HL Deb 12 November 1987 vol 489 cc1472-5

3.28 p.m.

The Lord Advocate (Lord Cameron of Lochbroom)

My Lords, on behalf of my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

This Bill is a pure consolidation of certain enactments relating to income and corporation tax and is the first consolidation on this subject since 1970.

With the permission of your Lordships, I should like to take a moment to pay tribute to some of those involved in the preparation of this Bill. First, I should like to thank the draftsmen who, I understand, have been working on the consolidation for some four years or more. The exercise has been extraordinarily difficult in that each year a new and massive Finance Act has had to be incorporated, culminating this year in a pre-election Act and followed by a further large Act after the election. I am sure your Lordships will agree that to have completed the consolidation of such an enormous body of complicated and constantly changing law at all is a phenomenal achievement.

Secondly, and more unusually, I should like to thank Her Majesty's Stationery Office which presented us with what I believe to be the largest Bill in recent times, numbering well over a thousand pages and running into three volumes. This has been a major test of the new technology now in operation in the Stationery Office and the sheer logistics of handling a Bill of this size have been formidable. Nevertheless, the Bill was ready. If your Lordships give this Bill a Second Reading, it will be referred in the usual way to the Joint Committee on the consolidation of Bills. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Cameron of Lochbroom.)

3.30 p.m.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, we on this side of the House would like to associate ourselves with the tributes that have been paid by the noble and learned Lord to the draftsmen and to all those who have participated in this mammoth task of consolidation. That, of course, includes members of the committee which dealt with it as well as the other officers of the House.

It may be permissible to say that the Bill is 1,041 pages long. I can well remember in my early professional career having to deal with the Income Tax Act 1918, as amended in subsequent Acts, which resulted in a small textbook half an inch thick. It dealt with the whole of our tax affairs until the outbreak of war. We now have this colossal Bill. And the text books occupy roughly a yard instead of half an inch.

I respectfully suggest that when the Government get down to the whole question of taxation simplification they should bear in mind these physical matters and the tremendous complexity of the clauses. Those of your Lordships who have been associated with taxation statutes will agree that our taxation laws are among the most complicated in the world. That situation, we hope, will soon be rectified.

Lord Diamond

My Lords, we should like to associate ourselves with this valuable consolidation.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

My Lords, I apologise for intruding when noble Lords are awaiting the main business of the day. I shall not carry on the debate for more than a moment or two. I understood that consolidated Bills were taken formally. I was getting ready to make a full apology to the House for speaking at all.

This is a unique Bill. It is worthy of notice on any count. The noble and learned Lord who introduced the Bill referred to its size and weight. It must be the heaviest Bill of this century. I do not remember anything approaching its size. I hope that noble Lords will not walk about the House with it because it is a safety hazard. It weighs 2.5 kg. It costs £2.45 to send by parcel post. I do not think that there has been anything like it before.

One feature worthy of note concerning this biggest ever Bill is that your Lordships played no part whatever in its contents. Everything, from beginning to end, was held in the bondage of the Parliament Act 1911. Your Lordships sat in the House as helpless observers while the biggest piece of legislation—fiscal expropriation—was passed. Your Lordships had no power to alter it by a jot or a title. I cannot get over the shame that the Liberal Government of 1911, aided and abetted by the Irish Nationalists, inflicted it upon Parliament. We have suffered from it ever since.

Another feature of the Bill is that the Taxes Management Act 1970 is not included. I understand that. The Taxes Management Act is not a charging taxation Act; it is a management and enforcement Act. At the time, it was not a Money Bill. It was dealt with by your Lordships' House, but successive governments have included in successive Finance Bills amendments to the Act on enforcement and the liberty of the subject. They have thereby excluded your Lordships from discussing draconian powers which are placed in the hands of the taxing authorities.

With VAT, a great collection of new weapons was in the hands of the Customs and Excise. Indeed, the Customs and Excise has a law of its own. If the House is confronted with the recommendations of the Keith Committee on income tax, we shall have another large incursion into individual liberty which we shall not be able to touch if included in a Finance Bill.

As the Bill has taken so long to prepare, I wonder whether it is the time to be consolidating at all. I thought that we were on the threshold of major tax reforms. We have waited 17 years for this Bill. I am not surprised that it has taken four years to prepare. We should offer our deepest sympathy to all who have been engaged in this tedious task. It is the most complicated legislation in the world. It constitutes a serious obstacle to the conduct of business and normal relations between the citizens and bureaucracy.

Another point about the Bill is that when a consolidation Bill is introduced, practitioners, both in the department and outside, have to begin to learn chapter and verse all over again. The income tax Acts are like a Bible to practitioners and the profession. They always want to be able to quote chapter and verse. If we present them with a revised version of "the Bible", they are all in difficulties. They have to learn afresh. Shall we put them through that difficult task more than once in the next few years if we go on with consolidation now? We should have waited for the final task of consolidation until the end of this Parliament. After all, consolidation Bills do not take place in the middle of a revolution. And that, we are assured, we are in the middle of now.

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, I endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, has just said, in particular his reference to Customs and Excise who can flaunt your Lordships by slipping administrative legislation through by way of Finance Bills—it has done so for several years now—which your Lordships cannot change. That is most disgraceful. I trust that the Government will have a look at the matter to see whether that sly way of getting legislation through Parliament should not be brought to a a close.

Lord Strabolgi

My Lords, with respect to the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, I speak as a member of the consolidation committee. Consolidation is a purely mechanical exercise whereby the committee, which is a joint committee of both Houses, considers the Bills which are consolidated. It hears evidence given by the departments and sometimes by learned counsel. Its job is to ensure that nothing is slipped into the Bill which is not already contained in the Bills which are consolidated. It is a purely mechanical exercise. No one is trying to swing anything on anyone.

Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran

My Lords, as a member of the consolidation committee, may I thank the noble Lord. Lord Strabolgi, for what he said. I should like to thank the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate and the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, for expressing their thanks to the committee. It is a difficult job for the advisers who come before the committee. I was going to make it clear—but the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, has done so—that it is a joint committee of both Houses. I hope that the other members of the committee in the other place will be thanked accordingly.

Lord Cameron of Lochbroom

My Lords, I am grateful for the welcome given to the Bill. I appreciate the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton. Unfortunately, the Parliament Act is on the statute book. What we are doing here is combining in one Act, Acts which have been put on the statute book over a period of 17 years. As noble Lords will recognise, in consolidation a Bill must obey the natural law of conservation of mass. It is, as I say, pure consolidation, as noble Lords have already pointed out.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and referred to the Joint Committee on Consolidation Bills.