HC Deb 16 July 1997 vol 298 cc407-8 3.47 pm
Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I wish to raise a matter concerning the status of the Finance Bill and whether it represents the will of the House at Second Reading. On Friday before last, the Paymaster General implied in the House that the Government were having second thoughts about the treatment of foreign income dividends. He said that he was looking sympathetically at the position of UK-based groups with a substantial amount of foreign income."—[Official Report, 4 July 1997; Vol. 297, c. 586.] He realised that many such groups would be driven away from the United Kingdom if the Finance Bill were enacted in that form.

The following week, at Question Time, the Economic Secretary to the Treasury said that no changes were envisaged. However, confusion was created the same day by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who said that the position of the Government was "absolutely clear". He added: The situation is widely understood, particularly by those affected".—[Official Report, 10 July 1997; Vol. 297, c. 1068.] Since then, it has become clear that the position is far from widely understood, and emergency consultations are taking place between the Treasury and a number of United Kingdom financial groups, as has been widely reported in the press.

My point of order for you, Madam Speaker, is that you have always been vigilant to ensure that the House is the first to know of any change in the treatment of legislation. Further than that, although the Bill has received a Second Reading, we now learn that it does not represent the intentions of the Government. The House has voted on a false prospectus.

Furthermore, the Bill is now in its Committee stage, yet the matter is not only unresolved but has been the subject of contradictory statements by Ministers. I know that you, Madam Speaker, cannot force Ministers to come to the Dispatch Box and explain themselves, but, as the matter affects legislation now before the House—indeed, later today we are to debate the very clause affecting foreign income dividends—will you agree to a postponement of those proceedings until the matter has been resolved and clarified by those on the Treasury Bench?

Madam Speaker

No, I cannot agree to postponing the legislation. As far as the Chair is concerned, it is perfectly in order for us to continue with our proceedings in Committee as arranged. The right hon. Gentleman will, of course, be aware that there is a Report stage to come, and we ought to be a little cautious about such points of order at this stage in Committee. If the right hon. Gentleman has other matters to raise, no doubt those on the Treasury Bench will be able to respond to the political arguments that he puts. Our procedures are perfectly in order at this time.