Clause 2 — Reports

Loans to Ireland Bill (Allocation of Time) – in the House of Commons at 5:15 pm on 15th December 2010.

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Photo of Mark Hoban Mark Hoban The Financial Secretary to the Treasury 5:15 pm, 15th December 2010

I beg to move manuscript amendment (a), page 2, line 16, at end insert-

'(d) the remaining term of each Irish loan which is outstanding at the end of that period, and

(e) the original term of each Irish loan in respect of which a payment was made by the Treasury by way of an Irish loan in that period.'.

Photo of Dawn Primarolo Dawn Primarolo Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

With this it will be convenient to consider the following:

Amendment 1, page 2, line 16, at end insert

', and

(d) the original term for any Irish loan and remaining terms for any outstanding Irish loans.'.

Amendment 5, page 2, leave out lines 17 to 26.

Amendment 2, page 2, leave out lines 18 and 19.

Clause 2 stand part.

Photo of Mark Hoban Mark Hoban The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

In dealing with the issues emerging in Ireland, we have sought to keep the House informed as much as possible about the progress that was being made as the crisis emerged, and the role that the UK Government felt they should play in helping to resolve it and responding to the Irish Government's request for help at the end of last month. We have done that through statements to the House and the publication of the Bill last week, and to aid debate, we ensured that before today's debate started a copy of the loan agreement was placed in the Vote Office. I hope that hon. Members will recognise that we were not able to place the summary document in the Vote Office earlier-or, indeed, to place the full signed agreement there-because negotiations are still ongoing with the Irish Government. However, the principles that have been agreed were set out in the summary of key terms.

I think hon. Members would say, "Well, it's all very well that you've been transparent and open in the run-up to the loan process, but what's the next stage? Are you going to be transparent during the life of the loan? How are you going to keep the House informed of what's happening, whether the Irish Government are drawing down each of the eight tranches, how far they've got with repayments, and so on?" For that reason, we decided that there should be a clause to deal solely with reporting. It states that the Treasury will

"prepare a report about Irish loans and lay it before the House as soon as practicable after the end of that period."

The first period will end on 31 March 2011 and a report will be published for each subsequent six-month period. The clause states that those reports will include details of

"any payments made by the Treasury by way of" the loan, and details of

"any sums received by the Treasury in that period by way of repayment of principal or the payment of interest" and

"the aggregate amount of principal and interest in respect of...loans which is outstanding at the end of that period."

Clearly, we will not be required to report if no payments are made within subsection (3)(a), and if no sums under subsection (3)(b) are received as payment, or if

"no amount of principal or interest in respect of an Irish loan is outstanding at the end of the period."

Subsection (5) states that the clause will cease

"to have effect...if no report is required to be prepared in relation to the relevant period ending with 31 March 2016"

The shadow Chancellor, Alan Johnson, tabled amendment 1, which helpfully suggests that we broaden the information that should be supplied in Parliament. I believe that the Government would have supplied such information anyway, but the proposal prompted us to consider the matter carefully and to reflect on it, in the spirit of bipartisan co-operation that has characterised most of the debate.

Amendment 1 would require the Government to report on the original term of the loans and any amendments to it, as well as payments made, sums received and amounts outstanding. As I said, I would have expected our reports to cover those points, and for us to include the duration of the loans and-in reporting outstanding liabilities-their remaining terms. We accept the principle, but as I know from my experience as an Opposition spokesperson, Opposition Members do not have access to the full array of drafting skills that Governments have. That hampered my drafting of amendments previously, and I am grateful that I now have those resources to call upon.

We therefore tabled manuscript amendment (a), which achieves the same effect as amendment 1, but more clearly.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough 5:45 pm, 15th December 2010

Does that not show that this coalition Government are willing to listen to Parliament's views and to change their mind now and again?

Photo of Mark Hoban Mark Hoban The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

I am pleased that my hon. Friend recognises the spirit of the new politics, but I am not quite sure where he will take the debate from there. I welcome his recognition of the Government's flexibility. I do not know what his experience is, but my experience of opposition was that it was rare for a Government to accept an Opposition amendment even in principle. So this perhaps shows that the spirit of the new politics is now coursing through the House.

I should make some holding remarks on amendment 5, which my hon. Friend Mr Cash tabled. I am pleased to see him in the Chamber, because he may be able to be clearer about the thinking behind his proposal than I could.

Subsections (4) and (5) are there to ensure that the duty to report does not continue indefinitely once all loans made under the Bill have been repaid and the authority to make further loans has lapsed. The way in which my hon. Friend has drafted amendment 5 would turn the requirement to report on the loan while sums are outstanding into an open-ended requirement to report every six months ad infinitum, even once all the loans had been fully repaid. I hope that the Committee will agree that this would be unnecessary and undesirable.

Amendment 2, tabled by Her Majesty's Opposition, would do something slightly different. Whereas my hon. Friend seeks to amend clause 2 to ensure that reports appear ad infinitum, the Opposition seek to bring forward the date on which the duty to report would end, by removing the requirement to report where there were no outstanding liabilities, but where there had been repayments or payments of interest in the preceding reporting period. In effect, amendment 2 says that there should not be a report where there is no balance to be repaid at the end of the period, although payments have been received in those six months. It would seem odd to remove the need for a report on the period during which the last part of the loan was paid off. Clearly the Government should be required to report that that has happened, and that is what the Bill as drafted requires.

I hope that the Committee will accept amendment (a), and that the proposers of amendments 1, 2 and 5 will not press them to a vote.

Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Shadow Minister (Treasury)

I do not necessarily wish to pour more congratulations on to the shoulders of the Minister-that would not be doing my job correctly-but in the spirit of Christmas I have to acknowledge, albeit begrudgingly, my appreciation of manuscript amendment (a), which the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself has tabled. I like to imagine him poring over the Order Paper, happening upon my amendment 1 and immediately thinking, "I must accept that amendment, but the drafting is not quite right," and therefore rewriting it in his own fair hand. However, I suspect that several dozen parliamentary draftsmen and women were involved in the process. As the Minister said, the intention was indeed to ensure that when we report every six months on what is happening with the loans, we are talking not just about the aggregate amount of the payments made and the interest, or about the sums that are returned, but about some of the other dimensions.

As the Minister said, the reporting arrangements as set out in the Bill do not exclude the ability to make the reports more comprehensive. Indeed, we ought to state at this stage that we would appreciate as much data being contained in them as possible. One piece of information that I would have found useful is the remaining term of the loan, although that is a small point; given how small it is, I am grateful that the Government have conceded it. Perhaps I should regard this as a famous victory for the Opposition.

Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Shadow Minister (Treasury)

I thank the hon. Gentleman. Just at what I thought was my moment of great glee, he took it away from me. Nevertheless, I will take some satisfaction from what the Government have decided.

I was trying to listen carefully to the Minister's statement on amendment 2. As a lone traveller trying to amend the legislation, I might have misread the wording of clause 2, but I still do not quite understand the sequences of subsection (4), which states:

"No report is required to be prepared or laid in relation to a period if-

(a) no payments...are made...

(b) no sums...are received in the period, and

(c) no amount of principal or interest in respect of an Irish loan is outstanding at the end".

I could not see any circumstances where paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) would simultaneously apply. For example, if no amount of principal or interest were outstanding, how could there be any circumstances where, under paragraph (a), payments had been made or, under paragraph (b), sums had been received? Surely if no report is required when no amounts are outstanding, the conditions under subsections (4)(a) and (b) are redundant. Looking at the drafting of subsection (4), it would be easy to imagine the parliamentary counsel becoming entangled in an arcane discourse on ontological logic. There are several twists to the double negatives set out in the drafting.

As a layman reading subsection (4), I could not see why paragraphs (a) and (b) were necessary, when they must be concurrent with subsection (4)(c), given that (4)(c) states that there is nothing left owing, according to my reading of it. If each of the three paragraphs were alternatives, or contrasting, perhaps using the words "either" or "or", that might make sense. They are conjoined, however, by the non-contrasting linkage "and", suggesting that each of the three conditions must be fulfilled simultaneously, and I am not quite sure that I follow that. Perhaps the Minister needs to walk me through it one more time. I do not wish to press this matter to a vote, because I am sure that there is a higher drafting power at work here, but as I read it, I could not see any circumstances in which paragraph (c) would be true simultaneously with paragraphs (a) and (b).

In general terms the reports will be important, not least because we need to see the terms of the loan that the people of Ireland will have to repay, as well as the amounts of money that the British people will have in return for adding to our national debt. There is a whole series of other questions to which I would eventually like answers. For example, what is the aggregate amount of interest that we expect to be paid by the Irish Government, and what is the impact for us in this country?

As I have said, it is a shame that the summary of the terms of the credit facility was deposited only at the eleventh hour, and I hope that we will have another opportunity to scrutinise it at another time. For the time being, however, that was the purpose of amendment 1, and I am grateful to the Minister for his acceptance of the first amendment that we tabled.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

I have much the same curiosity as Chris Leslie. I was a bit puzzled by the drafting of this provision, and I wanted to find out what the Minister had in mind. I am not sure that he has left me any more satisfied than I was when I started out, however, because my experience over the past 26 years of the dogged fashion in which Ministers operate is that they just say, "We're not going to make the amendment." They do not usually explain the position satisfactorily either.

Having said that, it seems to me that if there is nothing to report, we should just not bother with the reports. Subsections (1), (2) and (3) will be necessary. It is possible that, in due course, the concerns that I raised on an earlier amendment might need to be included in the report. That was the case, for example, in relation to the reports on the Maastricht convergence criteria, despite all the footling remarks that were made during the debate on Maastricht, when we were assured that this, that and the other would not happen. When we came to the convergence reports, and got into the whole business of the golden rule, the stability and growth pact and all the other shenanigans and wriggling, we were proved right over and over again.

Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Shadow Minister (Treasury)

I just want to pick up the hon. Gentleman's point that if there is nothing to report there is no need to have any reports. I believe that it would be of interest to the House if, even when no payments were made, a report were still produced to set out that fact. That might seem a small point but, for example, in the unlikely event that default became an eventuality, the lack of a payment being received might be of interest. That was also part of the rationale behind deleting subsection 4(a) and (b).

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

I think I might agree with that too, but I think that is catered for by subsection (3)(a), which says that each report must include details of

"any payments made by the Treasury".

One could have said, "payments, if any," but for practical purposes I think subsections (1), (2) and (3) would be sufficient. I am not particularly fussed about it; I just wanted to table a probing amendment. I got the usual stonewalling operation from the Minister. I have got used to it over the years; it makes no difference to me and it makes no difference to him.

Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Shadow SDLP Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow SDLP Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow SDLP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SDLP Spokesperson (Treasury) 6:00 pm, 15th December 2010

Like my hon. Friend Chris Leslie and Mr Cash, I found clause 2(4) a bit tortuous. However, I can see the problem with amendment 2, because if paragraphs (a) and (b) were removed and the subsection read only

"No report is required to be prepared or laid in relation to a period if...no amount of principal or interest in respect of an Irish loan is outstanding at the end of the period", the point at which the loan is finally discharged-when a final payment is made-could be the one point when a report would not be necessary, whereas I would have thought that that was the one point where a report would have been relevant and necessary.

I therefore understand why subsection (4) is framed as it is and why there is a conjunctive that covers all three parts. It is only when no payment is made, no sum is received, and nothing outstanding is due at the end of the period, that no report is made. Otherwise, if all three conditions are not satisfied, there will be a report, as I understand it. Given what Members have said about the scrutiny and oversight that they want the House to have, although subsection (4) reads tortuously it seems to stand, so I would not be persuaded by amendment 2.

Photo of Mark Hoban Mark Hoban The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

I think Mark Durkan has a second career beckoning as a parliamentary draftsman. He has summed up the situation exceptionally well.

In subsection (4) all three paragraphs-(a), (b) and (c)-have to apply if no report is to be published. If amendment 2 were made, removing paragraphs (a) and (b), payments could have been made in the period but they would not be reported if there was no balance outstanding at the end. Therefore we must ensure that all three are true before we allow no report to be published. I hope that provides clarification.

I hope I am not seen by my hon. Friend Mr Cash as someone who seeks to stonewall his inquiries, but having imposed a duty on the Treasury to report, it is right that that duty be extinguished when the loans are repaid; otherwise someone will say, "Yes, the loans have been repaid, but your Act requires you to make those reports." It is right that the duty to report is extinguished when the loan has been repaid, and that is simply the purpose of-

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

Perhaps a little bit of irritation, which is not usual in my case, is beginning to burgeon, because a number of questions that I tabled weeks ago about the legal advice regarding the stabilisation mechanism still have not been answered, and when I use the word "stonewall" I mean just that. When I do not get an answer, and I am told that I will get the answer as soon as possible but I still do not get it, and I have to put in a reminder but I still do not get it, there is something going on; I know that. They do not want to disclose the legal advice; they do not want even to disclose whether in fact it was given, or when it was given. I would like to know the answer to those questions because as Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee-

The Second Deputy Chairman:

Order. This is an intervention. It is a very long intervention. The hon. Gentleman has clarified what he meant by stonewalling, but perhaps we might leave the considerations about the European Scrutiny Committee for another day, because it is not particularly relevant to the amendment that we are discussing now.

Photo of Mark Hoban Mark Hoban The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

It is right that the duty to report is extinguished when there is no principal outstanding, and that is the purpose of subsections (4) and (5).

I hope that, with that explanation, hon. Members will accept manuscript amendment (a) and will not seek to press amendments 1, 5 and 2.

Manuscript amendment (a) agreed to.

Clause 2, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.