Destination of Receipts

Clause 44 – in the House of Commons at 10:30 pm on 23rd April 2001.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Andrew Tyrie Andrew Tyrie Conservative, Chichester

I want to raise a brief point that caught my eye as I was reading the clause. I cannot work out why on earth All money and securities for money collected or received for or on account of aggregates levy shall … if collected in Great Britain, be placed in the general account of the Commissioners kept at the Bank of England", but, if collected or received in Northern Ireland, be paid into the Consolidated Fund". That is incomprehensible. I have no doubt that the Minister will say, as he has in response to every other point made this evening, that the practice has been used in all legislation for the past 200 years, but I do not recall seeing a similar provision in other legislation.

While I am giving the Minister a moment to think about that, I point out that it would be extremely helpful if he could explain to us the so-called explanatory notes. The note for the clause says: This clause provides for the destination of all monies collected or received for or on account of aggregates levy in Great Britain, and in Northern Ireland. Just a paragraph of explanation would have saved us the time that we are taking up in the Committee.

Photo of Michael Jack Michael Jack Conservative, Fylde

My hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) has aroused my interest in the clause, because I am intrigued by the fact that money collected or received in Northern Ireland shall be paid into the Consolidated Fund of the United Kingdom in such manner as the Treasury may direct. The mind boggles at the prospect of Treasury Ministers daily pondering imaginative ways in which the money collected in Northern Ireland might be paid into the Consolidated Fund. I am sure that there is a completely rational, logical explanation for the wording, and I would be grateful if the Financial Secretary explained what is likely to be the normal way in which the money should be paid, why it is necessary to have the variation on a theme that Ministers may direct alternatives to the norm and what they might be.

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

My answer to the points made by the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) is precisely as he anticipated. In common with all the other provisions that we have been discussing, the clause is entirely in line with—and, in this case, lifted word for word from—provisions for other indirect taxes. I was rather hoping that the right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack), drawing on his experiences as a Treasury Minister, might shed some light on the matter, but sadly he did not. The money will be placed in the Bank of England or, in the case of Northern Ireland, the Consolidated Fund. That is in keeping with the treatment of moneys received from other taxes and duties.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I am grateful to the Minister, who is always very courteous, for giving way, but I am afraid that his response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) and the Committee simply will not do. My right hon. Friend rightly drew attention to the quizzical attitude, at least among Conservative Members, about the expression, "in such manner". Seeking to justify his position on the basis of past legislative precedent, is the Minister arguing that that apparently permissive element of the clause, allowing different mechanisms to be deployed, has, to adapt Bagehot, in the past been only a dignified rather than an efficient part of those earlier statutes, or is he arguing that differential application has applied? If so, will he give us chapter and verse on that point?

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

My point is that the arrangements have worked perfectly well at many points throughout the tax system. If the hon. Gentleman can draw the House's attention to instances of problems arising from the arrangements, he should do so.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross UUP, East Londonderry

I do not know how far back the provision dates, although I suspect that its genesis can be found in 1920. However, we have come a long way from the Government of Ireland Act 1920, and since that time, several attempts have been made to set up devolved institutions in Northern Ireland, and devolved institutions have successfully been set up in Wales and Scotland. If the provision has for a long time applied to Northern Ireland, why does it not now also apply to Scotland and Wales? If it does not apply to Scotland and Wales, there can be no good reason for its continuing to apply to Northern Ireland. Given that we now have uniform systems in the three devolved regions, is it not time that all parts of the kingdom were treated exactly the same in terms of the collection of taxes?

Photo of Andrew Tyrie Andrew Tyrie Conservative, Chichester

This is probably—almost certainly—a minor matter, but we are not absolutely sure. The Minister does not know and nor do I. Will he undertake to drop me a line giving an explanation?

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

I shall be delighted to drop the hon. Gentleman a line.

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

I hope that it will not be regarded as churlish if I follow up a point that is necessarily retrospective. This year's Finance Bill, like last year's, contains many clauses—other than those that deal with the aggregates levy—in respect of which the notes on clauses are genuinely helpful and explanatory. However, it is symptomatic of the way in which the aggregates levy has been presented that, in addition to the drafting of the provision being—perhaps necessarily—dense, the notes on clauses are a masterpiece of the gnomic. There is nothing that explain, anything that cannot be seen on the face of the Bill—indeed, I venture to say that they are a genuine waste of paper.

I imagine that that regrettable situation is rooted in the same cause as the provisions as a whole—namely, that the measure has been produced on the trot and as a result of some late decision taken, much to the industry's surprise, suddenly to implement the aggregates levy. Presumably, there was stuff sitting on a shelf somewhere ready for production after the announcements made in previous Budgets, and when someone suddenly said that the provision was to be introduced, it was taken down at high speed. That is the charitable explanation for the fact that the notes on the clauses dealing with the levy, unlike those on many of the other clauses, tell us nothing. It might also be the charitable explanation for the fact that, even though it was the only new tax that he was introducing, the Chancellor did not mention it in this year's Budget statement.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 44 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 45 and 46 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 10 agreed to.

Clause 47 ordered to stand part of the Bill.