proper way.
§ Mr. Cormack
This may well be one of the most important debates we have in considering the Bill on Report.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The last time I called the hon. Member, he spoke for 45 minutes, and I cannot forget it. I hope that he will not be tempted to do the same today.
§ Mr. Cormack
I am not only tempted by the hon. Member for Luton, West, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but what you have said almost gives me a target at which I must aim.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Let us have peace on earth and good will. The hon. Gentleman, I know, will have meant that 1101 remark only in passing, and I hope that he will be as much to the point as usual.
§ Mr. Cormack
Indeed, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I should never cast any aspersion on the Chair, and we are all delighted that you are in the Chair because you bring that nice light touch of good humour to our debates which is extremely helpful. It is important that we have that touch today because this is a serious debate, and, as I said a few moments ago, it is probably one of the most important debates that we shall have on the whole Bill.
When the Chief Secretary moved the motion in such brief terms, he treated the House with gross contempt, for his proposal was that the House should consider during four days this week and on Monday of next week, without adequate preparation and without the material which all of us on both sides need, the most important and far-reaching piece of fiscal legislation to be produced since the war—and, arguably this century.
The letter which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dover and Deal (Mr. Rees) quoted from a few minutes ago made a chill run down my spine. That the Government should at one and the same time feel themselves both beleaguered and obliged is a sad commentary on the way they are seeking to conduct the nation's affairs. I say "beleaguered" because the Financial Secretary—I believe that his was the signature to the letter; my hon. and learned Friend will correct me if I am wrong—was saying that the Government were under enormous pressure, such pressure that they could not afford to my hon. and learned Friend, a most courteous man, the normal courtesies which any hon. Member has a right to expect.
I was tempted to interrupt in a somewhat vulgar way and say that if the Government cannot stand the heat they should get out of the kitchen. But there the Government were, saying that they could not withstand the pressures. But, then, if they, this beleaguered Government, cannot withstand the pressures, why do they feel obliged to rush through this most revolutionary of tax changes without adequate consideration? The gravamen of our charge is that the Government are not giving proper consideration to this far-reaching tax revolution.
1102 I shall refer briefly to some of the people who will be affected by the tax. For the record, it is worth pointing out that the Government benches have been almost empty for the whole of our debate. Labour Members have just as many constituents whose lives are likely to be transformed by the worst effects of this tax as have my hon. Friends and myself. I am sure that the hon. Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mr. Dempsey) will confirm that in Scotland there have been an enormous number of representations about the effects of the capital transfer tax.
A ready solution is open to the Government and has been explained repeatedly by many hon. Members. It is that they should take back Part III of the Bill and then we shall facilitate the passage of Parts I, II and IV. We have reasoned amendments which we wish to put on those other parts, but they can be debated and those remaining parts of the Bill enacted. The level of Government revenue will be slightly higher if Part III is dropped, as was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow). If the Government have a proper regard for the feelings of hon. Members, they cannot ignore the pleas that have been made this afternoon not only from the Conservative Party but by the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) and by the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Crawford). They both indicated just how important it is from the point of view of the minority parties that this far-reaching tax revolution should have proper consideration.
There are two ways in which the Minister can satisfy the House this afternoon. One is for him to say that the debate has been entirely one-sided, that all the arguments have been powerful and overwhelming and that he accepts them. That would be an act of not uncharacteristic generosity on his part. If he wished to confer with the Chancellor, however, who has not been present for much of the debate, there is a solution in Standing Orders. Standing Order No. 27 provides that he can move the Adjournment of the House at the end of the debate so that his discussions may be furthered.
It is essential that the tax should not be debated without adequate preparation. There were many points of order last 1103 Thursday and Friday and again today and although some of them might have been technically out of order and were properly ruled so by the Chair, the fact remains that the amendments were not available in time. They were not available in a proper form or in sufficient numbers for all hon. Members to take them home at the weekend. The least hon. Members should expect is the opportunity to take these documents home and discuss them with the various bodies most affected and with the individuals who have made representations about them to see whether they meet the objections that have been raised.
In Committee many forceful pleas were made on behalf of agriculture, forestry, the national heritage and charities. In almost all cases they were put forward in a non-partisan spirit and they were received as such by the Chief Secretary and his colleagues. In almost every case they gave an undertaking to come back to the matter on Report. In some cases they have not done so, so far as one can see from studying the badly-assembled amendment paper. Where they have come back to the subjects raised they have tabled Amendments which are not readily understandable to many of the interests most closely affected.
During the last few days hon. Members have received a vast number of documents from some of the representative bodies which are acutely worried at the direction which the CTT seems to be taking. One document was put out by the Country Landowners' Associations. Its president pointed out:Having studied the debates in Standing Committee on the Finance Bill, I am writing to express my disappointment that apparently the Government still does not fully understand the serious impact Capital Transfer Tax will have on the future of agriculture".Lest the Minister should think this is special pleading on behalf of people who own thousands of rolling acres, let me read the fourth paragraph, which is the most significant. It says:The point I particularly wish to deal with in this letter, which I am sending to all Members of Parliament, is the Government's refusal to extend to the tenanted half of the country's 1104 land the agricultural relief granted to owner-occupied land when transferred on death.There are thousands of tenant farmers—hill farmers in the North, fen farmers in the East and farmers in the Midlands where I come from—whose future is in jeopardly because of the tax. Surely the Government cannot intend these farmers—the backbone of British agriculture, men who have sunk their all into their farms and equipment and who have shown devotion and hard work of the highest order—to be dealt a death blow. That would appear to be the consequence of the Government's action.
For further amplification of this point, one needs only to look at the documents sent out by the National Farmers' Union and the National Farmers' Union of Scotland. The NFU makes the point:The union continues to maintain, despite the modifications to the Bill which have been proposed, that there are very real dangers inherent in the Government's capital taxation package and in so far as these taxes are likely to compromise the production of food in the UK, the dangers will not be confined merely to agriculture but will affect the nation as a whole.The document from the Scottish NFU takes up that point and raises several other significant factors on its own account.
The fourth document is a letter from the Forestry Committee of Great Britain. I do not know whether it was sent to all hon. Members, but certainly a large number of us received it. It says:The Report Stage of the Finance Bill starts on Monday. As you know, the Government have promised to table an Amendment relating to Forestry, but this has not yet been published.The letter was sent out last Wednesday and some of the Government's amendments on forestry have now been published. However, the point of the letter is as valid now as it was last Wednesday because we have not had an opportunity to discuss the Government's proposals with those whose lives and livelihoods are affected.
I am not talking of the owners of vast estates making enormous and lucrative profits. These are figments of the imagination of Ministers on the Treasury Bench. I am thinking of the hundreds of forestry workers who lobbied the House six or eight weeks ago and who told us "Unless you do something to 1105 mitigate the effects of this tax we shall have to emigrate. The British forestry industry will be dead, and we shall have to leave the shores of this country." These people are still worried. They are still not confident that the Government's concessions go far enough, and, most important of all, they have not had an opportunity to discuss with hon. Members whether they do or do not.
The hon. Member for Meriden (Mr. Tomlinson) laughs. He may think that this is funny and trivial, but I can assure him that for tens of thousands of ordinary workers in this country it is not trivial and not funny. To the ordinary agricultural and forestry worker it is a matter of vital concern.
§ Mr. John Tomlinson (Meriden)
When he is reading out all these ghastly views, I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would also read out the views of the Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers on the proposals related to forestry, because it does not share his gloom and despondency.
§ Mr. Cormack
The forestry workers strongly share these views, and have written to hon. Members in recent days along these lines. I had a letter some 10 days ago from Mr. Len Yull, who led the deputation to the House. In that letter he made this point.
The hon. Gentleman prejudges the issue by saying "these ghastly views". We look across at the barren Government benches, the silent support and the silent majority backing up the iniquitous scheme of pillage and plunder proposed by the Chief Secretary. Somebody earlier referred to the smile on his face. Unless he accedes to the reasonable request made by many of my hon. Friends and myself I shall begin to think that it is the smile on the face of the tiger. The right hon. Gentleman has it within his power, after consultation with his colleagues and with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to bring a measure of relief and a feeling of confidence in the Government of this country.
The right hon. Gentleman has only to say "We depart not one whit from our philosophy. We are still as determined as ever to bring in a capital transfer tax, but we take the point that there must be due and proper deliberation before that is brought in". All that the Opposition 1106 are saying is that this is a proper subject for a Select Committee. There is a Select Committee dealing with the question of the wealth tax. How sensible it would be for that Committee's terms of reference to be properly expanded and the capital transfer tax referred to it. Lest this be thought a silly point, it has been accepted by the right hon. Gentleman, because he has said that before some of the clauses affecting the national heritage are finally determined, the Government will wish to take into account the conclusions of the Select Committee on the wealth tax. If that point has been accepted by the Government, why can they not say "Let us put this tax to the Select Committee. Let the Select Committee, which is representative of all shades of opinion within the House, deliberate on this tax"? That is what we ask. We have a right to demand it, and the Government would be churlish in the extreme to refuse it.
It cannot be said too often that this is the most revolutionary tax change of the century. If this tax is to be brought in, surely the Government are concerned about the efficiency with which it should be operated. Surely they do not wish to create a fiscal blunderbuss and blast everybody to high heaven.
§ Mr. Cormack
Surely the Government are concerned about revenue. My hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow), with his vast knowledge of the subject, will immediately agree that the function of taxation is to raise revenue and not to change the structure of society—not to plunder, not to pillage, but to raise the necessary revenue.
If the Government have decided that a capital transfer tax is a proper way to raise necessary revenue, fair enough, but let them give due thought and consideration before bringing that tax in. The House is not being given a proper opportunity this week. The motion, moved briefly by the right hon. Gentleman, brings no credit upon the Government or upon our parliamentary process.
The many people who in a few weeks' time will have the benefit of hearing our deliberations broadcast, would be staggered, astounded and horrified in the extreme to think that Parliament was to devote at the most a day and a half or 1107 two days to the discussion of this tax. Whatever the Leader of the House says about the record time that this Bill may or may not have had in Committee, only a few Members had the right to debate it there. My hon. Friend the Member for Horsham and Crawley (Mr. Hordern) reminded us earlier that it used to be the practice for the Finance Bill to be taken on the Floor of the House. Would it were still so, because then we should all have the chance to subject to continual and detailed scrutiny the many enormities which the Government contemplate perpetrating upon the British people. That is not the practice, and the Bill having come downstairs, the right hon. Gentleman is now giving the House two days at the outside—according to the timetable that he has suggested—to discuss this revolutionary tax which affects constituents throughout the country, be they in Luton, Meriden, South-West Staffordshire, Shetland, Hereford, or anywhere else.
People are affected by this tax, and their Members should have a right to talk about it. There should not be a gag upon Government supporters. They should be enabled to make their points either in favour of the tax or against it. They may make their points at party rallies, but they do not do so on the Floor of the House.
I urge the right hon. Gentleman, for the last time, to earn himself a parliamentary accolade by accepting the force and the substance of our arguments and by deleting from this week's proceedings consideration of Part III of the Bill. Then the right hon. Gentleman will get his Bill, the country will be properly served, the Revenue will not be the poorer, the parliamentary tradition will be the richer, and the tax, when it is finally imposed, will have been thought out properly and understood properly. No one will be able to make the charge that the tax was steamrollered through, to the detriment of many thousands of the finest citizens of this country.
§ Mr. John MacGregor (Norfolk, South)
My hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Morrison) said that he was not lucky enough to be on the Standing Committee. I am not sure that the phrase "lucky enough" was correct, bearing 1108 in mind the gruelling sessions we had. From the look on the faces of several other members of the Standing Committee when he used that phrase, I think that they tend to share my view.
Because I was on the Standing Committee, I wish to speak not to the capital transfer tax as a whole but to one or two practical points. For many hours I have been engaged in discussion and debate with the Chief Secretary, sometimes combatively, but, I am sure he would agree, often reasonably and constructively. I should like to put to him some of the practical consequences of the timetable he is enforcing on us, especially the chaos which occurred at the end of last week and over the weekend.
I knew when we finished our deliberations on the Standing Committee at 9.15 a.m. on 19th February, after two all-night sittings, that we would face a tight timetable. I have been appalled at the way it has developed and especially at the events over the past weekend, which are not entirely the responsibility of the Chief Secretary, but which have put many of us in an intolerable situation. I had arranged meetings in my constituency to discuss the amendments to the tax last weekend. Tenant farmers came to my constituency meetings and surgeries without my knowing what amendments the Government would put forward to some of the details. Those amendments had not yet appeared. I know that some amendments had appeared earlier in the week, but I was aware that there were probably still others to come.
When I returned to London late on Saturday night, I found a copy of Friday's Hansard awaiting me, and I read the full text of the series of points of order that had been reported in Saturday's Press. I saw in column 996 that it had been said that members of the Finance Bill Committee were urgently—by special delivery—to receive copies of the amendments tabled up to that point at least.
I live not very far from the House, but I am still awaiting those copies. It was not until today, when I arrived in the House after lunch, that I was able to take up this enormous wad. That pledge was not fulfilled. Nor were others that the Leader of the House made last Thursday, or we could have saved a 1109 great deal of time already. So we are forced into these debates without having had the chance even to study the amendments.
I wish to spell out the difficulties of those of us who take a particular interest in the Bill and who, as the Chief Secretary knows, have been put in charge of debates on certain clauses and schedules and who have proposed many amendments. Perhaps I may remind him that, unlike Ministers, we do not have a staff to assist us in preparing amendments and preparing for debates. We have a few advisers, but they are part time and often difficult to get hold of, and it is frequently difficult to get hold of them at times when we are available. I trust that the right hon. Gentleman is not saying that we are wrong to have such advisers, because they have been proved invaluable time and again throughout Committee in improving the Bill.
Also unlike the right hon. Gentleman's staff, the parliamentary draftsman, and the Treasury and Inland Revenue staff, as Members of Parliament we have other things to do. Thus, we find ourselves almost totally without assistance throughout this week. I shall have to attend the rest of the debates today because there are many amendments on which I wish to speak, as there will be later in the week. I shall therefore find it practically impossible even to study the amendments thrust upon us today, and certainly impossible to have the consultations necessary to draft amendments to some of the amendments. All Opposition Members will find it difficult to prepare our total case on many amendments that we have put down and that we hope to put down in the coming few days.
In common with other hon. Members on the Standing Committee, I received a number of assurances from the Chief Secretary and the Financial Secretary on a number of amendments when they said that they would look at various matters that we had raised, and on those assurances we withdrew our amendments. I did my homework and I produced an enormous list of the areas where assurances were given. Perhaps I was not as assiduous as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dover and Deal (Mr. Rees), and did not put down my whole shaft of amendments by Thursday 1110 evening, but the reason was that so far the Government had not produced anything. I was not even in the position of seeing what the Government's reaction was to their assurances in Committee, and, like my hon. Friends, I have received no letters from Treasury Ministers on this subject.
I now find myself having no time properly to do the work necessary to put down my amendments, and that is disgraceful. Above all, I do not have time to consult outside interests, and here I am thinking not of the very small number of highly skilled advisers that we have but of those outside interests who, over the weeks when the Bill was in Committee, were constantly in touch with many of us, putting points of view that we thought utterly legitimate and that we expressed in Standing Committee. Very few of those outside bodies, individuals, and so on, have yet had time to come back to me with their reactions to the Government's amendments, and I find it difficult to know how I shall be able to discuss these matters with them.
My constituents, these outside bodies, individuals, accountants, and so on, have written to us from all over the country, and they must find it beyond belief that we are pressed into this situation in which we are plunged into debate after debate without having had time to talk on them. I agree that this adds to the disillusionment with Parliament among sensible and moderate people outside the House.
As the consequences of some aspects of the tax are felt outside—we all recognise that that point has not yet arrived—people will not believe the way in which this timetable has been thrust upon us at this late stage in what is virtually a new Bill, in view of the number of Government amendments. The procedures over the past few weeks since the Bill was published in December have been an object lesson to me on how Government legislation should not be brought forward, particularly legislation of this complexity.
I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe) that by far the best course would be to refer Part III to a Select Committee, or to take it back and reintroduce it in a later Finance Bill when we have time to deal with it adequately. I do not see why the totally indecent haste 1111 with which we are compelled to move this week is necessary for Part III, as I accept it to be necessary for some other provisions.
If the Chief Secretary will not accept what I regard as this reasonable suggestion, which many people outside regard as reasonable, will he at the very least allow a break of one day in the middle of our debates this week—a break between Parts I, II and IV—so that we have time to study this shoal of amendments and engage in what will be admittedly compressed discussions with outside interests and put down amendments that we still know to be necessary, and so that at least some modest preparation may be made for the later stages of the Bill? I ask him to consider that sympathetically before we embark on Part III, so that those of us with particular interests in many aspects are allowed a decent interval in which to do our homework.
§ Mr. Sedgemore
The debate began shortly after 4 o'clock, at which time the Opposition had planned to have about two hours of points of order and synthetic rage. Fortunately, Mr. Speaker, you intervened to stop that, and so we are now having a synthetic debate.
§ Sir John Hall (Wycombe)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The hon. Member has made a statement that is completely and utterly untrue. No such arrangement has been made by any Opposition Member.
§ Mr. Sedgemore
You will be well aware, Mr. Speaker, of the farce that our proceedings generated on Thursday when there were so many points of order. Fortunately, today you intervened to stop it and we are all very grateful to you, and I am sure that at least my constituents will be grateful to you. Now we are to see the hours roll by while the Opposition undertake the same performance in another manner.
There are 58,600 voters in Luton, West and I have had only one letter on capital transfer tax and I am sure that the other 58,599 voters in Luton, West are keen to 1112 see the Bill make progress and to see the Chancellor's motion voted on in the near or immediate future.
§ Mr. Sedgemore
I am sure that my constituents realise that I am one of those who sat for between 135 and 136 hours in the Finance Bill Committee, anxious to improve the Bill, and that if they had proposals to improve the Bill they would have brought them to me, but most of them believe it to be an excellent Bill, and their concern, if anything, is that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Chief Secretary and the Financial Secretary, brilliant and able people as they are, made far too many concessions on this tax.
§ Mr. Peter Rees
One always hears the hon. Member's contributions with relish. Would he tell the House just how many letters he has received from his constituents supporting the Bill, either in principle or in detail?
§ Mr. Sedgemore
If I were to answer that question honestly the figure would be an exact equivalent of the number of people who have proposed changes in the Bill. I am bound to say that my GMC has fully endorsed the contents of the Bill and its only concern is that there have been certain amendments which have possibly opened up certain loopholes in the Bill. There is a serious point here. We should warn the Government that not only constituents but back benchers will be angry if there is any attempt to give way over these issues.
We are witnessing a fairly skilful and moderately articulate filibuster by the Opposition. We are witnessing a deliberate attempt to kill the Bill and possibly an attempt to create a constitutional crisis over the Finance Bill, something we suspected during the Committee. It may be thought that to say that the Opposition are seeking to create a constitutional crisis and to kill the Finance Bill is putting it too high. There were rumblings that this was to happen during the 135 hours we were in Committee. This is a serious matter. At that time we did not 1113 take it too seriously because it only concerned the "Clockwork Oranges" on the Conservative back benches. It would appear that the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) and the Shadow Chancellor are joining in this peculiar activity by the Conservative back benchers. The country will take note if they seek to create that constitutional crisis. Perhaps the House will take note and will take certain drastic steps, something which is not usual during Report of a Finance Bill.
I apologise for not being present at the beginning of the debate but I was attending a meeting of the Public Expenditure Committee which is examining the White Paper, which, if anything, is more complex and obscure than the capital transfer tax. It seems that we are not actually debating the Chancellor's motion about the order in which these clauses should be taken. This seems to be another Second Reading debate on the merits or demerits of the capital transfer tax. I do not intend to fall into that trap because I know that you, Mr. Speaker, would rule me out very quickly.
§ Mr. Ioan Evans (Aberdare)
Is it not a fact that the more time the House spends discussing this motion the less time it will have to discuss the capital transfer tax?
§ Mr. Sedgemore
My hon. Friend expresses his point far more succinctly and adequately than I ever could. I hope that as the debate proceeds we shall not get, as we did in Committee, a lot of synthetic rage about farmers, worth £500,000, who have threadbare clothes and who never go on holiday. I hope that we are not going to hear about the plight of the Arab at the London Clinic or indeed about the plight of stallions who are supposed to breed fillies that can win the Derby.
§ Mr. Sedgemore
I hope that Opposition Members will keep to the point. As time goes by I am sure that they will come to love this tax—if only we can get it on to the statute book. The hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) said that he had come to love estate duty, a tax passed in 1894. 1114 To be fair, he said that was because he did not have to pay it.
The Government are concerned that we should not have a repetition of the serious abuse of the procedures of this House that took place in Committee when we considered this tax.
§ Mr. Tony Newton (Braintree)
I would ask the hon. Gentleman to consider what he is saying. I began to wonder at one point during the Committee whether he knew any other word than "filibuster". There were two occasions when he clearly accused us by this word. One was during the debate on charitable and public purposes, on which his right hon. and hon. Friends changed their minds last Friday, and the other was on the powers of the Inland Revenue under what was then Clause 15, on which they changed their minds at some other stage last week. To accuse us of filibustering when we have converted his right hon. Friends is rather stretching the argument.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Sedgemore
I am sure the hon. Gentleman will realise that it is possible to make a serious point in a couple of sentences.
§ Mr. Sedgemore
The Treasury, in Committee, did not need constant and tedious repetition to understand the points that Conservative Members were making. If people like myself, with little knowledge of tax law or the effect of taxation changes, could pick up the points almost immediately, I am sure that hon. Members like the Chief Secretary picked them up even before they were uttered. I suspect that most of them were in his brief, where he was told to say "Resist, but, if you must, say you will have another look at it".
Talking of filibustering, may I ask what was the purpose of trying to get rid of a modest little measure to enable the Government to look at the books of multinational companies which were systematically fiddling their transfer prices, profits and general prices to the public? That was a classic example of an 8½ hour filibuster from 4 o'clock to 12.30 p.m. The hon. Member for Braintree (Mr. Newton) knows that this is so because he participated in it. I am sure that the Government hope that we do not get 1115 caught up in the sort of things that happened in Committee. We found that much of the discussion was taken up with the junketings for the Tory leadership challenge—
§ Mr. Sedgemore
Conservative Members have complained that their experts will not have sufficient time to look at the clauses in the Bill. The right hon. Member for Finchley produced the finest team of tax dodge experts that this House, or any other small room in the world, has seen gathered together. They sat sniggering as one Conservative after another proposed amendments to create loopholes for tax avoidance and tax evasion. Naturally the Labour Front Bench does not wish to encourage either. I am quite sure that these tax dodge experts will be able to look at these amendments and come back tomorrow with another thousand loopholes that they will seek to create.
It is not the timing that these people object to. They object to the fact that we have left Committee with the Bill—despite the concessions unnecessarily given away by the Government—remaining intact. That concerns Conservative Members and that is what their fury is about. It is not about another thousand amendments.
When the Bill becomes law in a few weeks' time its fundamental provisions will still stand intact. It will be carrying out a fundamental pledge in the Labour Party's manifesto and will be an important move in seeking to bring about the fundamental and irreversible shift in wealth and power that we have been after. It is humbug, cant and hypocrisy, as well as degrading, for Conservative Members to seek to support the privileged few as they not only run scared but degrade themselves by encouraging hon. Gentlemen to come to this House and carry on with their rantings and ravings.
§ Mr. Esmond Bulmer (Kidderminster)
If the hon. Member for Luton, West (Mr. Sedgemore) was accustomed to consulting his constituents he might understand why Conservative Members feel as angry as they do at the treatment which the 1116 Government have accorded us. We simply cannot do our job. A great many of our constituents are affected, whether in terms of their farms, businesses, pensions or employments by this measure and they deserve a hearing as well as the information on which to base their representations. The Government have denied them that. That is a point on which even Labour Members should want to express an opinion.
It is a maxim in law that ignorance of the law is no defence. Have we not a duty to ensure that we do not legislate in ignorance? It is perfectly clear that ignorance characterises a great deal of what is said at present, partly through lack of understanding and partly through lack of information. Nothing brings this House into disrepute more than the passing of laws that are ill-considered and badly constructed.
I make a final plea to the Chief Secretary. I imagine that he has not had much time to talk to the owners or management of businesses in his constituency. If he had, he might have found that there was legitimate concern about the employment prospects in his constituency, and other hon. Members opposite might share that concern if they thought about it. I had the chance last week to ask Mr. Scanlon whether he had been consulted about the capital transfer tax, whether he had studied its effects on employment, and whether, since so many of the family engineering companies which employ his members would have either to cut back on their investment or sell out, he thought it in the interests of his union that they should lose their jobs. The Chief Secretary will not be surprised to hear that he did not care to answer.
It would be interesting to know to what extent the Treasury Bench has consulted the Department of Employment and has thought out the effects of this measure at a time when the employment figures give us great cause for concern. If he talks to the members of management, and particularly to people who own their businesses, he will find that, assaulted as they are by inflation, by taxes from every which way, by rates, and by the general lack of confidence, the CTT is for many of them the last straw, and that it strikes at the root of 1117 their businesses and their willingness to invest.
I therefore join my hon. Friends in urging the Chief Secretary to think again about the capital transfer tax and to reconsider the motion.
§ Mr. Lawson
I shall not unduly take up the time of the House in re-emphasising and echoing the points made so well by my hon. Friends about the devastating effects that the capital transfer tax will have on family businesses and farms and the intolerable position in which they have been put as a result of not having sufficient time to consider the Government's amendments on the tax and the Government's new clauses and the vast amount of legislation being put before the House.
Unlike the hon. Member for Luton, West (Mr. Sedgemore), I have been inundated by telegrams from family businesses and small firms in Leicester and the Leicester area in which family and small businesses are particularly prevalent. Up to now it has been a prosperous area, and the unemployment cycle has been far less damaging because employment has been maintained in the small businesses whereas it has not been maintained in the big businesses in the West Midlands. The East Midlands has a far better labour and industrial relations record, which is not unconnected with the fact that there there are more small and family businesses and a better spirit in industry than there are in the industry of the neighbouring West Midlands. People have been showering me with telegrams and they have sent many letters to me. They are terrified, with good reason, of the devastating effects which the tax will have on their businesses. They wonder what is the point of carrying on.
We were told on Friday of a promise by the Government that at least Members who served on the Committee would receive over the weekend copies of the Government amendments so that we could deal with them. I was a member of the Committee, but I received no copies of the amendments by special delivery or by post either at my home in the constituency or at my London home. It has, therefore, been impossible for me to table the amendments that I wished to table.
1118 It is clear that we need, not only more time between Committee and Report, but more time on Report than the five days which the Government have allotted. The Leader of the House, when taxed on this matter on a number of occasions, said that by providing five days the Government were giving more time for Report than was given for Report of any Finance Bill since 1909. I was glad that today, under pressure from me, he withdrew that remark. I accept that his error was made in good faith and that he had no intention of misleading the House.
On the Finance Bill in 1965 there were 16 days in Committee and five days on Report. On this Bill, which is infinitely more complex and more far-reaching—in the words of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, it is the most important for over a generation—there were only 12 days in Committee, and only five days have been given for Report. That is less time than was given to the 1965 Bill. I therefore hope that the Chief Secretary and the Chancellor of the Exchequer will reconsider the question of the time that they are giving on Report.
One way of dealing with the matter would be to defer the tax to the next Budget. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe) said, that is, in a sense, what has already been done with Clause 39—or Clause 36 as it was in the Bill as originally printed. I spent a long time on Friday morning waiting for the Government's amendments to Clause 39. In Committee we were told that a large number of amendments to Clause 39 would be tabled on Report. By late Friday lunchtime nothing had been tabled by the Government. I had the good fortune to meet the Chief Secretary and he told me that the Government would not table any amendments; they had not the time to table them. That shows the situation into which the Government have got themselves. They have tabled one amendment which means that Clause 39 will not come into effect till 5th April 1976. The amendments which have been promised will come in the next Finance Bill.
§ Mr. Ridley
Would it not be a good idea if the Government tabled amendments to every clause and said that the provisions would not come into effect till 1119 5th April 1976? The Government would be happy because it would be their chosen method of dealing with the Bill, we would be happy, and the country would be happy.
§ Mr. Lawson
My hon. Friend has arrived at the conclusion to which I was about to come. That would be the logical thing to do. The amendments could be tabled and discussed on the next Finance Bill, which is due all too soon. That would be one of many possible ways of dealing with the Bill.
Why have the Government got themselves into this absurd position in which major legislation is being given wholly inadequate time and discussion? The reason is the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act which imposes the deadline of 14th March by which the Bill must receive the Royal Assent. Therefore, everything must be telescoped to meet that deadline. That is absurd.
The Provisional Collection of Taxes Act was introduced in April 1913 by the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Lloyd George, because it had been discovered, as a result of a court case, that it was illegal to collect taxes on the basis of Budget Resolutions. The Act was introduced with considerable thought. It was decided that there should be three months in which the Government would have to get the Finance Bill enacted and on the statute book to enable them legally to collect taxes and not have to refund them.
In Committee on the 1913 Bill the question arose whether new taxes should be included. They were originally, but it was suggested that perhaps new taxes should not be included. That was fully discussed, and new taxes were taken out of the ambit of the Bill. That has remained the law to this day. The Provisional Collection of Taxes Act does not affect new taxes. By tacking on the capital transfer tax to the rest of the Finance Bill the Government are creating a difficulty which is entirely of their own making for the rest of the Finance Bill.
We do not wish the Government's economic management—to give it a title more dignified than it deserves—to be made more difficult through the deadline 1120 of the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act in so far as it concerns Parts I, II and IV of the Bill. We have no wish to cause any problems of that kind. We do not wish the revenues from petrol, VAT, and so on, to have to be refunded. That difficulty is being created by the Government's tacking on to the normal Finance Bill—normal except for the season of the year—the new taxes in Part III with which the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act has nothing to do. A positive decision was taken not to include new taxes within its ambit.
Since 1913 the three months which was originally given to allow Governments to get their Finance Bills on the statute book has been amended to four months. If the Government feel it is essential to break up what the hon. Member for Luton, West referred to as a constitutional crisis there is no reason why they should not bring in a further Bill to amend the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act to give them five months instead of four. If we had a further month we could have full discussions.
The Government are putting a pistol at our heads and saying that the House should not give proper consideration to this radical tax reform and that outside interests which are affected by the Bill to the extent of financial life or death should not be given the opportunity for adequate discussion, just because of a phoney deadline round which there are innumerable ways, which have been referred to by my right hon. and hon. Friends, and which the Government refuse to take. That is an improper way to treat the House and an improper way to treat important business and agricultural interests which depend on the House for fair dealing.
§ Mr. David Howell (Guildford)
The short debate has made crystal clear that while the Opposition have no wish to cause unnecessary delay we have nothing but disgust and contempt for the shambles into which the Government and Treasury Ministers, to their misfortune, have reduced this legislation. I underscore what my right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) said when he reminded us of what had gone on in Standing Committee A. He said that in Committee there was no delay. We achieved the very rushed timetable that 1121 the Chief Secretary required. We had to skate over several complicated clauses and schedules. We had to deal with issues of outstanding importance at absurd hours of the night and early morning. But we co-operated, we kept to the schedule which the Chief Secretary wished, and we came through on the timetable he wished.
We did that despite the lack of ministerial briefs, which often led to delays and difficulties on the Treasury Bench. We did that when it was patently clear, on several occasions, that Ministers had not been briefed and did not understand the measures or the amendments they were putting forward. At times we had an abstract painting kind of debate, when ideas were sketched in the air and we were asked to amend thoughts in the Minister's mind.
All this we did in the charming company of the hon. Member for Luton, West (Mr. Sedgemore), who by his contribution today, has shown to all hon. Members who were not in Standing Committee A exactly what we had to put up with, and why there were delays and difficulties upstairs which were not of our making.
Much has been said about so-called concessions, and the enormous number of Government amendments that have been put down. They are not concessions. For the most part, they are corrections. "Concessions" is a misnomer. They are changes to make possible what the Government desire, wrong though we believe that to be, and there are a great many of those changes. I do not know the latest tally, but there are between 180 and 200 Government amendments. They are not just one-line amendments, they are pages of print. In addition to the changes and new clauses incorporated in the reprinted Bill, those amendments add up to a new Bill. The basis of the objection of many of us is that we are starting out on a new Bill, dealing with new principles.
It is not true to say that the amendments relating to woodlands and charities are concessions. The basic principle, enunciated with much glee when the Bill first came forward, which was that there was to be similar treatment in life and death, went out of the window in Committee, and we have the concept of life 1122 time transfers, which create a new principle and, in effect, a new Bill.
Throughout, my right hon and hon. Friends and I did our best to help the Government with their corrections. The existence of our own financial advisers was kindly recognised by Ministers on the Treasury Bench, and our own official advisers in helping us did a good job. That was a remarkable constitutional development. In his memoirs, Dick Crossman, in his generous way, bemoaned the fact that the Opposition would never be able to compete with Ministers because Ministers had wonderful advisers. If he had lived and seen our work in Committee he would have realised that he had it the wrong way round. Opposition Members and their advisers were able to contribute substantially to corrections of the vast output of Government amendments which are the remarkable feature of the new Bill before us, which we feel we must have proper time to study and prepare amendments for.
There is no difficulty in what it has been proposed that the Government should do. The recommittal procedure is open to them, and it is set out on page 529 of Erskine May. At the end of the proceedings before the Third Reading all the Government have to do is to move for a recommittal of Part III of the Bill There is no procedural difficulty in that and there would be many benefits for the Government if they followed that course.
My hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson) is right in saying that in trying to use the strong arm of the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act the Government are on a dangerous course. They are abusing and not using that Act. According to the debate on 7th April 1913, the Act was brought in specifically not for the use of new taxes. It was never intended that vast new measures of major implication—measures which, in the Chancellor's words, are the most fundamental tax measures since the war, should be hooked into this procedural device and rammed through Parliament on the ground that if the Government's timetable is not achieved the whole business of tax collection will be thrown out of gear. That is abusing the procedure of the Act, which was never intended for that purpose. The Government know that, and they should feel a sense of guilt, 1123 if that is within their competence, for trying to do it.
The Opposition do not wish to delay proper discussion of the new Bill before us and, strongly though they rightly feel, I shall not advise my hon. Friends to press to a Division the motion, which sets out a more welcome procedure than would have been the case if the Government had had it entirely their own way.
The heart of the matter is that the Government, by their efforts and by trying to rush through the capital transfer tax to please the proponents of the social contract, or what is left of it, have made the Chief Secretary and the Financial Secretary—the two Laurel and Hardy centre-pieces of the whole affair—look like a pair of Charlies. They have been made to look a pair of Charlies by their colleagues, and one's feelings are mixed between sorrow for them that they have been put in this position and, nevertheless, the feeling that if only they had any sense in their heads they would not have allowed the Committee, this House, the Government or the Bill to get into this crazy state.
It may be that we should shed no tears for the Chief Secretary and the Financial Secretary. Perhaps they can live with the fact that they have become, through their incompetence, the laughing stock of most informed circles concerned with tax legislation and probably the laughing stock of a wider audience as it becomes known what an absurd situation they have put us into. But what is more serious is that what they have done is bad for Parliament, bad for the country, bad for our legislative procedures, bad for the Civil Service machine and bad for the morale of our administrative structure. That is of lasting damage, and it is a talisman or an indicator of the incompetence of this Government and of those who put forward this legislation. It justifies completely our very strong feelings that this measure should be unstitched and that the capital transfer tax should be taken away so that it may be examined in a proper, dignified civilised way as becomes legislation of this kind. Those are the feelings of the Opposition on this matter.
§ Mr. Joel Barnett
With the leave of the House, first I wish to thank all those 1124 hon. Members who expressed kind sympathies for me and for my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary. They are much appreciated.
My right hon. Friends and I understand this tax only too well, and we understand very well that the Opposition, including the Front Bench and those hon. Members who served on the Standing Committee, also understand the tax very well. Indeed, that is the reason why we have had this display today.
As has been made clear, the Opposition do not wish to give serious examination to the tax. That is not their intention. Their intention, as the right hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe) made clear, is to remove the capital transfer tax from the Bill.
Judging from the debate which has gone on since four o'clock, it is difficult to believe that the motion which I moved was tabled with the agreement of the right hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East. It is hardly possible for anyone to imagine that that was the case. Yet that is what happened. I agreed that the motion should be tabled precisely to give the House the opportunity more easily and in more time to consider the clauses of the Bill dealing with the capital transfer tax. However, that was never the intention of the Opposition. If they had genuinely and seriously wanted on behalf of their constituents to consider amendments to the CTT, they would have started to do so promptly at four o'clock. I remind the House that the Government have made provision for five days on Report. Apart from one or two occasions, that is well in excess of anything that has ever happened on a Finance Bill.
The right hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East said that this capital transfer tax had not been debated fully. The right hon. and learned Gentleman did not have the pleasure, if that is the correct word, of sitting upstairs with us in Committee. The amount of time that was taken to consider non-capital transfer tax clauses could well have been saved in order to debate the CTT more fully—[Hon. Members: "No."] Hon. Members who say "No" should read the Official Report of the Committee proceedings or should have been upstairs in Committee when we debated these matters.
1125 The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked when we were likely to debate the capital transfer tax. He and his hon. Friends have made it clear that they have no wish to get to that debate. They do not need to apologise for that. They have made their position clear, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman repeated it on radio this morning. They want to remove the tax from the Bill. They do not want seriously to consider amendments to it.
As for the amendments themselves, when were they available? All Government new clauses, the single Government new schedule and the great majority of Government amendments on the CTT were put down on or before Wednesday 26th February—
§ Mr. Barnett
Yes. They were printed and appeared on the Notice Paper on Thursday. With the motion that we are debating now, that gave ample time to hon. Members to consider amendments—
§ Sir G. Howe
What the right hon. Gentleman is now saying seems wholly to miss the point of almost everything said from the Opposition Benches during this debate. It is not a matter of allowing hon. Members to skim through documents and then to advance such arguments as they can put together Amendments tabled on Thursday for consideration in the depth which they require by many people outside this House cannot receive consideration within the time scale of this week or even next week. That is the point which the right hon. Gentleman apparently fails to grasp.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Barnett
When I discussed with the right hon. and learned Gentleman tabling this motion, most of the Government's new clauses and amendments were printed and on the Notice Paper. They were printed on Thursday.
§ Mr. Ridley
It is not only the case that the Opposition would like to consult the interests concerned. It is also the case that the Government should consult those interests. What consultation has the Chief Secretary had with the historic buildings councils, the Forestry Commission or any of the other bodies 1126 affected in a major way by the amendments?
§ Mr. Barnett
I shall be happy to tell the hon. Gentleman that and much more if and when we reach the CTT clauses. I shall be happy to discuss those matters when we come to them. I cannot help feeling that we have not been debating this motion. It has been more a debate about the CTT itself.
It was said that my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary and I promised to consider a number of amendments. We did that. Where appropriate, new clauses and amendments have been tabled. In other cases it was decided that amendments were not appropriate, were not necessary or were not justified. That is another matter on which I shall be happy to expand when we come to deal with the appropriate clauses.
It must be clear to any reasonably objective observer of our debates in Committee and on the Floor of the House that what has happened is that the Opposition have sought constantly to distort and delay as a political ploy. There is no question about it. We have been told that there is an intolerable situation here. There is. The Opposition's deliberate political ploy has been to ensure that people outside have gained a totally false impression of this tax.
I must make it clear to my right hon. and hon. Friends, in case anyone has any fears about it, that we have no intention of withdrawing the CTT clauses. This is an excellent tax. The Opposition have spoken against the CTT, but they have not said a word about the tax which it replaces—the tax which the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) said with great glee that he liked and which the Opposition would like to remain on the statute book. They liked it because it was so readily avoidable by the small minority whom the Opposition seek to defend. The very people who are shouting loudest about the CTT are those who never paid estate duty. Under the CTT those who paid estate duty will be considerably better off—widows, widowers, small shopkeepers and small traders whom the Opposition purport to represent. Those small shopkeepers and small traders will be very much better off under the CTT than ever they were under estate duty. Let them read the Bill.
§ Mr. Barnett
No. I do not know how hon. Gentlemen opposite propose to conduct the debate, but let me tell them that the new schedule will ensure that genuine woodland owners are protected but those who have sought to avoid tax under estate duty by the purchase of forests and woodlands, that tiny minority, will be hurt, and I do not apologise for that. That is the kind of person whom Conservative Members have been seeking to defend.
The same goes for trusts which were used largely for tax avoidance purposes. To a large extent, trusts were used for avoidance purposes. What we are doing under the CTT is to ensure that those who want genuine trusts will be neither better nor worse off. Under estate duty they were considerably better off than the vast majority of ordinary taxpayers who paid their taxes properly.
I note the Opposition's pressure on behalf of this tiny privileged minority. My hon. Friends will note it, as will people outside the House. I assure the Opposition that we have no intention of accepting their suggestion to remove CTT from the Bill, because it will be to the advantage of the vast majority of ordinary people.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That the Finance Bill, as amended, be considered in the following order, namely new clauses not relating to capital transfer tax or estate duty, amendments relating to Clauses 1 to 18 and 50 to 56 and to Schedules 1 to 3 and 12, new clauses relating to capital transfer tax or estate duty, amendments relating to Clauses 19 to 49, new schedules and amendments relating to Schedules 4 to 11.