I have some simple questions. Will the simplified arrangements apply in all circumstances permitted by the directive? Will the maximum scope for outsourcing and self-billing be allowed? Can the Financial Secretary also help us on whether the United Kingdom is pressing for changes so that methods of guaranteeing origin and authenticity, other than electronic signatures and electronic data interchange, are also permissible?
We are in the process of inviting business to comment on the draft regulations. Customs consulted business during the agreement of the invoicing directive. That process is continuing because it will go on during the formulation of the regulatory changes. It has been very helpful to have the support of the Institute of Directors in relation to the clause. As hon. Members will be aware, the deputy head of its policy unit has written to me, applauding the progress that has been made with the invoice directive and the leading role that the Government played in that. I am mindful that the IOD wants burdens on to business to be minimised, as do we all. We shall do that by retaining the invoicing simplifications that are currently available, but also by building sufficient flexibility into the regulations to provide maximum scope for outsourcing and self-billing, and enabling the new electronic invoicing systems to be allowed as the technology develops.
As the hon. Member for Christchurch knows, the field is one in which the technology is developing. In many ways it is developing faster than the pace at which fuel technology is developing. Customs will
continue the process of consulting business throughout the summer, through our joint-VAT consultative committee, which has proved a useful arena, as well as the e-VAT forum, during formulation of the regulatory changes. The European Commission will review the electronic invoicing provisions by 2008 and update the directive in line with technological developments. Meanwhile, Customs will identify with member states such as the UK who want to push ahead. It is always important to have a degree of flexibility when dealing with the Commission, as a number of Conservative Members will know.
We will be seeking to accept alternatives to advanced electronic signature or electronic data interchange. We are not just sitting back and waiting for things to happen; we are working closely with the sector to advance progress and retain and develop our competitive advantage.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 24 ordered to stand part of the Bill.