Skip to main content

Clause 18

Volume 408: debated on Tuesday 1 July 2003

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Joint And Several Liability For Unpaid Vat Of Another Trader

I beg to move amendment No. 52, in page 15, line 15, leave out Clauses 17 and 18.

The amendment relates to clauses 17 and 18. We recognise that we have had considerable discussion and debate in Committee, but further developments have arisen on those important clauses and it is therefore important to hold a debate. The Committee considered them in some detail, and in the light of that additional information the only way to ensure that a debate takes place on Report is by having, in effect, a clause stand part debate through the technique of tabling amendments to delete the clauses.

In expressing the situation in those terms, I may have hinted that I am not keen for the clauses themselves to be deleted here and now. It should be well understood that I realise that missing trader fraud is by far the biggest single fraud confronting tax authorities. It is pan-European in scope and practised by highly sophisticated individuals. The explanatory notes put the total cost of such fraud to the United Kingdom at between £1.7 billion to £2.75 billion in 2001–02. I fully support, therefore, the objectives of clauses 17 and 18, which seek to secure the VAT that would otherwise be lost through missing trader fraud.

Because of the way in which our procedures work on Report, my amendment, which would delete clauses 17 and 18, has been structured to allow a clause stand part debate. I do not want to get into a false dialogue, however, so I should point out that it is not our intention to strike down the clauses' objectives.

Many arguments are circulating to the effect that the Government are to some extent responsible for much of the VAT fraud to which my hon. Friend refers. Investigations are ongoing in that regard, and it seems unfortunate indeed that it is the taxpayer who will have to bear the cost.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. We are dealing with a very difficult issue. It is right that any Government be entitled to collect duly levied revenue, and it is not part of our agenda to seek to wreck that. However, we do have to examine the balance between the rights and responsibilities of citizens and taxpayers, and those of the Government—that is part of the democratic accountability that we are elected to provide. I ask my hon. Friend to bear with me, because although I certainly welcome interventions, it is important that I go through this issue with some care—I shall try not to detain the House for too long, but I cannot pretend that this will be the briefest of our episodes on Report—not least because the House of Lords had something to say about it in Committee. It is important to ensure that we give due consideration, given that the other place will not be able to scrutinise this provision in any other way. My hon. Friend will therefore find that the context in which his remarks are placed is a little more proportionate, given the seriousness of the issues with which we are dealing.

Since our deliberations in Committee, we have continued to receive representations that, as drafted, the proposed legislation may catch legitimate traders. I understand that Her Majesty's Customs and Excise believes that the draconian powers in clauses 17 and 18 are necessary to target the abuse. As I recall, the Economic Secretary said in Committee that in practice, the powers will be applied in such a way as to protect legitimate traders. However, the concern remains that the legislation is widely drafted and is not subject to external review before being applied. I am therefore concerned that the necessary separation of powers to protect the innocent appears not to exist.

The third report of the House of Lords Select Committee on Economic Affairs echoes those comments. Paragraph 5.10 states, in respect of clause 17:
"With reference to the self-denying undertaking by HMCE"—
Her Majesty's Customs and Excise—
"we note that the necessary degree of satisfaction on the part of the Department that all reasonable checks have been applied by a legitimate trader is not subject to any external review. Indeed, under the normal powers of delegation of the Commissioners of Customs and Excise, that discretion could rest with the investigating officer. We have therefore concluded that in the Clause, as drafted, the protection for legitimate traders can be said to be deficient in that their access on appeal to the VAT and Duties Tribunal arises only after HMCE have applied their new power to require security, albeit following a warning. By this stage, the negative economic consequences for their business could already be significant. We considered that a part of the solution could lie in a suggestion made by the ICAEW"—
the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales—
"that, before taking steps to require security under Clause 17, HMCE should be obliged to seek leave from a Tribunal Chairman."
5.15 pm

The report continues, in paragraph 5.11:
"We recommend that consideration be given to creating an enhanced statutory safeguard for legitimate traders, which would ensure that the conclusions related to Clause 17 arrived at by the investigating officer are reviewed at Board level within the Department and by an external judicial authority before the power to require security is exercised. This two-stage review would precede the issue of the preliminary warning letter contemplated as an essential element of Departmental practice in operating the new power. Under the procedure which we envisage, the application, which should be approved by the Commissioners of Customs and Excise themselves, without power of delegation, should be on an ex parte basis. Before giving leave, the Chairman of the VAT and Duties Tribunal would have to be convinced by the HMCE case against the trader that the business was involved or complicit in the alleged fraud."
To make sure that the scene for the debate is properly set, I shall quote paragraphs 5.20 and 5.21 from the report. They deal with clause 18, which would also be deleted by the amendment. Paragraph 5.20 states:
"We recognise the considerable educational effort that is being undertaken by HMCE to provide help and guidance for legitimate traders, in order not to find themselves through inadvertence, becoming involved in an "artificial" supply chain. However, we still have some misgivings that, as in the case of Clause 17…the protection afforded to the legitimate trader by challenging the step of being made jointly and severally liable for the unpaid net tax in a supply chain only after the event would be insufficient. We acknowledge that the procedure begins with a "Notification Letter". The trader then has 21 days in which to demonstrate to HMCE a legitimate reason. If he or she fails to do so, at the end of that period a Demand Notice will be issued for the unpaid net tax. But we still see the need to enhance the protection for a legitimate trader from the burden of being faced with a "Notification Letter" in the first place. The detailed arguments that we advanced at paragraph 5.10 in respect of enhanced statutory protection for the legitimate trader apply with equal force in the case of Clause 18."
Paragraph 5.21 states:
"We recommend that consideration be given to providing that, before taking steps to hold a trader liable under the joint and several liability provisions of Clause 18, HMCE should be obliged to seek leave from a Chairman of the VAT and Duties Tribunal. The application, which should be approved by the Commissioners of Customs and Excise themselves, without power of delegation, should be on an ex parte basis. Before giving leave, the Tribunal Chairman would have to be convinced by the HMCE case against the trader that the business was involved or complicit in the alleged fraud."
The House will note that paragraphs 5.11 and 5.21 end with very similar wording.

I am sure that that the Economic Secretary will take those comments from the House of Lords seriously. I hope that he will address the concerns of many legitimate traders, learned professionals and Opposition Members. Indeed, similar concerns were raised, in Standing Committee by hon. Members from other parties, and they have also been voiced by those in another place. I look forward to his response.

I come now to another important matter in connection with clauses 17 and 18. I want to be slightly cautious and make sure that the point is well understood, but I understand that a firm of solicitors has served a letter before claim on the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Attorney-General, the Treasury and the Chairman of the Board of the Commissioners of Customs and Excise. I understand that they have the opinion of counsel that Parliament does not have the power to legislate in the way clauses 17 and 18 seem to intend, as the clauses are in contravention of Community law. In addition, I understand that those concerned contend that the provisions are not in accordance with the Human Rights Act 1998. Further, those served with the letter before claim have now been put on notice that should they seek to apply the clauses, any loss or damage caused to any business, director or shareholder that is attributable to that application will be sought in accordance with the decision of the European Court of Justice in Frankovich, reference C-6 and C-9/90.

Given the value of the industry sectors concerned and the fact that the explanatory notes puts the total cost of missing trader fraud to the UK at between £1.7 billion and £2.75 billion in 2001–02, the level of damages from legitimate traders could very well be significant. I understand that the annual turnover for mobile and computer chip traders in the UK is now £50 billion. There are 400 traders, approximately, paying annual corporation tax of £600 million; there are 10,000 jobs, involving national insurance contributions and PAYE. These figures do not take account of major retailers such as Carphone Warehouse.

I have raised the issue of Community law on the Floor of the House before. When we debated clause 22 on 13 May, I raised many arguments that that clause was incompatible with Community law. It should be noted that these arguments in relation to the Seeling case have not been answered. On clauses 17 and 18, we have significant concerns about the compatibility with Community law. I am not a barrister, nor have I had access to the Government's legal opinion on the compatibility of clauses 17 and 18; nor, for that matter, on clause 22, despite repeatedly asking for it. Nor have I seen counsel's opinion supporting the solicitor's letter concerning the people who have sent the letter before claim, which I understand has been served.

I do know that we now have uncertainty for the industry and for taxpayers. We have seen case after case where the European Court of Justice has upheld the taxpayers' case against the UK, so we must take these matters seriously. A further concern regarding clauses 17 and 18 is the threat of Frankovich damages. I do not know the merits of the case but, if successful, legitimate traders—a number of whom have already suspended trading as a result of these clauses—can seek to recover any loss or damage caused to any business, director or shareholder. Without overstating the case, this could be in the order of tens of billions of pounds. Who would bear the cost? The taxpayer.

In Committee, the Paymaster General stated that, as far as Ministers were concerned, parliamentary counsel was "all four aces" when it came to being the final arbiter on the drafting of Bills, adding that Ministers challenged the interpretation at their peril. She went on to say that she sincerely hoped that aspiring Ministers in the decades to come—let us hope it is not anywhere near that long—would also consider such challenges unwise.

In Committee on 15 May, the Economic Secretary gave assurances that clauses 17 and 18 were in accordance with Community law, but gave scant legal support to those assurances. To that end, I recognise that we have a letter before claim, but we are not sub judice; we are certainly on notice. I have been provided with the documentation, and I know the Government are aware of that. I know that they will be prepared for my arguments.

As I now understand that another legal counsel has a different opinion and considers clauses 17 and 18 not to be in accordance with Community law, one could say that the Government's aces have been called. The Government have been put on notice. If they are wrong, they are putting UK taxpayers at risk of having to meet significant damages. I do not believe that it is right for UK taxpayers to be put at such risk.

Let us take the simple example of a planning application. If those considering a planning application are advised that their course of action may be successfully challenged—this could happen to any councillor in any authority in the country—and they proceed, those considering the planning application are held personally accountable. That is often one of the biggest issues in terms of getting an open discussion. In this case, I recognise that it is not thought that Ministers will be held personally accountable in such a case, but this is a direct equivalent. Importantly, neither should the UK taxpayer be held accountable when the Government have been put on notice, just as officials in a local authority would put councillors on notice that they are taking a huge risk for themselves and for local council tax payers. It is therefore incumbent on the Economic Secretary to give a full answer.

The Paymaster General warned that Ministers challenge parliamentary counsel at their peril. However, ignoring my personal views on that assertion, surely the position changes when another legal counsel—naturally, legal counsel will have different opinions—formally puts forward a clearly different opinion. The Chancellor and others have been served with the letter before claim. Given the importance of those issues, particularly for UK taxpayers, I call on the Economic Secretary to make the Government counsel's opinion available to the House, so that we can make an informed judgment about whether the clauses are compatible with Community law. The Economic Secretary knows that precedent exists, not least when the Attorney-General's legal advice was made available in advance of the Government decision to take us to war with Iraq.

The House should think exceptionally carefully before allowing these clauses to pass without considering the potential burden on the taxpayer. As Sir Humphrey Appleby might have said: "It would, Minister, be very courageous to proceed on this basis." Such advice should be enough to stop any responsible Minister in his tracks. We need a full exposition. Above all, if Ministers decide to proceed, one way of avoiding the very serious peril that I have identified—as I say, I shall not make a judgment on the merits of the legal case—would be to postpone the implementation date until such time as the legal matters have been fully resolved.

There are real concerns about the draconian nature of clauses 17 and 18. We also endorse the view that something should be done to combat missing trader fraud, which is international and, according to the Treasury, costs a huge sum of money—between £1.7 billion to £2.75 billion. The abuse has to be tackled, but I should like to quote the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee, which is drawn from all three major parties and includes eminent members from all parties. In its introduction to the report, that Committee made it clear in paragraph 1.9 that

"a proper balance has to be struck between those efforts and the need to safeguard the rights of legitimate traders."
The efforts to which it refers are, of course, attempts to crack down on fraud, which the Government are rightly doing.

Several organisations have highlighted their misgivings about the clauses, and members of the Committee that considers the Finance Bill are fortunate to be sent details of representations from major organisations such as the Law Society, the Institute of Chartered Accountants, the Chartered Institute of Taxation and so forth. I do not want to go into great detail or repeat the further matters raised by the hon. Member for Eddisbury (Mr. O'Brien) in respect of quotations from the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee report. However, I should like to return to some of the points that were properly raised in the representations of the tax law committee of the Law Society. Ministers receive them and I hope that the Economic Secretary will have had an opportunity to study them carefully.

The Law Society flagged up several points and I should like to go over three of them. New sub-paragraph (1A) in paragraph 4 to schedule 11 of the Value Added Tax Act 1994, which is inserted by clause 17(3), should make it clear that the amount of security that needs to be provided is proportionate to the amount of tax at risk. It does not do so, but the explanatory notes make it clear that it should. That is how the explanatory notes state that the clause should operate: it does not do so and should be amended in order to do so. The new sub-paragraph (1A) in paragraph 4 to schedule 11 should authorise only the requirement for security as regards future input tax claims. As drafted, that means that a business could seek to recover VAT and be informed at that stage that security was required in respect of a prior transaction.

5.30 pm

The "relevant goods or services" in the new sub-paragraph (3) of schedule 11 are not defined. I understand that Customs and Excise is to put out a statement of practice that will indicate that the supplies to which it wishes to apply the enhanced security provisions include oil, fashion goods, computers, phones and accessories thereto. Nevertheless, as it would be possible to extend the types of goods affected by the enhanced provisions by an amending statutory instrument, legislation should surely set out the goods and services in question.

Those are just three of the points made by the tax law committee of the Law Society, and I have raised them not at random but because they are important. I must stress the central points made in the House of Lords Select Committee report. I hope that the Economic Secretary will make it clear that he has understood the importance of a separation of powers and of the report's recommendation, in paragraph 5.11, on the interposition of an external judicial authority. That is, of course, the least of safeguards. I hope that the response to this short debate will give us some comfort and that the Treasury has understood the legitimate criticisms of those of us who, though we understand the necessity for the provisions, believe that the rights of the individual must not be trampled in order to combat a serious fraud on the Exchequer. The human rights considerations cannot and should not be overlooked, and, in the hope that the Economic Secretary has had a chance since Committee to consider the point carefully, I look forward to hearing his considered view.

I welcome the detailed, serious and measured way in which the hon. Members for Eddisbury (Mr. O'Brien) and for Torridge and West Devon (Mr. Burnett) have approached the amendment. I accept their recognition of how serious missing trader fraud is, and I welcome their support for the objectives of clauses 17 and 18, which the hon. Member for Eddisbury also offered in Committee. I intend to deal with the points made as probing points, although it will be up to the hon. Gentleman to decide whether they are. I hope to set out clearly the legal basis on which we propose these measures and the safeguards that we are putting in place, particularly for legitimate businesses that may be concerned about the impact.

The measures before us are both proportionate and necessary. They are necessary because we must deal with what both hon. Gentlemen have recognised is a systematic and widespread attack on the VAT system, which is costing the British taxpayer billions of pounds a year. We are dealing with a form of VAT fraud, and any misconception that it is some sort of tax evasion that is pushing at the margins of legitimate tax legislation should be clearly nailed. The affected trade sectors—there are two principal sectors—are clearly riddled with this fraud. In many cases, the goods involved have gone backward and forward between member states so often that their boxes are falling apart.

The level of such transactions is often staggering; for example, sales to Ireland of a certain type of computer chip in the first six months of 2002 exceeded the total market for those chips in the continents of Asia, Africa and Europe. In another case, in a three-month period, a 21-year-old supposedly supplied 10 per cent. of the entire world production of a type of computer chip. As hon. Members will realise, what was happening, in effect, was that the same chips were going around in circles, and huge amounts of VAT were stolen each time.

The Customs have also intercepted single shipments of mobile phones, in one case weighing 14 tonnes—enough phones to fill a football stadium—which were useless for the legitimate UK market because they were of the two-pin plug variety. That did not matter to the fraudsters, of course, because the phones were not destined for UK customers but only to perpetrate a large-scale fraud.

Amendment No. 52 would remove both clause 17 and clause 18 and I shall turn to the arguments used to justify the concerns reflected in the proposal. In response to a point made by the hon. Member for Eddisbury, I shall demonstrate that we have the legal vires for the clauses and explain why we reject entirely the case put to us by the firm of solicitors to which he referred.

I shall try to put to rest the questions about legality in relation to EU VAT directives and to the European convention on human rights by explaining the legal position in some detail. First, on EU legislation, article 22, subsection (8) of the sixth VAT directive provides the vires for clause 17. It states:
"Without prejudice to the provisions to be adopted pursuant to Article 17 (4), Member States may impose other obligations which they deem necessary for the correct levying and collection of the tax and for the prevention of fraud, subject to the requirement of equal treatment for domestic transactions and transactions carried out between Member States by taxable persons and provided that such obligations do not, in trade between Member States, give rise to formalities connected with the crossing of frontiers."
The imposition of security via clause 17 is for the prevention of fraud. Built into the clause is a safeguard requirement for Customs to satisfy the tribunal that there has been evasion of VAT or an attempt to evade VAT.

Secondly, on the ECHR, clause 17 is compatible with article 1 of protocol 1—on the protection of property—contained in schedule 1 to the Human Rights Act 1998: because, first, it is prescribed by law; secondly, when used, it will strike a fair balance between the demands of society and the interests of an individual; and, thirdly, it is taken for a legitimate purpose. The proviso to article 1 is that it should not
"in any way impair the right of a State to enforce such laws as it deems necessary to control the use of property in accordance with the general interest or to secure the payment of taxes or other contributions or penalties".
Those powers are not arbitrary and the provisions are proportionate to the pernicious attacks on the VAT system, such as VAT missing trader fraud.

Finally, clause 17 has inbuilt safeguards. It will be applied only in appropriate circumstances: where Customs can satisfy the tribunal that there has been an evasion of VAT or an attempt to evade it and where it is accompanied by a statement of practice—as the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon mentioned— which lays down stringent guidelines as to how security is to be applied and introduces even further safeguards. Although the statement of practice itself does not have the force of law, once it is published, Customs will be expected and, if necessary, required by the courts, to follow it.

On this important matter, is the Economic Secretary assuring the House that, before action is taken, the VAT tribunal will have to be satisfied in all the circumstances that he has outlined?

No, we are not dealing with an application to a tribunal before action is taken. Such action must be based on Customs evidence sufficient to satisfy a tribunal, so those involved in taking the action will be conscious of that test, which a tribunal will apply if the case is brought to tribunal by a trader who wishes to contest the action taken by Customs and Excise.

Will the Economic Secretary at least consider the issue, referred to by the hon. Member for Eddisbury and myself and raised by the House of Lords, that an application should be made before action is taken? We understand that that should be ex parte, but to an independent judicial authority.

We have received a range of views on these provisions from all sorts of parties, as hon. Members might expect. We have considered the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that Customs should have to seek the tribunal's go-ahead before taking action, but my concern about that is twofold. First, it could delay the ability of Customs to take action. Secondly, he may wish to consider further that any pre-implementation hearing with a tribunal chairman on any ex parte basis could be perceived to compromise the tribunal's very integrity and independence, which is, of course, a mainstay of the system. Of course, when these clauses are in place with the safeguards that I am outlining, we will keep them very closely under review to ensure that they have the intended effect on fraud, not an unintended effect on legitimate businesses. I shall return to the inbuilt safeguards in clause 17 in a moment.

I come now to clause 18. Article 21(1) and (2) of the sixth VAT directive defines the persons liable for payment of the tax. Article 21(3) of the EC sixth Council directive provides the legal vires for joint and several liability. It states:
"In the situations referred to in paragraph 1 and 2, Member States may provide that someone other than the person liable for payment of the tax shall be held liable for payment of the tax."
Or, to put it another way, member states may legislate for someone other than the person liable for the payment of the tax—the missing trader in this case—to be held jointly and severally liable for the payment of VAT.

On human rights law, clause 18 is compatible with article 1 of protocol 1, which deals with the protection of property, contained in schedule 1 to the Human Rights Act 1998 because, first, it is prescribed by law; secondly, when used, it will strike a fair balance between the demands of society and the interests of individuals; and, thirdly, it serves a legitimate purpose. The proviso to article 1 states that such a provision should in no way impair the right of a state to enforce such laws as it deems necessary to control the use of property in accordance with the general interest or to secure the payment of taxes, other contributions or penalties. Again, these are not arbitrary powers and the provisions are clearly in proportion to the scale of the systematic attack on the VAT system.

Again, the measure has inbuilt safeguards. It can be applied only in appropriate circumstances—in other words, where Customs can show that a business knew or had reasonable grounds suspect that VAT would be unpaid in its supply chain. Customs has to establish some sort of knowledge—either guilty knowledge, or reasonable grounds to suspect a business. There is a full right of appeal and the right of judicial review.

Clause 18 is accompanied by a statement of practice, which lays down stringent guidelines on how the measure should be applied, so there are further safeguards. Although the statement of practice does not have the force of law, once published, Customs will be expected and, if necessary, required by the courts to follow it in appropriate cases. I hope that I have cleared up any questions that hon. Members might have about the legal vires of clauses 17 and 18.

5.45 pm

I want to deal with the more substantive questions of not only why the measures are justified but, especially, how we will ensure that innocent parties are protected during the operation of the tough new powers that we deem necessary, which was the concern raised by the hon. Member for Eddisbury.

I shall emphasise that last point first. I made it clear in Committee that I do not underestimate the gravity of the measures that we propose to use under clauses 17 and 18. We fully understand that although they will help to crack down hard on fraud, if appropriate safeguards are not put in place and the measures are not properly targeted and restricted, the impact on legitimate businesses will be unacceptable. Let me spell out clearly, as I did with the clauses' legal basis, how legitimate businesses will be protected under the proposals and why I do not accept that we need additional measures that have been suggested by a range of bodies from all walks of life.

I start by considering the measures under clause 17. The revised public notice 700/52 is Customs' statement of practice. It outlines the procedures and circumstances in which Customs will require security. Customs will be expected to follow it and, if necessary, required to do that by the courts. The measure is aimed at businesses that are repeatedly involved in supply chains in which there are substantial tax loses. Businesses that are known to have dealt with high-risk businesses or individuals in the past will be given advice by Customs on the steps that they should take to avoid dealing with such businesses. Security will be required only if they continue to do that.

The measure will not be applied without a formal written warning, which will give businesses the opportunity to mend their ways. A new right of appeal will be introduced—an appellate rather than a supervisory right—that will allow the tribunal to reduce or vacate any security requirement. An appeal will be allowed unless Customs satisfies the tribunal that there has been, or is likely to be, evasion in the supply chain. I would fully expect a tribunal to uphold any appeal in which Customs failed to follow its procedures, for example, if no warning were given before applying the measure.

The measure in clause 18 is limited in law to two trade sectors. It will theoretically affect 50,000 of the 1.7 million businesses that are registered for VAT but, in practice, it is likely to affect no more than 5,000 or 6,000. The law means that Customs will not apply the measure unless it can establish that a business knew, or had reasonable grounds to suspect, that VAT would go unpaid. A business may rebut any presumption if the low price paid for goods is unconnected with unpaid VAT.

Businesses will be notified if they are caught by the measure before it is applied, which will give them the opportunity to provide an explanation. I make it clear that the measure will not be applied to businesses that demonstrate that they have not become involved in a supply chain in which VAT has gone, or will go, unpaid. Businesses will have the right of appeal to an independent VAT and duties tribunal if they receive a joint and several liability notice.

I hope that my remarks have helped to reassure hon. Members about their greatest concerns, and demonstrated that there is robust legal basis behind clauses 17 and 18 and that the measures proposed are properly restrained and balanced by comprehensive and effective safeguards to protect the innocent. We do not take the powers lightly. As I explained in Committee, we have examined other options, but none would be as effective as measures set out in clauses 17 and 18. The scale and nature of the fraud, often involving complacency or collusion, require us to take the measures to complement Customs existing actions to clamp down on the VAT fraud.

In light of the explanation and assurances that I have set out for the hon. Member for Eddisbury and other hon. Members, I hope that he withdraws the amendment. If he wishes to press it to a vote, I must ask my hon. Friends to reject it.

In the interests of time, as other business is pressing, I shall just say that I am grateful to the Minister for the spirit in which he treated the issues raised. As he rightly observed, the gravity of the subject merits that and he did, indeed, treat it seriously. We needed to take a technical approach to have what is, in effect, a stand part debate. Our exchange has been important. It has provided us with the chance to raise concerns.

On the House of Lords report, no doubt the other place will look to the Government for a response. The debate on whether there is prior, rather than post, protection, and where the balance of rights and responsibilities lies, will develop. Furthermore, on a letter before a claim, that may, or may not, end up being a matter for the courts. It would be irresponsible of me to speculate further on that other than to say that it has been a useful exchange and we have ensured that the issues are well understood.

The Minister rightly observed, as part of the article 1 and protocol 1 attached to schedule 1 of the Human Rights Act 1998, that we have discussed the fair balance of a judgment to be applied between society and the individual. On that basis, a useful exchange has taken place, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.