Finance (No. 3) Bill — Second Reading and Remaining Stages

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:46 pm on 18th July 2011.

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Photo of Lord Tugendhat Lord Tugendhat Conservative 9:46 pm, 18th July 2011

My Lords, this debate has ranged very widely but I shall confine my remarks to the sub-committee's report. As I am a member of the Select Committee but not of the sub-committee, I can say with a clear conscience how very good the report is.

We are debating the report against the background of a number of far-reaching constitutional changes, some actual and some prospective. Often, the most far-reaching changes are those which are least noticed when they are introduced and appear to be the least spectacular. That may very well prove to be the case on this occasion with the Government's new approach to tax policy. It represents an interesting new direction and will, I think, have a considerable impact on the formation of policy in the future. I congratulate the Government as did the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, on its implementation.

I should like to make a few I hope helpful suggestions. My first hope is that that the Treasury and future Chancellors will not be afraid of being boring. The temptation inherent in producing an annual draft Finance Bill will be to cut a dash and to make an impact. There will be some years when that will be the right thing to do, when it will be appropriate to serve up a delectable menu of substantial changes. That will not be the case every year and quite likely it will not be the case in most years. I hope that the new approach will lead not only to a more consultative approach to tax policy, but also to one that is more measured and selective, and that Chancellors will not be judged by how far-reaching or how dramatic the changes are from one year to another.

My second hope is that the Treasury and future Chancellors will not be afraid of disregarding occasionally the constraints imposed by the new approach. I noted what the Minister had to say on that point when he opened this debate. I agree with the sub-committee's strictures on the disguised remuneration measure and the supplementary charge on oil and gas profits. However, there will be occasions when it will be right for the Government of the day to act quickly in response to a difficult or crisis situation. The banking crisis of 2008 and its aftermath provide a case in point. There is a good general rule that should normally be observed, but there will be occasions when Chancellors will be right to take more immediate action.

My third hope is that the draft Finance Bill will spark off what might be termed an iterative process with a set of proposals for action in one area sparking suggestions for action in another. We see an example of this already in the way that taking evidence on tax avoidance has prompted the committee's request for the Government to follow up their anti-avoidance strategy with one for tackling evasion. Given that HMRC calculates that the loss from all forms of evasion and default is £22.6 billion versus £7.5 billion for avoidance, this seems highly desirable.

Finally, I turn to the role of the Economic Affairs Committee, or rather its sub-committee. I strongly agree that the new system provides an admirable opportunity to make better use of the experience and expertise of Members of the House of Lords. This is exactly the sort of role that the present House of Lords is well qualified to perform. The report puts forward two possible options in paragraph 122. I suggest that consideration should also be given-as the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, pointed out, this is a matter for the whole House-to establishing the sub-committee on a permanent or semi-permanent basis. I am not committed to that formula, but I want to ensure that a variety of possible options is explored in order to ensure that the experience and expertise in the House of Lords is harnessed in the most effective way, whatever that may be.

To conclude, I congratulate the Government above all on the introduction of the new approach to tax policy and on the way in which they have started the implementation of that policy. While one should, generally speaking, adhere to the rules, there will be occasions when it will be appropriate to go outside them.