HC Deb 13 July 1993 vol 228 cc839-64 3.53 pm
Mr. Nicholas Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne, East)

I beg to move amendment No. 27, in page 158, leave out lines 18 to 41.

This clause brings forward by three months—from 5 August to 5 May—the date by which the Finance Bill must be enacted. It also extends from 25 days to 30 days the allowable period between the Budget statement and publication of the Finance Bill. It is not contentious to say that the purpose of the first change is to ensure—not in statute but at least in effect, given the changes being made—that the Finance Bill will almost certainly have had to complete its Committee stage before the Easter recess. The purpose of the second change is to ensure that the Government will never have to publish the Finance Bill until after the Christmas recess.

I should make it absolutely clear, for the avoidance of any doubt whatever, that the unified Budget process is a shared objective of the Government and the Opposition. The Armstrong committee recommended the process back in 1980, and the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee made similar recommendations in 1982. Both Committees highlighted two principal arguments in favour of the unified budget. The first is that if tax decisions and spending decisions are made together, the relationship between the two is thrown into sharper focus.

I had the pleasure of hearing the Financial Secretary to the Treasury speak at a seminar organised by the Institute for Fiscal Studies. He said that decisions would be better informed. That may or may not be so, but I am absolutely certain that the Financial Secretary and the rest of the Treasury team do not intend to allow us to change any of those decisions under the new unified Budget process. Better informed or not, I suspect that it is the Government's intention that the decisions contained in the Finance Bill remain in the Bill as, indeed, they almost always do from Second Reading right up to Third Reading. However, we shall certainly be better informed.

The second point made by the Armstrong committee and the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee way back in 1982 was that tax proposals are currently presented and considered in a way that makes revision and even expert consideration difficult. In our evidence to the Select Committee on Procedure we said that the unified Budget process is an important opportunity for reform and that there is a strong case for technical consideration of the Finance Bill, followed by political debate on broader issues of principle. As I understand it, those issues are currently being considered by the Procedure Committee.

As making the new procedure work is a shared objective, the Opposition are willing to co-operate in the usual way through the usual channels to move cautiously and with consent towards an improved way of dealing with such important issues. It is important that the House should get it right. As I have said many times, the Committee stage of the Finance Bill, with all its imperfections, is the only forum for detailed scrutiny of the Government's financial legislation. We have agreed in principle that we want to make the new unified Budget procedure work. Our method of doing that on issues of detail is to wait for the advice from the Procedure Committee as to how best to make progress. We believe that the whole House should have an opportunity to consider and debate the views of the Procedure Committee and then to reach a consensus around its recommendations.

The Government, however, are not responding reasonably to a wholly reasonable approach. I went to see the Financial Secretary in his very pleasant office, and I should have been warned when I went in because over the fireplace in his office hangs a large portrait of the hon. Member for Huntingdon—nothing so wimpish as the present right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), but a portrait of the famous hon. Member for Huntingdon, Oliver Cromwell. Cromwell did not muck about with a Committee stage of the Finance Bill: when the House refused to take the public spending decisions that he wanted—relating to defence expenditure, I believe—he shouted, "Colonel Harrison, fetch them in", and the dragoons marched in and brought the parliamentary Opposition debate to a close.

The Financial Secretary has clearly been inspired by that portrait and the strong leadership that it represents. I understand the Conservative party's current desire for strong leadership, and I understand how the Financial Secretary could be seduced into behaving in an authoritarian way, although it is not characteristic.

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Stephen Dorrell)

Is the hon. Gentleman espousing the cause of the Rump Parliament as a representative body capable of analysing the details of a Finance Bill?

Mr. Brown

I remind the Financial Secretary that the mid-17th century episode ended in tears for many of the principal characters. I think that the appropriate analogy for him is the fate of Sir Thomas Wentworth, who tried to impose his master's wishes on a truculent House and came to a very sticky end, disappointed that in his final hours he did not have even the support of the master whom he sought to serve—an awful warning for others who seek to behave like him. His nickname was Black Tom Tyrant. I should hate to think of the Financial Secretary going down in history as Black Stephen Tyrant—it does not even have a ring to it. However, he is behaving heavy-handedly by insisting that we pre-empt the decisions of the Procedure Committee and legislate now for matters that should more properly be discussed, in the normal way, when we have the views of that Committee in front of us.

4 pm

I understand that the Financial Secretary has a vested interest in curtailing debate, but he is pre-empting a decision of the Procedure Committee, obstructing further reforms which may be necessitated by the unified Budget process which he says he supports, and generally voting himself a quiet life, uninterrupted by vigorous parliamentary scrutiny.

In Committee, the Financial Secretary had a good whinge about the difficulties of doing his job. He told us that No wodge of spare time existed for parliamentary scrutiny, and that Time for parliamentary scrutiny is used at the expense not simply of discussions between officials but of the time available for preparing draft clauses, and undertaking public consultations on tax proposals, which could be extremely detailed.—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 24 June 1993; c. 577.] That was his defence of his behaviour.

Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher)

On certain occasions in Committee it was clear that the hon. Gentleman had not waited for the publication of the Finance Bill before drafting his new clauses in any event. So why the worry, given that the Opposition obviously wish to table certain amendments and new clauses?

Mr. Brown

There are well over 200 clauses in the Finance Bill, which we are also charged with scrutinising. I am sure that the hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Taylor) will do me the courtesy of admitting that we thoroughly and systematically scrutinised those clauses. Some of them, such as the clause on value added tax, are about controversial issues. Some of them are about matters of detail and are perhaps of specialist interest only. Nevertheless, in a democracy it is right that all those matters receive not just parliamentary scrutiny but informed parliamentary scrutiny. The Opposition, with limited resources, take seriously the duty of ensuring that the Bill gets such scrutiny.

When discussing the use of parliamentary time in Committee, the Financial Secretary made it clear that he regarded the time spent with civil servants, professional advisers and those who wanted to make representations about the Bill as quality time. He seemed to suggest that the time that he spent with us—the other elected representatives of the people—was at a discount and could not be extended. I almost got the impression that he did not enjoy the time he spent with us, which I am sure could not be right.

Mr. Dorrell

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the opportunity to correct that impression. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than spending time with the hon. Gentleman, his colleagues and my hon. Friends who joined us in Committee.

I did not seek to argue in Committee that time spent with officials was high value time, or to draw a distinction between that and time spent with Parliament. I sought to argue that my responsibility to Parliament is to prepare and present proposals that have been properly worked through and assessed and on which, in many cases, outside interests have been consulted. The purpose of so doing is to ensure that Parliament does not spend its time on the minute detail of the technical aspects which, as we agreed in Committee, with one or two exceptions are not the principal interests of hon. Members. Instead, Parliament can consider the wider political and strategic implications of tax proposals which have been properly worked through and presented to the House for it to decide upon.

Mr. Brown

I am glad that that matter has been cleared up. In that case, however, I do not understand why the Financial Secretary wants to curtail the amount of time available to the House to consider the Bill. He wants the right to ensure that the Bill does not have to be published until after Christmas. As I understand it, the present structure would not guarantee that in all circumstances, which is why we have to legislate for the extra five parliamentary days.

At the same time, the Financial Secretary is putting into place a timetable that is too tight. It is not too tight in itself, but too tight because of the way in which it interfaces with the Easter recess. The pressures that will be on the Committee to finish that stage before the House rises for the Easter recess will be overwhelming. It will mean that we shall be required not, as we could do now, to sit an extra week without clashing with the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act 1968, but either to carry our deliberations into the Easter recess—which would not be popular—or to curtail discussion. I am certain that the Government would not be willing to allow the Committee stage to hang over the Easter recess and reconvene after Easter, with Report and Third Reading still to be completed before the new date of 5 May. That closing down of parliamentary time by the interface of the new timetable and the Easter recess is one of the principal concerns of the Opposition.

Mr. Dorrell

The hon. Gentleman has been generous in giving way. I have listened to this comments. For the reasons that I gave in Committee—I shall go through them again later if I catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker—I do not accept that the effect of the Government's proposals is to reduce the amount of time available for parliamentary scrutiny.

Will the hon. Gentleman turn his mind to the effect of his proposed amendment on the amount of time available for parliamentary scrutiny? His amendment suggests that we should, in effect, omit the whole clause. I should make it clear that the effect of omitting the clause would not be to leave the PCTA date that would apply to a Budget delivered in November or December as 5 August, but to revert to the generality of law, which is that under the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act, unless a Budget is delivered in March or April, the authority runs out after four months. Therefore, the effect of accepting the hon. Gentleman's amendment would be that the PCTA date of a Budget on 25 November would not be 5 May, as the Government propose, but 25 March.

Mr. Brown

The Financial Secretary has moved from what I thought was the undue exercise of tyranny to crude blackmail. It is not clear from his intervention that the Financial Secretary knows perfectly well that Opposition Members offered a whole series of compromise proposals in Committee. Our view is not that the whole procedure should be completed by April, but the absolute opposite of that. We would have been more than willing to facilitate a legislative change at the time of the Budget or before it if agreement could have been reached that met our legitimate objections about the time given for scrutinising the Finance Bill before the Committee stage and about the amount of time available for consideration of the Bill.

In case there is any doubt, the compromise that we offered in Committee was the date of 5 June rather than 5 May. That would give us an extra month after the recess a—month that we might not take, but at least we would have the option of taking it if issues arose requiring further discussion or further parliamentary scrutiny. It is not a question of parliamentary tactics. We have always tried to agree with the Government on the way in which we work through the Finance Bill. It is not a vehicle for re-fighting, in parliamentary terms, the battle of the Somme. We accept our responsibility thoroughly to scrutinise all the measures in the Bill because there is nobody else to do it. If we did not undertake that responsibility and took it seriously, Parliament would be much criticised. With the clause, the Financial Secretary is saying, in effect, that Opposition Members may discharge that duty, but only in a timetable set by him and not one that is agreeable to us. I do not want to overstate the quarrel.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Although I am a member of the Procedure Committee, I have no desire to refer to the Committee's deliberations on this subject, and it would be wrong to do so. Does my hon. Friend agree that, since there is general agreement in the House about the unified Budget and there is no disagreement between the two Front Benches about the desirability of change, it is unfortunate that this reform should bring with it some controversy because the Government are refusing to compromise? Since there is no disagreement about the unified Budget, why have a sticking point between the two sides? The Opposition consider this to be important and it is unfortunate that the Government are adopting this attitude.

Mr. Brown

I agree wholeheartedly with everything that my hon. Friend has said. We are not just in favour of the unified Budget process—we are enthusiastically in favour of it. Our concerns and resentments stem from the fact that the amount of time that will be available for the Opposition and for dissident Members on the Government side to consider these issues will be curtailed. It may be felt that dissident Conservative Members are at a discount in as much as they rarely—not never—vote against the Government. However, within the relative safety of the Committee, they often seek to explore in considerable detail with Ministers matters of specialist interest to themselves or their close friends. Although the detail with which they explore those matters rarely results in a rebel yell, let alone a rebel vote, time is taken to explore matters vigorously with the Treasury Front Bench. That is a right and, I would argue, a duty—so long as it is performed altruistically—which pertains not just to the Opposition but to Government Back Benchers as well. Therefore, I am seeking to protect their interests rather than just those of the Opposition with this amendment.

My view on this matter would be the same if the Labour party were in office and the Conservative party in opposition. It is a test of altruism that those proposing the change can say that this is the way we would like it regardless of whether we are in government. That is the test that we apply to this. As the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) made clear, I am saddened that something that should be dealt with by consensus between the two sides has been a matter of deep controversy. It is not an issue that we will let go.

Our preferred way of proceeding is to wait until the Procedure Committee has put its recommendations before the House, for the House to have a debate and then, through the usual channels, to agree on an acceptable timetable. That timetable may be on the basis of just one year, since this is the first time we shall have the unified Budget procedure. We would then wish to proceed by consensus. We are debating not the contents of the Government's legislation, but the way in which the House should deal with it.

It is not necessary to legislate in the way we are being asked to do and it is certainly not necessary to do it now. It is a gross discourtesy to the Procedure Committee. The Financial Secretary's spurious argument that if we do not agree with his construction there will be nothing available to the House except to resort to the general law of the land can be dealt with easily: we would facilitate any legislation introduced by the Government which reflected the compromise that we wish to reach with them on these matters.

4.15 pm
Mr. Ian Taylor

One of the disadvantages that you have, Mr. Deputy Speaker, is that, when the debate moves from the close confines of the Committee to the wide open expanses of the green Benches of the House, you have not participated in the excitement of the debate in which Committee members were privileged to take part. If you had been there, you might have noticed the concern of the excellent hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East (Mr. Brown). The hon. Gentleman was concerned that more all-night sittings might be needed if his greatest fears were realised and the Committee was truncated.

The hon. Gentleman seemed principally to be worried about spending more nights with his hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson), who regaled the Committee more than once at great length—and with occasional wisdom—about his exploits. The hon. Member for Hartlepool included the holiday he was about to take in Majorca in those remarks. Unfortunately, he got lost at that point and forgot to give Committee members the full details. I hope that he will remedy that this afternoon. Most members of the Committee felt that the details of the hon. Member's holiday in Majorca were more interesting than the rest of the speech that he made on that occasion.

Mr. David Willetts (Havant)

My recollection is that the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East was more concerned that he would have to spend the night with the hon. Member for Peckham (Ms Harman) rather than the hon. Member for Hartlepool.

Mr. Taylor

It is true that the Committee members were enthralled and privileged to have large extracts of a book that had been recently published by the hon. Member for Peckham read into the record. I said at the time that that was inevitably a ploy by Labour members of the Committee to ensure that the book would have a wider circulation through Hansard than it would have in its original book form, because the minutes of the Finance Bill Committee are read avidly by a large number of people. I hope that the modest expectations of Labour members of the Committee for that publication were realised.

The debate on whether Parliament will be short-changed in parliamentary scrutiny has arisen out of the principle of the unified Budget. I give full credit to the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East. He clearly stated that he and his Labour Front-Bench colleagues welcome the unified Budget. The House should ponder on that.

In essence, the changes that are created by bringing together the expenditure Budget, or the autumn statement, and the fund-raising Budget—which has normally been in March, except under Labour Governments, when there were several a year—make a significant impact on other procedural matters. The Provisional Collection of Taxes Act 1968 applies in this context.

The amendments are about whether, in terms of that Act, one tries to change the Finance Bill in a way that alters the ability of Parliament to inspect and examine it, and whether the different recesses that will fall when the Bill is introduced impede Parliament's ability to look at the Finance Bill. The Minister clearly stated that the technical day count and the practical reality did not justify the Opposition's worries.

The benefit of a unified Budget is something that many hon. Members have been urging for some time. I join those on the Labour Front Bench in welcoming that. One of the problems that a member of a Finance Bill Committee faces is that he knows that the Red Book that has been previously issued in association with the autumn statement is almost out of date and certainly needs revising. It is therefore difficult to get a complete grip of the Government's expenditure plans in detail, against the taxes that we are examining in that Committee.

The Committee's discussions depend on whether the taxes are to cover last year's estimates of the Government's financial expenditure or whether they relate to the future. This unification is important. We do not usually mention the fact that there are Cabinet Committees, but it is widely known that one such committee is looking even now at the Government's expenditure plans. In a fit of openness, which I welcome, the Government have let it be known that there is a control total for expenditure of £253.5 billion—the Financial Secretary will correct me if the number after the decimal point is wrong. Nevertheless, that is the target for Government expenditure in the forthcoming year.

We do not yet know how it will be divided up. That will be revealed in the autumn statement, when, for the first time, we will simultaneously be given the Government's plans for raising taxation—before the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East jumps to his feet, I should add that I use the word "raising" in its most neutral sense; I am not recommending a policy decision—which are always part of the traditional Budget procedure, and their plans for expenditure. That will make for a much more enlightened, and hence a more effective, debate.

I wonder whether Labour Members have taken this into account when giving their rather grudging acceptance of the timetable. When we have the unified Budget—probably in November—much more information will be before the House, so the debate on it will be better.

This will benefit hon. Members on both sides of the House. When we are dealing with Government expenditure of about £253.5 billion and a Government-projected deficit of £50 billion, it is vital to understand what the Government are attempting to cover with basic taxation, what growth patterns they project in the Red Book, and what will be the likely breakdown of expenditure between structural spending and automatic stabilisers related to the recession. It will help the House when it comes to look at the expenditure side of the fiscal equation to know what the taxation side will look like.

Mr. Nicholas Brown

The hon. Gentleman has obviously given the matter a great deal of thought. What does he understand will happen to the two Industry Act forecasts?

Mr. Taylor

The excitement is in the waiting. There will be a great many forecasts for the hon. Gentleman to get his teeth into. We are all on tenterhooks to find out whether he enjoys the accuracy of the forecasts or whether he wants to be the eighth wise man. I am sure that he will draw his own conclusions in his own time.

The unified Budget will give the House a much broader basis for assessing the way forward, and a much better backdrop to the eventual consideration of the Finance Bill in Committee.

Then there is the problem of the Christmas recess. My hon. Friend the Member for Stamford and Spalding (Mr. Davies) almost over-excited himself with the prospect of getting the Finance Bill before Christmas. Doubtless he reads so quickly that he will already have finished all the novels that he had put aside for the Christmas period, and will eagerly start reading the Finance Bill for his post-turkey Christmas afternoon enjoyment. We all have our foibles; obviously, that is his.

But it is not the critical point to bear in mind when asking whether we properly scrutinise the Finance Bill—it does not matter much whether it is published before Christmas or immediately afterwards. Conservative Back Benchers are well aware that it takes a certain amount of time to go through all the small print of certain Government measures—for instance, to read all the Inland Revenue press releases that go out with the Budget forecasts. They are voluminous enough in themselves.

I suffer occasionally from paper indigestion, and it takes me longer to go through all the press releases and guidance notes that the Inland Revenue put out than perhaps it does the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East.

Mr. Nicholas Brown

I understand perfectly what the hon. Gentleman is saying in his capacity as a loyal Back-Bench supporter of the Government, but has it occurred to him that, when he is in opposition, he might welcome slightly more time to scrutinise the Government's proposed legislation?

Mr. Taylor

That is a double hypothetical question: first, whether it is possible for me to be in opposition; secondly, if I were in opposition, whether the then Government would have any legislation. There are double hypotheses there, and I would rather not be tempted down that avenue.

The Christmas recess is a factor, and I look forward to the Financial Secretary's comments on it when he makes his speech, if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The simple reality is that the most effective job that a Back Bencher can perform in terms of the Finance Bill is to look at the issues.

The exact drafting of the amendments is less important. The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East, who speaks on such matters, has often said that the amendments that he has tabled are probing amendments, in which case one does not need the detailed text. One needs to know the various subjects that are likely to be covered, and they are clearly covered in the general debates on Second Reading and the debates on the Floor of the House before the Bill goes to Committee.

At those stages, various points of principle must be made. If probing amendments are tabled, it gives the House a good opportunity for debate, without necessarily assuming that the Government will accept the amendment. That is happening on the Government Benches. Quite often, if we are concerned about an aspect of Government policy on which we seek clarification and there is no question but that our amendment may be faulty in its preparational drafting, we look to the Government to satisfy us that they are considering the amendment carefully, or will table their own on Report.

I am glad to say that I have sometimes been successful in persuading the Government to do just that. The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East has often supported me, particularly on employee share ownership. The system works, and I give him credit for that.

I am less sure of my ground about the work of the officials. If I can sit up all night with the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson), officials can stay up all night drafting the Finance Bill. I am not too sure that I wish to give them much comfort. They will have to work even harder under the unified scheme than perhaps they have done before. So be it.

Performance-related pay would be even better, and I know that the Financial Secretary is keen on that. Perhaps brownie points will be awarded in the margin of annotated versions of the Finance Bill in subsequent years.

Mr. Matthew Carrington (Fulham)

We need to be sure that we look after officials, make their work easier and ensure that they work reasonable hours and are not over-straining themselves. If their work is being concertinaed into a shorter period, as will happen as a result of the change in timing, it also means that their work in other periods of the year will be that much less, so there may well be a problem of spreading their burden evenly over the year. Taken overall, their work should be no more and no less.

Mr. Taylor

My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. I must disclose an interest in this matter. I am the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who is also the Minister with responsibility for public service and science, and who is an excellent contributor to the thinking on how our civil service should develop. If he were in the Chamber, I would pay him a tribute—[Interruption.] Oh: as he is in the Chamber, I am able to pay him the compliments that he deserves, and that he would expect me, as his PPS, to give him.

The important point about the civil service, and particularly the Inland Revenue, is that those on the Committee respect and value enormously the work they do. This year, there will undoubtedly be a much greater work load to try to get the unified Budget before the House by the due date, which will be some time in November.

The only difficulty that I can foresee is that, given that all Back Benchers had to make sure that their Budget representations were in to Ministers by the Chevening weekend—if memory serves me right, that was the first weekend in January; I have not calculated it backwards, so if an hon. Member in a sedentary position can do it better than I can on my feet, perhaps he would tell me when the equivalent time might be two and a bit months before the November Budget—the new date may well bite heavily into the holidays of officials.

Will the Financial Secretary tell us what the equivalent of the Chevening weekend might be so that Back Benchers can get their acts together and start to gear up to lobby some time in September?

Mr. Carrington

My hon. Friend raises an interesting point. On the timing that he has just given the House, the Chevening weekend will coincide with the party conference. Does that not represent a great opportunity for consulting the whole party on Budget measures at the conference?

4.30 pm
Mr. Taylor

The Conservative party, with its democratic conference, could do that. The problem for the Labour party would be that, until it gets its voting structure sorted out, it would find it embarrassing. I am sure that the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East would not like me to stray into his private grief about the voting system in the Labour party. I have a suspicion, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you are not so keen yourself that I stray into the topic of democracy in the Labour party.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse)

Order. I am keen that we debate the amendment.

Mr. Taylor

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for bringing me back to the core of the subject, which is amendment No. 27.

This debate is as serious as the amendment that has been tabled—the amendment having been tabled, the debate follows in character. The Financial Secretary was helpful to the Committee by pointing out some of the timing details. It is interesting, for example, that 5 August is the date in the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act 1968. It is true that, decades ago, the House sat into August, rising just before the Glorious Twelfth. Now, it is normal for the House to rise by the end of July.

Therefore, it is inconceivable that Parliament would be able to scrutinise the Finance Bill until as late as 5 August. There is bound to be some truncation. I hope that the Financial Secretary will take us back through the argument that he gave us in Committee, looking at the effective dates of the Budget as it was in March and the likely number of days that elapsed under the old arrangements in comparison with the new arrangements.

If the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act 1968 is amended as the Government have said it will be to incorporate the new date of 5 May, that gives ample time for proper parliamentary scrutiny without the absolute necessity of all-night sittings. Yet all-night sittings are one of the excitements of the Finance Bill Committee. Serving on that Committe is an honour for hon. Members on both sides of the House. On most other Committees, hon. Members are told to keep quiet, but on that Committee we have ample opportunity to air our views.

The hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Hoon) regaled the Committee with his detailed legal and economic knowledge, to the great pleasure of most of us. Those of us who found it difficult to follow him were in a minority, but he was constructive on many of the issues before us.

In those circumstances, it was a pleasure to listen to the hon. Gentleman at 4 in the morning rather than 6 in the evening. It was much more entertaining at that stage, because the debate was mature. Those are the excitements of being on the Finance Bill Committee when it sits all night. All-night sittings enable us to dilate much more on some of the issues than we would be able to do on the truncated time scale of a Committee that felt bound to rise by 10 o'clock in the evening.

I hope that I have enlightened the House about some of the issues at stake. I know that Labour Front-Bench Members feel aggrieved. The skill that they normally show in Committee and the forensic ability of the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East are almost undervalued by the amendment. The hon. Gentleman need not be embarrassed.

I have been a member of the Finance Bill Committee since 1987, when I first had the honour to enter this place. The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East has also been a member of that Committee since 1987. We have become fixtures: the Finance Bill would not be the Finance Bill without us. If I continue to speak as I am doing, I am sure that I will be a member of the Finance Bill Committee for many years to come. I am sure that the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East will be on the Opposition Benches for very many years to come.

The hon. Member and I will be members of the Committee when it sits early in the next new year. However, he underestimates his skills. There is no doubt that there was quality in our debates in Committee this year. There was an eagerness to examine in detail and for rapid dispatch. The Committee rose after not too many late sittings, but a sufficient number to give us the feeling that we had properly scrutinised what the Government were doing.

There was some controversy, but the Committee showed that we do not need length of time to have a quality debate. The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East has almost undermined our confidence in his skills by moving the amendment. Therefore, I do not feel that I can urge my colleagues to accept it.

Mr. Malcolm Bruce (Gordon)

The hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Taylor) has made an entertaining contribution which reflected on those who were members of the Committee. His comments suggested that the Committee was a rather cosy club. I feel slightly diffident about intruding into these private exchanges, which have obviously been repeated on more than one occasion.

However, I believe that there is a serious point behind the amendment. Looking at it from the point of view, as I do, of entering the debate for the first time and not the 10th time, it seems to me slightly strange that the Government should introduce a reform which was welcomed by Members in all parts of the House and which seemed to be a constructive way forward and a better way to present the facts of the debate and then follow that immediately with a procedural mechanism for curtailing the very debate that they appear to want to stimulate. That is certainly what it looks like from where I am standing.

The hon. Member for Esher gave a somewhat esoteric, introspective view of how the Committee conducts itself. He rather underplayed the importance of the debate for people outside the House who are seriously affected by the consequences of the Finance Act. Whether or not the Finance Bill Committee carries out its deliberations in a series of extended sittings is, to some extent for those outside this place, a matter of little concern, although one hears the passing comment that it is a strange way to run business efficiently.

People outside this place are concerned not about the number of hours that the Committee sits, but about the time available to marshal the arguments, to analyse the implications and to present a case if—and this is after all the purpose of having a legislative Committee—we are genuinely to consider the implications and be prepared to review and vary them: in other words, if the debate is genuine.

I have taken the trouble to read the interesting and constructive report of the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee on the Government's proposals. It seems to me that we are being asked to support a move that is primarily for the convenience of the Treasury rather than for those who are affected by the changes.

I have not been a member of the Finance Bill Committee, but I have been exercised by some of the proposals in this year's Finance Bill. No matter what side of the argument one is on, the VAT proposals have been extremely controversial. As time has passed, the implications of those proposals have been more widely discussed.

I am concerned about the changes in oil taxation. Even within the present timetable, it is instructive to note that yesterday, according to my local daily newspaper, The Press and Journal in Aberdeen, Shell announced that it would be laying off workers as a direct result of the tax changes in this Bill.

That has happened in respect of the present time scale. It will not be of much value if such proposals come after the completion of the process. The shorter the process, the more likely it is that people will not have collected their arguments together in time, I am concerned that these things are likely to be rushed through.

In many cases, the matters we are talking about are extremely technical and their implications are not always easy to understand, even by the companies or individuals that are affected by them, or by the Treasury officials implementing them.

One of the reasons why Finance Bills are so long is that a significant number of their clauses correct the errors and unexpected side effects contained in previous Finance Acts. While it is inevitable that that will happen, it should be an ambition of Treasury Ministers and officials to limit the number of clauses that fall into that category. The shorter the time in which deliberations must be concluded, the more likely it is that we will get things wrong and, as was said in Committee, the longer each Finance Bill is likely to become year by year.

The hon. Member for Stamford and Spalding (Mr. Davies) said that he might end up needing a trailer on the back of his car to take his reading home for Christmas. He is the only Member to think that he will receive the relevant documents before Christmas.

Apart from the question of tidiness and convenience to the Treasury, what is the purpose of bringing the income and expenditure proposals together? It seems to me that it is to ensure that there is a better informed debate about the relationship between the two. In at least the first year or two of the change, it would be better to have a longer rather than shorter period of debate to see how it is conducted. If it becomes apparent, after a year or two, that the timetable can be met, it might be appropriate to adopt it permanently. But to adopt a new procedure and then insist that the period of debate is shortened, before we have seen how it operates in practice, is wrong and undermines the change.

Mr. Dorrell

The hon. Gentleman has said several times that the Government are seeking to shorten the time available for debate by this clause. I sought to explain that that is not the effect of the clause. Its intention, broadly speaking, is to replicate the present arrangements. As far as it changes the length of time available for debate, it errs on the side of lengthening, not shortening, the time available.

Mr. Bruce

I understand that point, but I believe that the Minister has acknowledged that the practicalities behind the way in which the parliamentary year falls mean that there will be less time available for debate. The Financial Secretary may disagree. When a radical and welcome change is being introduced for the purposes of informing the debate, there is a case for extending rather than containing the time for debate, at least for the first year or two.

The hon. Member for Esher has said that the fact that we are bringing the two parts of the Budget debate together should make it clearer and speedier. That is one point of view. It is equally likely that we will set more hares running which will have to be considered. We should allow time for that.

The current debate is of some interest and should be taking place in the Conservative party, as well as in the Opposition parties, because it is directly affected by the political consequences. Ministers may want to say to the House, "These are the facts. This is the state of the deficit and it must be addressed." In that case we need honesty and openness so that all hon. Members and people outside can face up to the fact that we must cut expenditure and raise more revenue. In those circumstances, we need a climate of genuine and honest debate. I welcome that.

The current debate is whether there should be more hypothecation of taxes. I do not think anybody in the House would or could suggest that all taxes should be hypothecated—that would be wholly unrestrictive and overly populist. The Government must recognise that Governments who say that they will cut taxes and then increase them, and say that the reason for doing so is that they misread the calculations and that the situation is a lot worse than they thought, are pursuing the debate abstrusely.

The objective of the reforms that have been introduced is to make the debate more open, to make it clear to all sides why there is a deficit and what the shortfall is and to enable people to explore at the same time where we can cut expenditure and raise revenue. That is a welcome and constructive change, but it does stimulate more debate and not less.

Mr. Willetts

Will the hon. Gentleman reveal how his party would propose to cut expenditure and raise revenue? I am sure that the electors of Christchurch would be interested in his ideas on that subject.

Mr. Bruce

I would be happy to do that, but Mr. Deputy Speaker would tell me that the purpose of the timetable motion is not to make a campaign speech for the electors of Christchurch. I have been there, however, and I know that the electors I have met are more enthusiastic about our policies than about those of the Conservative party.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is now doing something that he said he should not do.

Mr. Bruce

I accept your constraint entirely, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

4.45 pm

If the Financial Secretary is unable to accept the amendment, and if he insists that it is not the Government's intention to shorten the period of debate but to replicate it, that is the minimum that should happen. At the risk of repeating myself, with a new reform such as this, it would be better to extend the debate. All the evidence that I have seen before the Treasury Select Committee shows that there is no problem about extending the debate. The only people concerned about the time scale appear to be the Treasury. The argument that the reform would create a greater period of uncertainty is one that people have lived with for a hundred years.

The argument that the tax year needs to be tidy and that all the relevant matters need to be sewn up in advance has not been a serious factor in previous practical considerations. It is a matter of absolute astonishment to me that the tax year starts on 5 April. To most people that is peculiar and it should be addressed. It has been suggested that we should at some time make the tax year begin at the start of the calendar year, as in most other countries.

Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton)

That would ruin Christmas.

Mr. Bruce

The hon. Gentleman may say that that would ruin his Christmas, but the longer the time for debate, the more chance he has to leave it to one side and come to it in the new year just as happily.

The Government have introduced a welcome reform, but they should recognise that the provision of a little more time in the first two years would not go amiss.

Mr. Quentin Davies (Stamford and Spalding)

As I did at the beginning of the Committee stage, I will start by declaring an interest. I am an adviser to National Westminster Securities, which is the investment banking arm of the NatWest group. I am a director of Dewe Rogerson consultants and I am also the parliamentary consultant to the Institute of Taxation. None of those bodies knew that I would speak in the debate this afternoon, nor had any idea of what I would say.

As has already been said, we had a very full discussion of this matter in Committee. The House should be grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing us to discuss the matter again on Report. Some very serious issues are raised by the Opposition amendment.

I am very glad that in the fascinating interchange at the beginning of the debate between my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary and the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East (Mr. Brown) quite a lot was said about the great constitutional debates of the 17th century. Those debates are pertinent to the matter that we are discussing.

The House will know that, between the 1620s and the 1640s, the great constitutional debates turned on the extent to which taxation should be by the consent of the Government—or at least by the consent of the taxpayer, if not the Government. Of course, in those days, Parliament considered itself to be the representative of the taxpaying public rather than the whole public. If Pym and Hampden were in our midst this afternoon, they might have added to that principle the need to ensure that taxation legislation, like all other forms of legislation, was comprehensible to those to whom it would apply. In the 17th century, proposed taxation legislation would always have been comprehensible. There might have been a proposal for ship money or exercise duty, but everyone understood what that was about. The provisions bringing those taxes into effect could have been interpreted by any court in accordance with their apparent meaning as debated in this Chamber.

We have moved onwards since the 17th century, but I cannot say that we have moved forwards. It is now a great challenge for this House, the general public and even those in the legal and accounting professions who spend all their time on tax matters to understand the meaning of a Finance Bill. On Second Reading and throughout our discussions in Committee, I protested about the fact that Finance Bills have become steadily longer and more convoluted, and. I make no apology for protesting now because it is a serious issue. Unless Members of Parliament call parliamentary draftsmen to account and react on behalf of the public to the increasing complexity and opacity of taxation legislation, no discipline will be placed on parliamentary draftsmen and no restraint will be placed on the length and complexity of Finance Bills.

The result of that will be extremely undesirable. It will mean a loss to justice because people will not understand the law. They will not claim the allowances properly due to them and will be penalised for making inadequate declarations because they did not understand the law. There will also be considerable economic costs because we will have to pay talented people to spend hours and hours interpreting the legislation. That expense will have to be borne by industry, businesses, individuals and the economy.

How does that relate to the time to be made available for parliamentary scrutiny of Finance Bills? Clearly, if taxes are to be collected for the following year, the more time that we and the outside world have to consider a Finance Bill when it is first drafted and published and before it becomes law, the greater the possibility of our doing our job in this place and scrutinising legislation carefully. That will allow the Government to expound the legislation and justify the measures and a general consensus will develop outside the House that the new taxation proposals are sound and reasonable. That is important for the integrity and reputation of this place, the law and our tax system.

I accept my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary's argument that the Government's proposal on timing will, if anything, increase the parliamentary time available for scrutiny of Finance Bills. With the great mental agility for which he is famous, he succeeded in convincing us in Committee that another five days of parliamentary time would be made available. Although I could not follow his calculations as they seemed extremely complicated, I accept his conclusion.

However, I greatly regret that we did not take this opportunity to provide for a significant qualitative increase in the time available in this place to discuss Finance Bills in future. I say "in this place" because there are two sides to the public consent that is being given to Finance Bills: first, there is the reaction of the public, the experts who analyse Finance Bills and those who want to make representations to the Government and Parliament before irrevocable decisions are taken; and, secondly, there is the debate in this place.

We are all grateful for the detailed representations that we receive from all sorts of outside bodies on the Government's fiscal proposals in the Budget speech and subsequently in the Finance Bill. I accept that many of those representations are interested but that is perfectly right. We want to hear how individual categories of people or businesses feel that they will be impacted by those measures so that we can take account of their representations. We can discount them to the extent necessary because they are clearly self-interested and we can try to reconcile them with the Government's need for additional revenue or their need to conserve revenue at any time. That is what discussion of the Finance Bill is about.

However, we must give people the time to read the Finance Bill and to lobby their Members of Parliament, and we must leave ourselves enough time to consider those representations and do our homework. It is important that Back Benchers do their homework—the Government do theirs well—but, if we are to play our role, we must have time to do that. Debates must not be foreshortened by the Government's threat that, if we do not make progress, they will be unable to raise revenue. All sorts of obvious disastrous consequences would flow from that. We do not want to become the victims of such moral blackmail if we can avoid it.

In Committee I backed an amendment that sought to set the date by which the Finance Bill should enter law. It suggested 5 July rather than 5 August, which would have given two more months for consideration of the Bill. The Financial Secretary explained—he always makes a convincing argument—that that would cause all sorts of administrative difficulties for the Government. He said that the bureaucracy—the Inland Revenue, Customs and Excise and the Treasury—must spend a lot of time preparing for Finance Bills. However, I greatly regret that the conflict between bureaucratic convenience and open government and parliamentary scrutiny has been resolved in favour of bureaucratic convenience. If hon. Members do not argue against that, nobody ever will and we shall be less able to make a meaningful contribution to the evolution of our tax law. That would be bad for parliamentary sovereignty, the legitimacy of the tax system and the tax system itself.

However complicated and technical the proposed measures are, and however high-minded and conscientious officials may be, unless they are exposed to scrutiny there will inevitably be no counterweight or countervailing discipline to proposals that officialdom decides to put forward, and we shall have worse and worse taxation law.

May I take up a remark made by the Financial Secretary in an intervention in the remarks of the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East (Mr. Brown)? The Financial Secretary said that Parliament wanted to be involved in the broad strategic thrust of tax law rather than with its technical details. I wish to challenge that view, which I hope does not reflect the considered opinion of the Financial Secretary.

5 pm

Of course, hon. Members are concerned with the strategic thrust of tax law and with the broad economic consequences of the Government's fiscal policy, and whether that policy is expansionary or restrictive. They are concerned about whether we should reduce our present deficit by reducing expenditure or increasing revenues. They consider where increases or reductions in revenues in the tax system and in general public spending should fall. That is the stuff of our debates in the House on Treasury matters, and there are a number of opportunities to discuss such matters in the course of the year. [Laughter.] The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East is laughing—no doubt I take advantage of those opportunities, but he never fails to do so either. I always appreciate the hon. Gentleman's interventions, which are invariably well thought through and interesting—[Interruption.] I did not hear the intervention of the hon. Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith), but if he wants to intervene I shall be delighted to give way to him. I find it difficult to hear what he says when he comments from a sedentary position.

Mr. Nicholas Brown

I have a soft spot for the hon. Gentleman, so I shall rescue him. He is chattering on as if he is taking part in a television quiz show where the aim is to keep talking about the Finance Bill without ever stopping. Why does he not confirm that many of his colleagues are at a royal garden party and he has been instructed to keep talking so that we do not have to vote before 6 pm?

Mr. Davies

The hon. Gentleman is being more than a little unfair. He suggests that what I am saying cannot stand on its merits. That is wrong. I contributed to the debates in Committee when, as far as I know, there were no competing social attractions in the west end of London and I said very much the same. The hon. Gentleman cannot accuse me of speaking with a lack of sincerity or lack of consistency today. If I had a less good memory, his intervention might have saved my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary from some remarks that I was about to make in response to his observations this afternoon. It seems a little perverse of the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East to intervene and deflect my comments of a mildly and respectfully sceptical nature about a Minister, and a very distinguished one at that.

Mr. Robert Ainsworth (Coventry, North-East)

From what the hon. Member is saying, I take it that it is not true that he continues to speak because his hon. Friends are all at the palace. Perhaps he is doing so because he does not want to discuss VAT.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I am not aware of any activities outside the House, but I would welcome it if the debate were to relate to the amendment.

Mr. Davies

I can say with the greatest sincerity that I do not know the movements of my colleagues nor those of Opposition Members, either this afternoon or during any other afternoon. One is not the keeper of one's colleagues in this place, thank heaven, unless one happens to be a Whip, and I have never had that particular honour. I have no idea who may be doing what this afternoon. I know that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will not want me to go into the issue of VAT on domestic fuel, which has already had a generous airing, but I should like to state that I have never avoided an opportunity to stand up in public and defend the Government's decision on VAT, which I believe to be fundamentally correct, though it may be costly in the short term. Correct and courageous Government decisions often are politically costly in a party political sense in the short term.

The Government are to be more, not less, commended for taking that move—[Interruption.] It is interesting that this is, I think, the first time since I was elected to the House that Labour Members have sought to deflect me from making comments that are not of a purely adulatory nature about the remarks of my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench.

Mr. Carrington


Mr. Davies

Perhaps more understandably, one of my hon. Friends is now rising to deflect me from that purpose.

Mr. Carrington

I hesitate to deflect my hon. Friend from his purpose—it is beyond the reason of anyone to try to do so. My hon. Friend is a notable scourge of parliamentary draftsmen. He started his speech on that subject and raised considerable concerns among many Conservative Members on Second Reading and in Committee on the gobbledegook in the Bill. If the time scale for debating the Finance Bill was expanded next year, we would also need to be able to change the procedures for considering the Bill so that we could change the drafting. A notable factor of our discussions on the Finance Bill has been our inability to change the drafting, despite all the cogent arguments advanced by my hon. Friend on how badly drafted some provisions of the Bill are.

Mr. Davies

My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. I well understand the reluctance of Ministers to agree, on the spot in Committee, to changes in the Bill's drafting. It would lead to much better and more considered tax legislation if, first, there was more time between the publication of the Bill and the commencement of the Committee stage. That would allow more time for the Government to prepare for the Bill's Committee stage by discussing with their officials, the Revenue, and Customs and Excise any suggestions made about the Bill by outside interested parties.

Secondly, although it is a matter of the procedures of the House, it would be better if there were a slightly longer period between the end of the Committee stage and the beginning of Report stage to give the Government more time to consider new drafts and explore the various legal implications of any sensible changes in the Bill's wording. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Carrington) agrees that my suggestion is along the lines of his extremely positive and constructive intervention.

It should be common ground between all of us who are concerned—

Mr. Alistair Darling (Edinburgh, Central)

Sit down.

Mr. Davies

The hon. Gentleman does not like what I am saying. I do not think that he cares about the quality of tax legislation or parliamentary sovereignty, although he mouths all the right rhetoric about democracy and accountability. It is a great pity that I do not receive support on such issues on which there should be consensus among all parliamentarians, irrespective of specific views on the substance or content of the policies.

Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe)

There are two advantages in changing the timetable for discussion of the Finance Bill. First, it might mean that future debates on it would not clash with Conservative Members' visits to Buckingham palace, which interfere with proper discussion of the Bill. Secondly, future discussions would take place in the middle of winter and Conservative Members might be more concerned about Government policies to impose VAT on the fuel bills of elderly people who will suffer as a result.

Mr. Davies

I gladly concede that the hon. Gentleman is ingenious in finding ways of raising the issue of VAT. He knows my views on that; I do not attempt to avoid the subject—I have not done so in the past, and will not do so in future. I do not resent the hon. Gentleman for raising the subject once again. It seems to be, not only natural and right, but a considerable privilege for Members of Parliament occasionally to be offered invitations by Her Majesty.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. What does that have to do with the amendment? I must insist that the debate continues purely and simply along the lines of the amendment.

Mr. Davies

I am sure that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will concede that it had nothing at all to do with the amendment but everything to do with the intervention of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Betts). You know that it is not my habit to run away from points made by hon. Members

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. It must be the habit of the hon. Gentleman to take note of instructions from the Chair—two wrongs do not make a right.

Mr. Davies

I take the view of the Chair.

I shall return to the point that I was making at the beginning of that series of interventions. Although it is important for the House to be concerned about the broad strategy of fiscal policy—which is of enormous significance to the economy and the country—it is also extremely important for Parliament to be able effectively to scrutinise the details of any legislation, including those of the Finance Bill.

Those of us who were in the private sector before we came to this place know that the devil is often in the detail. One thing that we do in the private sector when we are signing or proposing to sign a contract is read the detail. Surely that principle must apply as much to the Finance Bill as to any aspect of law making.

The Labour party has made it easy for me this afternoon because it has tabled an amendment that, by general agreement, is technically deficient or would produce a complete perversity if passed because we would end up with less time for parliamentary scrutiny, not more. Therefore, I have no dilemma at all, morally or otherwise, and I can say with great enthusiasm that I shall vote against the amendment. Nevertheless, I am glad that we have had a further opportunity to discuss the broad issues of principle that have been raised in this debate.

Mr. Dorrell

We have had a wide-ranging debate on this subject this afternoon. The question before the House is relatively narrow—it concerns the consequences for parliamentary procedure of the move to a unified Budget, which was announced by the former Chancellor in the 1992 Budget.

The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East (Mr. Brown) and other hon. Members expressed support for the principle of a unified Budget. The hon. Gentleman even let slip the phrase that he was "enthusiastically in favour or' at least this aspect of the Government's approach to budgetary matters. I am grateful for that support and I share the enthusiasm that has been expressed on both sides of the House.

As the hon. Gentleman made clear, the principal purpose of moving to a unified Budget is to ensure that debate of the budgetary proposals—whether revenue or expenditure oriented—tabled by the Government is better informed and takes place against the background of a recognition of the fiscal realities that any Government face.

It is important to be clear that we are talking about the introduction of a unified Budget. None the less, it is a Budget that will be presented to the House as the Government's proposals and for which the Government will then seek the support of the House with regard to taxation and expenditure. We are not adopting the ideas that have been discussed for many years for a green Budget. When the Finance Bill is published, it will not be in the form of a consultative document—it will be the Government's proposals, for which we shall seek the support of the House and Parliament as a whole.

Nor are we moving in the direction of splitting the traditional Finance Bill between technical measures and tax rate questions—a distinction that some people who are interested in the subject have sought to draw. That distinction is easier to describe in general theory than to recognise in precise practice. It would also lead to two Finance Bills passing through what is already a crowded legislative programme, which is not a proposal that the Government find attractive.

We are talking about a specific Government proposal that the revenue and expenditure aspects of the budgetary process should be brought together into a single process of government during the late summer and autumn of the year and a single process in Parliament that is based on the presentation of the unified Budget in late November or early December.

Against that background, I refer to the proposal tabled by the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East for consideration today. He said that he did not understand why the Government felt it necessary to include in the Finance Bill specific proposals for changing the operation of the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act 1968. He asked why we had to move so quickly: why could we not simply leave things as they are and see how they work in the new world? As I explained in an intervention in his speech, simply leaving things as they are is not an option because if the existing Provisional Collection of Taxes Act were allowed to operate without amendment it would have the effect of curtailing significantly the time available for parliamentary debate.

5.15 pm

It is therefore incumbent on the Government to propose changes to the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act to preserve the scope for proper parliamentary debate. The policy steer that has led to that provision being included in the Bill is that we are seeking to replicate in the new world the provisions for parliamentary scrutiny that have existed until now. Essentially, we are replicating the status quo. As I said in an intervention on the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce), we are replicating the status quo but, in so far as we are changing it at all, we are changing it in the direction of extra parliamentary time.

I shall go through the proposed changes to demonstrate to the Committee that the effect of the changes is not, as is suspected in some parts of the House, to curtail debate but simply to replicate the existing arrangements and marginally to increase the time available for debate.

First, I shall examine this subject from the point of view of the change in the total time between Budget day and the day on which the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act authority expires. Under the old system, over the past six years we have seen Budget days vary between the latest date of 20 March and the earliest date of 10 March. Let us say that, on average, Budget day in the old world was fixed at 15 March. Although we originally said that the new Budget day would be some time near the end of November or the beginning of December, we have since refined that to place the emphasis on the new Budget day being at the end of November. Therefore, I take it as a working hypothesis that the new Budget day will be 25 November.

The difference between 15 March and 25 November is roughly three months and 20 days. We have brought forward the anticipated Budget day by roughly three months and 20 days. Our proposal is to bring forward the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act day from 5 August to 5 May. That brings it forward by exactly three months. Therefore, we are bringing forward Budget day by 20 days more than we are bringing forward the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act day, the consequence being that the gap between the two dates is 20 days longer than it is under the present arrangements. That does not lead to a curtailing of parliamentary debate.

The second stage of the argument is that hon. Members say that the calculation takes no account of the effect of recesses on the time available for parliamentary scrutiny. Let us examine the effect of recesses on the lengthened time that will be available between Budget day and the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act day. Under the existing system, between 15 March and 5 August we must accommodate the Easter recess, which normally runs for between one and one and a half weeks—let us say one and a half weeks—and the Whitsun recess, which is always precisely one week. My hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Mr. Taylor) referred to time in August which is, in reality, no longer available for parliamentary scrutiny because most hon. Members would receive extremely badly the suggestion that Parliament should sit into August.

The effect of the existing arrangements is to take out of the time available for parliamentary scrutiny one and a half weeks at Easter, one week at Whit and a further week at the end of the process—a total of three and a half weeks. Under the new arrangements, we shall continue to have to accommodate the Easter recess in one and a half weeks, and the Christmas recess, running probably to three weeks. So there will be four and a half weeks of recess time—an increase in the amount of recess time falling between Budget day and PCTA day of roughly one week. Of the 20 days extra time available, on a crude analysis one week or seven days is taken by extra recesses, leaving an additional 14 days—13 on the precise mathematics—available for parliamentary scrutiny.

Mr. Nicholas Brown

Let us be clear what we are quarrelling about. Our fear is that under the new structure the Finance Bill will not be published until after Christmas and that there will be unstoppable pressure to complete the Committee stage before the Easter recess. If the Financial Secretary can say either that the Finance Bill will be published before Christmas—so that we and interested parties may study it over Christmas—or that the Government will be willing to continue the Committee stage after the Easter recess, our objections will be met.

Mr. Dorrell

I made it clear in Committee, and I repeat, that I cannot give an assurance that in all circumstances the Finance Bill will be published before Christmas. Nor can I give an absolute assurance that in all years, however late Easter falls, the Committee stage will continue after Easter. What if, for example, Easter fell at the end of March? It does not seem inconceivable that the Committee stage could continue after an Easter day falling in March. The key point is that we must leave time after the Committee stage for Report and Third Reading on the Floor of the House and due time for the Bill to be considered briefly in another place.

If the PCTA date is moved to 5 May as the Government propose, it does not seem to follow that in a normal year Third Reading in this House need be at any time before 30 April. So if the procedure in this House is to close on 30 April and Easter is in March, it is clearly possible to encompass a final week in Committee in April and Report and Third Reading in time for the process to be completed by the end of April.

I had intended to deal with that point by considering the timetable. The third perspective on the timetable is that under the existing arrangements the Finance Bill has been published in recent years roughly on 15 April. In practice, under the existing arrangements we must complete Third Reading in this House by 25 July, which is three months and 10 days. Under the new arrangements, even if the Finance Bill is published after Christmas—it would be published about 10 January—I do not think that in normal circumstances it would be necessary for us to complete Third Reading in this House before 30 April.

Under the new arrangements, therefore, the time between publication and Third Reading would be three months and 20 days, whereas under the existing arrangements the time between publication and Third Reading is three months and 10 days. On that analysis, roughly 10 days more parliamentary time would be available for considering the Finance Bill than there is under the existing arrangements.

I have not sought to argue that under our proposals there will be massive extra time for parliamentary scrutiny. I argue that they broadly replicate our present arrangements and that, in so far as they amend them, they do so by increasing the effective time available for consideration of the issues in this House by making available anything up to 10 days of extra parliamentary time. On that basis, I commend the Government's proposals to the House.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 236, Noes 293.

Division No. 328] [5.24 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)
Adams, Mrs Irene Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale)
Ainger, Nick Armstrong, Hilary
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Banks, Tony (Newham NW)
Allen, Graham Barnes, Harry
Alton, David Barron, Kevin
Battle, John Gerrard, Neil
Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret Godman, Dr Norman A.
Beith, Rt Hon A. J. Godsiff, Roger
Bell, Stuart Golding, Mrs Llin
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Gordon, Mildred
Bennett, Andrew F. Gould, Bryan
Berry, Dr. Roger Graham, Thomas
Betts, Clive Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Blair, Tony Grocott, Bruce
Boyce, Jimmy Gunnell, John
Boyes, Roland Hain, Peter
Bradley, Keith Hall, Mike
Bray, Dr Jeremy Hanson, David
Brown, N. (N'c'tle upon Tyne E) Hardy, Peter
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Harman, Ms Harriet
Burden, Richard Harvey, Nick
Byers, Stephen Heppell, John
Caborn, Richard Hill, Keith (Streatham)
Callaghan, Jim Hinchliffe, David
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Hoey, Kate
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Home Robertson, John
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Hoon, Geoffrey
Canavan, Dennis Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Cann, Jamie Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)
Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry) Hoyle, Doug
Chisholm, Malcolm Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Clapham, Michael Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Clark, Dr David (South Shields) Hughes, Roy (Newport E)
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian) Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Hutton, John
Clelland, David Illsley, Eric
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Ingram, Adam
Coffey, Ann Jackson, Glenda (H'stead)
Connarty, Michael Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H)
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Jamieson, David
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Janner, Greville
Corbett, Robin Johnston, Sir Russell
Corbyn, Jeremy Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side)
Corston, Ms Jean Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW)
Cousins, Jim Jowell, Tessa
Cox, Tom Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Cryer, Bob Kennedy, Charles (Ross,C&S)
Cummings, John Kennedy, Jane (Lpool Brdgn)
Cunliffe, Lawrence Kilfoyle, Peter
Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE) Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil (Islwyn)
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John Kirkwood, Archy
Dalyell, Tarn Lestor, Joan (Eccles)
Darling, Alistair Litherland, Robert
Davidson, Ian Livingstone, Ken
Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral) Llwyd, Elfyn
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Loyden, Eddie
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Lynne, Ms Liz
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dga H'I) McAllion, John
Dewar, Donald McAvoy, Thomas
Dixon, Don McCartney, Ian
Dobson, Frank Macdonald, Calum
Dowd, Jim McKelvey, William
Dunnachie, Jimmy McLeish, Henry
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth McNamara, Kevin
Eagle, Ms Angela Madden, Max
Eastham, Ken Mahon, Alice
Enright, Derek Mandelson, Peter
Etherington, Bill Marek, Dr John
Evans, John (St Helens N) Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Ewing, Mrs Margaret Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S)
Fatchett, Derek Martlew, Eric
Faulds, Andrew Maxton, John
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Meacher, Michael
Fisher, Mark Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Flynn, Paul Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll Bute)
Foster, Rt Hon Derek Milburn, Alan
Foster, Don (Bath) Miller, Andrew
Foulkes, George Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)
Fraser, John Moonie, Dr Lewis
Fyfe, Maria Morgan, Rhodri
Galloway, George Morris, Rt Hon A. (Wy'nshawe)
Gapes, Mike Morris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Garrett, John Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
George, Bruce Mowlam, Marjorie
Mudie, George Short, Clare
Mullin, Chris Simpson, Alan
Murphy, Paul Skinner, Dennis
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
O'Brien, Michael (N W'kshire) Smith, C. (Isl'ton S & F'sbury)
O'Brien, William (Normanton) Smith, Rt Hon John (M'kl'ds E)
O'Hara, Edward Snape, Peter
Olner, William Soley, Clive
O'Neill, Martin Spearing, Nigel
Patchett, Terry Spellar, John
Pendry, Tom Steel, Rt Hon Sir David
Pickthall, Colin Steinberg, Gerry
Pike, Peter L. Stevenson, George
Powell, Ray (Ogmore) Straw, Jack
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lew'm E) Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle) Tipping, Paddy
Prescott, John Turner, Dennis
Primarolo, Dawn Tyler, Paul
Purchase, Ken Vaz, Keith
Quin, Ms Joyce Walker, Rt Hon Sir Harold
Radice, Giles Walley, Joan
Redmond, Martin Wareing, Robert N
Rendel, David Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)
Robertson, George (Hamilton) Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
Robinson, Geoffrey (Co'try NW) Wilson, Brian
Roche, Mrs. Barbara Winnick, David
Rogers, Allan Wise, Audrey
Rooney, Terry Worthington, Tony
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W) Wright, Dr Tony
Rowlands, Ted Young, David (Bolton SE)
Salmond, Alex
Sheerman, Barry Tellers for the Ayes:
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert Mr. Alan Meale and Mr. Gordon McMaster.
Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey) Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Aitken, Jonathan Carrington, Matthew
Alexander, Richard Carttiss, Michael
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby) Cash, William
Allason, Rupert (Torbay) Channon, Rt Hon Paul
Amess, David Chapman, Sydney
Ancram, Michael Clappison, James
Arbuthnot, James Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ruclif)
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv) Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Ashby, David Coe, Sebastian
Aspinwall, Jack Colvin, Michael
Atkins, Robert Congdon, David
Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E) Conway, Derek
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North) Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Baldry, Tony Cope, Rt Hon Sir John
Banks, Matthew (Southport) Couchman, James
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Cran, James
Bates, Michael Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)
Beggs, Roy Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon)
Bellingham, Henry Davies, Quentin (Stamford)
Beresford, Sir Paul Davis, David (Boothferry)
Biffen, Rt Hon John Day, Stephen
Blackburn, Dr John G. Deva, Nirj Joseph
Body, Sir Richard Devlin, Tim
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Dickens, Geoffrey
Booth, Hartley Dicks, Terry
Boswell, Tim Dorrell, Stephen
Bowden, Andrew Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Bowis, John Dover, Den
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes Duncan, Alan
Brandreth, Gyles Duncan Smith, Iain
Brazier, Julian Dunn, Bob
Bright, Graham Durant, Sir Anthony
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Dykes, Hugh
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes) Eggar, Tim
Browning, Mrs. Angela Elletson, Harold
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Budgen, Nicholas Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)
Burns, Simon Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)
Burt, Alistair Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)
Butcher, John Evans, Roger (Monmouth)
Butler, Peter Evennett, David
Faber, David Lidington, David
Fabricant, Michael Lightbown, David
Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Fenner, Dame Peggy Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) Luff, Peter
Fishburn, Dudley Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Forman, Nigel MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) MacKay, Andrew
Forsythe, Clifford (Antrim S) Maclean, David
Forth, Eric McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Madel, David
Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring) Maitland, Lady Olga
Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley) Malone, Gerald
Freeman, Rt Hon Roger Mans, Keith
French, Douglas Marland, Paul
Fry, Peter Marlow, Tony
Gale, Roger Marshall, John (Hendon S)
Gardiner, Sir George Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)
Garnier, Edward Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Gill, Christopher Mates, Michael
Gillan, Cheryl Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles Merchant, Piers
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Milligan, Stephen
Gorst, John Mills, Iain
Grant, Sir Anthony (Cambs SW) Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Mitchell, Sir David (Hants NW)
Greenway, John (Ryedale) Monro, Sir Hector
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N) Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Grylls, Sir Michael Needham, Richard
Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn Neubert, Sir Michael
Hague, William Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Hamilton, Rt Hon Archie (Epsom) Nicholls, Patrick
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Hanley, Jeremy Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)
Hannam, Sir John Norris, Steve
Hargreaves, Andrew Onslow, Rt Hon Sir Cranley
Harris, David Oppenheim, Phillip
Haselhurst, Alan Ottaway, Richard
Hawkins, Nick Page, Richard
Hawksley, Warren Paice, James
Hayes, Jerry Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Heald, Oliver Pawsey, James
Heath, Rt Hon Sir Edward Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Heathcoat-Amory, David Pickles, Eric
Hendry, Charles Porter, Barry (Wirral S)
Higgins, Rt Hon Sir Terence L. Porter, David (Waveney)
Hill, James (Southampton Test) Portillo, Rt Hon Michael
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham) Powell, William (Corby)
Horam, John Redwood, Rt Hon John
Hordern, Rt Hon Sir Peter Renton, Rt Hon Tim
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Richards, Rod
Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A) Rifkind, Rt Hon. Malcolm
Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford) Robathan, Andrew
Howell, Sir Ralph (N Norfolk) Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn
Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne) Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)
Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas Robinson, Mark (Somerton)
Jackson, Robert (Wantage) Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Jenkin, Bernard Ross, William (E Londonderry)
Jessel, Toby Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Ryder, Rt Hon Richard
Jones, Robert B. (W Hertfdshr) Sackville, Tom
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Sainsbury, Rt Hon Tim
Key, Robert Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas
Kilfedder, Sir James Shaw, David (Dover)
King, Rt Hon Tom Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Kirkhope, Timothy Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Knapman, Roger Sims, Roger
Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash) Skeet, Sir Trevor
Knight, Greg (Derby N) Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n) Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Kynoch, George (Kincardine) Speed, Sir Keith
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Spencer, Sir Derek
Lamont, Rt Hon Norman Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)
Lang, Rt Hon Ian Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Lawrence, Sir Ivan Spring, Richard
Legg, Barry Sproat, Iain
Lennox-Boyd, Mark Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)
Lester, Jim (Broxtowe) Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Steen, Anthony Viggers, Peter
Stern, Michael Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
Stewart, Allan Walden, George
Streeter, Gary Walker, A. Cecil (Belfast N)
Sumberg, David Waller, Gary
Sweeney, Walter Ward, John
Sykes, John Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Tapsell, Sir Peter Waterson, Nigel
Taylor, Ian (Esher) Watts, John
Taylor, Rt Hon John D. (Strgfd) Wells, Bowen
Taylor, John M. (Solihull) Whittingdale, John
Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E) Widdecombe, Ann
Temple-Morris, Peter Wiggin, Sir Jerry
Thomason, Roy Willetts, David
Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V) Wilshire, David
Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N) Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Thornton, Sir Malcolm Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)
Townend, John (Bridlington) Wolfson, Mark
Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexl'yh'th) Wood, Timothy
Tracey, Richard Yeo, Tim
Tredinnick, David
Trend, Michael Tellers for the Noes:
Trotter, Neville Mr. Irvine Patrick and Mr. Robert G. Hughes.
Twinn, Dr Ian
Vaughan, Sir Gerard

Question accordingly negatived.

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