Treasury criticised for farming out drafting of Finance Bill

THE Chancellor of the Exchequer's initiative to privatise the drafting of some of this year's Finance Bill has been described as a “reckless waste of public money” by a former government draftsman.

Sir George Engle, a retired first parliamentary counsel, has spoken out against Kenneth Clarke's initiative to farm out some of the parliamentary counsel office's work to the private sector.

The experiment saw lawyers from Freshfields, Nabarro Nathanson and Pump Court Chambers as well as one private draftsman produce 3311/22 pages of this year's Finance Bill at an estimated cost of £130,000.

Engle argues that government lawyers could have done the work for much less.

In a letter to The Times, he said £130,000 would have paid the combined annual salaries of one full and one deputy parliamentary counsel able to produce around 200 pages of Bills in a year.

“This experiment in privatisation seems a reckless waste of public money,” he said.

Describing the privatisation exercise as “doctrinaire”, the former government draftsman told The Lawyer: “There have been criticisms about the quality of drafting, but it is one thing to criticise and another to actually do it and discover the complexities that are involved.”

The Government's pilot privatisation project was welcomed by the Law Society and the Bar Council despite some qualms about the potential danger of conflicts of interest.

Jill Hallpike, the Law Society's revenue law committee secretary, said it was hoped commercial lawyers would be able to draw on their practical experience to identify ways in which the legislation could be made simpler.

But she said her committee was disappointed with this year's financial Bill.

Committee chair Christopher Norfolk, of Norton Rose, said there were some improvements but “most of the Bill suffers from a slavish adherence to repetition of previous Finance Act language and style”.

A Treasury spokesman said Clarke would carefully review the results of the project before deciding whether to employ private lawyers again this year.