|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. That is an extremely long intervention and we are again straying away from the amendments. Will the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) come back precisely to the amendments before the House?
Rob Marris: I will endeavour to do so, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The point that I was making about the amendments, in relation to the French property issue, was to suggestI cannot prove itthat the individuals to whom the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon referred have almost invariably received professional advice. The hon. Gentleman will know that professional advice of that sort almost invariably involves not only the legal but also the taxation aspects. If a solicitor giving such advice does not feel comfortable about also giving some taxation advice, he or she should, and usually does if acting professionally, refer that individual to a professional tax adviser. The examples given by Opposition Members do relate not to individuals who have wandered into a UK minefield created by schedule 15 and the amendments to it but to individuals who have had professional advice.
It is not a minefield. I am saying not that individuals in those circumstances do not know what they are doing, but that the legislation is wrong. If there is to be proper choice, they should be able to elect for one thing or the otherthey should not be stung by both.
7 Jul 2004 : Column 888
Rob Marris: I concede that I used the word "minefield" and that the hon. Gentleman did not. However, he took up the word complexity, which was introduced by the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal, and I concede that I elided that into "minefield". That was the flavour I understood, but I apologise to the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon if that was not his meaning; he was talking about complexity and the flavour picked up by me and, I think, by my right hon. and hon. Friends was that innocents abroadin both senses of that wordwould experience the horrible tax regime to be introduced by schedule 15, even with the wonderful amendments.
Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con): A few moments ago, the hon. Gentleman asked my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Mr. Flight) whose brief he was reading. May I ask the hon. Gentleman the same question, because it sounds rather as though he were reading the Government Whips Office narks' brief? When the hon. Gentleman moves on to amendment No. 10, can he tell us what possible objection there could be to the Government accepting it? Did not my hon. Friend make out an unanswerable case?
Rob Marris: I have in front of me the amendment papernot a narks' brief. There is a Whip sitting on the Treasury Bench, but I freely confess that I am not aware of whether there is a Government brief on this series of amendments. I have no idea, and I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that I am not reading from anything. Indeed, if he knew me a little better, my comments would ring all too true; I am not prone to reading out Government briefs in the House, nor are most of my hon. Friends. Of course, I do not know what Opposition Members doperhaps they read out the Conservative narks' briefs.
Dawn Primarolo: Just in case my hon. Friend thinks he might have missed out on something, I assure him that there is no Government brief for anybody in the Chamberapart from the explanatory notes to which all Members have access.
I should like to look at the amendments in their totality, starting with amendment No. 10, to which the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) referred. The hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs raised some points about equity release schemes and I hope that my right hon. Friend the Paymaster General can reassure us all about them. The hon. Gentleman put a good question and based on my experience of my right hon. Friend, I am sure that she will have an extremely thorough and satisfactory answer that will probably calm my fears and those of the hon. Gentleman.
Several of the amendments raise retrospective and retroactive points; some of them, including amendments Nos. 6 and 48, refer to dates in 1986 and to dates in June and December 2003. I am uneasy about provisions that go back to 1986 and I hope that my right hon. Friend can again calm my fears. To echo one of her points in the Standing Committee, it would be for the taxpayer
7 Jul 2004 : Column 889
concerned to elect whether they wanted to unbundle the inheritance tax avoidance scheme in which they were involvedin some cases, from 1986 onwardsor whether they wanted to pay the assessed income tax that would come in under the proposed regime. I must tell my right hon. Friend that 1986 seems a long time to go back. Coupled with that, can she give us some assurance about transitional arrangements? If there is to be a slab effect, or a cliff-edge effect, on tax changes such as these, it could be most unsettling for some people.
I do not think that these proposals will have a huge effect in the constituency that I currently have the honour to represent, because house prices in Wolverhampton are not high. I am not aware that any house in the entire city is worth more than £1 million. It was of considerable amazement to the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs when I made that point in Committee, but I have checked and I still cannot find one. None the less, house prices are rising throughout the countryI do not need to rehearse thatand more and more people could be above the current threshold of £255,000 or £260,000, or whatever the figure is under the Bill.
Mr. Knight: The hon. Gentleman is raising some important issues. If he does not receive the assurances he seeks from the Paymaster General and if we push the amendments to a Division, will he vote with us? If he does so, I shall be happy to withdraw reference to the word "nark".
Rob Marris: I am not troubled by references to "nark"among some of my constituents they would probably go down quite well. As I said about three minutes ago, I have every confidence in my right hon. Friend the Paymaster General. As in the stock market, past performance does not always indicate future performance, but based on my right hon. Friend's past performance, I think she will be able to give me the assurances I seek in her usual lucid way. I am eager to hear those reassurances because there are concerns about transition, about the 1986 date and about equity release schemes. However, I am sure that, armed with her fantastic preparation, my right hon. Friend will be able to reassure me on those points and I await her response.
The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) accused me of intervening from a pre-stated position on the subject of inheritance tax. However, as we are discussing these particular amendments, it would be wholly improper for me to delight the House with my views on inheritance tax, which may be different from the expectations of the hon. Gentleman although probably in a more radical direction.
Having said that, I should add that I have some clear views on the Government's responsibility to produce legislation that is seen by ordinary people to be fair. I am not keen on the argument that, because the amendments will not affect many people, they are not important. The issue is the fairnessor, even more important, appreciation of the fairnessof the tax system to
7 Jul 2004 : Column 890
ordinary people. I do not quite follow the Paymaster General's argument that those who have sought to avoid tax must pay it, although I think it reasonable to say, "From now on, we will have a system whereby this, that or the other may not be done, but the tax will have to be paid."
Let me return to the retrospection issue, which some of the amendments try at least to ameliorate. The difficulty is that people have made decisions about their future in the context of the law as it was at a particular time, for all kinds of reasons. They may be esoteric reasons. People may, for instance, consider the Napoleonic code in France to be a peculiar concept. As an enthusiastic pro-European, I think it entirely reasonable for us to have a different view from the French. If I wish to make arrangementswhich are legal in Franceto ensure that some operation that seems to be peculiar can be protected, that strikes me as perfectly reasonable.
I agree with the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr. Burnett) that there is something offensive in the Government's suggestion that people who have done that have done something wrong, although I realise that he was wrong to use the word "criminal". I have a lot of very decent constituents who do not wish to be judged in this way when the judgment is unfair. The Government are saying, "That which was perfectly all right we now judge not to be all right." Those who have done things that used to be perfectly all right will be brought before the tax system, and the Government seem to be suggesting that although they may not be criminals, they have done something slightly underhand. That is neither the law of England nor, in my view, the morality of England.
The fact that the Government are doing that has caused real concern among constituents of mine who, although they are not in the category that is being caught by this provision, feelas is so often the casethat it is not fair. I warn the Paymaster General that the one thing that one must not do in Britain is to be seen to be unfair, and I hope that she will reconsider.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|