Sea Fishing Grants (Charges) Bill — 22 May 2000
Not amended in the Standing Committee, considered .
Order for Third Reading read.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
The Bill is short and straightforward. It is a very narrow Bill, but it has a complex legal background. Its purpose is to ensure the validity of charges that were levied by the Sea Fish Industry Authority between 1 October 1981 and 3 May 1996 in connection with its administration of grant schemes under the Fisheries Act 1981. It also applies to the validity of charges that were made by the authority's predecessor, the Herring Industry Board, between March 1972 and October 1981.
However, it was not thought appropriate to make any reference to it, as no decision had been made at that time about how to deal with the issue.--[ Official Report, Standing Committee G , 14 March 2000; c. 16.]
This view would be consistent with "Statement of Standard Accounting Practice 18" and its successor "Financial Reporting Standard 12" which provide that in those cases where the probability of the ultimate outcome having a material effect on the financial statements (ie those of SFIA in this case) is remote, no disclosure of the contingent liability is required in the accounts.
The Bill is retrospective. As I said on Second Reading, the Government do not take lightly the introduction of retrospective legislation.--[ Official Report, Standing Committee G , 14 March 2000; c. 4.]
That point has dogged the Bill from the start. In fairness to the Government, they have made no secret of the fact that it was retrospective, but, as the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. George) has just said, the argument is whether retrospective legislation is justified to solve a problem that may not have existed. Even now we have not got to the bottom of that. I certainly have not, because I have not yet seen the note on the legal advice that the members of the Committee have seen, but that is not yet in the Library as the Minister claimed that it was. The rest of us who were not on the Committee are in the dark about the content of the note.
On Second Reading, the Minister was pressed to convey to the House the basis of his legal advice. He declined to do so then, and appears unwilling to do so today.--[ Official Report, Standing Committee G , 14 March 2000; c. 5.]
I still think that there are considerable gaps in his explanation of the advice that he has received about the necessity for these retrospective provisions.
advise colleagues in the House who will have to consider it in due course.--[ Official Report, Standing Committee G , 14 March 2000; c. 10.]
The Government have become slap happy in the use of retrospective legislation.--[ Official Report , 23 June 1986; Vol. 100, c. 86.]
The total value of the charges levied by the Herring Industry Board and the Sea Fish Industry Authority was about £7.3 million covering some 13,000 cases. By ensuring that these were validly levied the Bill will secure a possible saving in public expenditure in avoiding any obligation that might otherwise arise to fund repayments.
It being five hours after the commencement of proceedings on the allocation of time motion, Mr. Deputy Speaker, pursuant to Order [this day], put forthwith the Question necessary for the disposal of proceedings to be concluded at that hour.
Motion made, and Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time.-- [Mrs. McGuire.]
The House divided: Ayes 313, Noes 1.
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