HL Deb 03 April 2000 vol 611 cc1084-5

2.59 p.m.

Lord Goodhart

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they have considered transferring responsibility for the appointment of members of the VAT and duties tribunals from the Treasury to the Lord Chancellor's Department.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the tax appeals tribunals are the subject of a consultation paper published by the Lord Chancellor in March of this year. One of the issues on which views are sought is the responsibility for appointments of lay members to the VAT and duties tribunals. The closing date for responses to this consultation document is 30th June 2000.

Lord Goodhart

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. But does he accept that the Treasury has a very direct interest in the outcome of decisions by these tribunals? Does he accept that it is certain that as soon as the Human Rights Act comes into force there will be a challenge to an adverse decision on the ground that the decision was taken by a tribunal which was not independent and impartial? Does he accept that there is a very good chance indeed that such a challenge would succeed? Does he accept that, in order to protect public revenues, it is very important that as soon as possible this kind of challenge should be made impossible by transferring the responsibility for the appointments to the Lord Chancellor's Department, which already has responsibility for appointing the chairmen of these tribunals?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, for many years it has been the practice in this country that the appointments to panels of this kind should be the responsibility of the same department as that which is responsible for the administration of the matter before the tribunals. But, of course, the issue raised by the noble Lord is one on which views are sought in the consultation paper to which I referred in my first Answer. Although I cannot confirm what the noble Lord said about the Human Rights Act and what the result of any appeal would be, that is one of the issues which the Lord Chancellor will take into account in responding to the responses to the consultation document.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, has not the Human Rights Act become a great big bogey? Did we not sign the convention many years ago—even decades ago—and is there not recourse to that legislation through Strasbourg, although it takes a long time?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the noble Lord is strictly right. If the case had been as clear as the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, implied in his Question to me, an issue or this kind could have been brought to the European Court indirectly. The effect of the Human Rights Act is that it can now be taken directly.

Lord Saatchi

My Lords, is it a breach of the human rights of the British public for the Government to tell them that their taxes are going down when in fact they are going up?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the noble Lord keeps on trying with unanswerable questions. Indeed, if he chooses to engage in discussion with me on tax burdens rather than on human rights issues, he will find us talking at cross-purposes, as we so often do.

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