Growth and Infrastructure Bill — Commons Amendments

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:30 pm on 24th April 2013.

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Photo of Lord Christopher Lord Christopher Labour 6:30 pm, 24th April 2013

I support the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. Although they have moved, with this Bill the Government have solved one problem only to create others. I begin by confirming what my noble friend Lord Myners said. I was campaigning for an anti-avoidance, broad-brush approach for 30 years as an official of the Inland Revenue Staff Federation. I agree with my noble friend Lord Myners that this will not work. Over those 30 years, Chancellor after Chancellor said precisely that in relation to the arguments from the union that there should be such a thing. We will await events to see whether it happens.

The only point on which I disagree a little with the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, is the question of independent advice. The press picked it up and said that people will be entitled to go to a lawyer but if you go back to the Employment Rights Act 1996, which is from where this proposal came, you find a weird list of people who are legitimate to give advice in the context of the Bill that we are discussing. An independent adviser can be a qualified lawyer, which is defined in the terms that you would expect, or an officer or official of a trade union who is qualified to value companies. The trade union movement has swarms of people qualified to do that at the moment.

Then we come to the issue of reasonable costs. If this is to happen, we must define "reasonable costs" as probably something that employers are expecting. If we were talking about going to a lawyer and this were a different forum, I would say that if lawyers were present, those who felt they were qualified to do it should put their hands up. Very few would be qualified. I do not know what it has now but the Inland Revenue used to have a specialist section in Hinchley Wood to deal with the valuation of companies. This morning I asked two company chairmen whether they could tell me what the value of their company was and the answer was no. They would have to pay qualified people to value those companies. While it may be initially a case of shares at par, Lord knows what it would be in two, three, four or five years' time.

As for the advice that is being given, he or she who gives advice has to confirm that they are adequately insured to ensure that there is compensation payable if the advice turns out to be wrong. Why on earth are we debating this? This is a proposition that, prima facie, employers do not want to lessen on the terms that my noble friend Lord Myners has expressed. It will be a considerable disservice not just to working people, because the potential of this is dreadful. I would not need any arguments at all to vote against it on that basis. It is also a disservice to employers. They will read this as saying that they have to pay only a few hundred pounds for the reasonable costs of advice. It will not be that sort of figure. If I had to do this today, I am not certain where I would go if I went to the City of London. Fees there are not cheap.

This is a little explosion that is set to go off the first time that anybody gets serious advice. My advice to the TUC would be to say to every union that has asked: seek and provide them with a list of people who may be capable of giving advice. We are talking about thousands of pounds an hour.