On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where's the Chancellor off to?"] The Chancellor of the Exchequer may want to listen to this point of order, of which I have notified him. [Interruption.]
Order. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is putting a point of order.
In your careful perusal, Mr. Speaker, of the 447 pages of the Finance Bill and the 659 unnumbered pages of the first volume of explanatory notes, you will, I am sure, have been absolutely astonished to come across a reference, in the note to clause 130, to the basic rate of income tax being 20 per cent. Is it not absolutely astonishing that the Chancellor of the Exchequer does not know the basic rate of income tax?We already know that the Chancellor got all his forecasts wrong; that Customs and Excise is in chaos; that the implementation of the right hon. Gentleman's tax credit policy has resulted in a shambles; and that up to 1.7 million family firms are uncertain of their tax liability. Does not this latest example add further to the Chancellor's growing reputation for incompetence? Now that this vital document has been shown to be completely lacking in credibility, will you, Sir, undertake to instruct the Chancellor to review all its other figures and to report the findings of that review to this House before Second Reading of the Finance Bill next Tuesday?
I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving me notice of his point of order. The explanatory notes on the Finance Bill are entirely the responsibility of the Treasury. It is for the Government to determine how this matter can be corrected, which I am sure they will wish to do. Ministers will have heard what has been said and will no doubt take steps to ensure that the information provided to this House is accurate.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker.
I do not see how there can be anything further to that point of order—I have been so clear in my answer.
On another point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am most grateful to you, and I seek your guidance. In view of the importance of establishing the facts and correcting the record as quickly as possible, would it not be very useful if the Chief Secretary to the Treasury were to step up to the Dispatch Box to explain the position, correct the error and wholeheartedly apologise to this House?
That would be no more useful than the hon. Gentleman giving me a point of order.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will be aware of the continuing use of the ministerial correspondence unit to draft Ministers' replies to letters from Members of Parliament. Is it in order for a Minister to whom I wrote—about a very serious policy matter, backed by more than 20,000 signatures on a petition—not to sign the reply to me? Is it not a gross insult to me, and to those who asked me to raise the matter, for the Minister to leave it to his civil servant to "pp" the letter on his behalf?
I understand that this particular practice is acceptable; it is not a matter that I am responsible for.
European Union (Accessions) Bill
Mr. Secretary Straw, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Secretary Prescott, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Secretary Blunkett, Secretary Margaret Beckett, Mr. Secretary Hoon and Ms Secretary Hewitt, presented a Bill to make provision consequential on the treaty concerning the accession of the Czech Republic, the Republic of Estonia, the Republic of Cyprus, the Republic of Latvia, the Republic of Lithuania, the Republic of Hungary, the Republic of Malta, the Republic of Poland, the Republic of Slovenia and the Slovak Republic to the European Union, signed at Athens on 16th April 2003; and to make provision in relation to the entitlement of nationals of certain acceding States to enter or reside in the United Kingdom as workers: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed. Explanatory notes to be printed. [Bill 98].