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Mr. Edward Davey: Has the Minister given any thought to other procedures that the Government could adopt to try to further the tax simplification process? For example, Lord Howe has argued that we could separate the Finance Bill into two parts, one containing the key political tax-raising measures and the other technical tax measures that could be debated at greater length with more consultation.

Dawn Primarolo: I shall try to be careful on this point, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because it is wide of the debate. If the definitions of policy issues and technical issues were so clear cut, I am sure that Governments would have separated them long ago because it seems to be an obvious proposition. The Opposition might take a slightly different view from the Government on what counts as a technical issue and what is a policy issue.

The general point concerns how we can simplify our tax system so that it is understandable, because modern economies such as ours have complex tax laws. We must also ask how we can make the system accessible, and the tax law rewrite project is a means of doing that. Another means is to ensure that taxpayers have a positive relationship with the tax authorities. The Government are making changes to make that relationship as easy as possible. Of course, the drafting of new legislation is crucial. We are alive to those issues. These are all issues outside of the debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I shall not try your patience any more. I have tried to give a flavour and respond to the points that have been made.

I am delighted that there is so much agreement in the House that we have adopted the right way to proceed, and that we have been prepared to pay tribute to those who have worked so hard on our behalf in the tax law rewrite committee. The new procedure will prove to be effective, provide the scrutiny that the House requires and produce the tax legislation for which we would all hope. I hope that the House agrees with the proposed procedures.

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Question put:--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I think the Ayes have it.

Hon. Members: No.

Division deferred till Wednesday 20 December, pursuant to Order [7 November 2000].

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Business of the House

11.15 pm

The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office (Mr. Paddy Tipping): I beg to move,

(1) notwithstanding the provisions of Standing Order No. 9 and the Order relating to Thursday sittings and meetings of standing committees [20th November],--
(a) the House shall meet at half-past nine o'clock, and will first proceed with private business, motions for unopposed returns and questions;
(b) proceedings on business shall be interrupted at Five o'clock;
(c) in their application to that sitting, reference to a specified time in the Standing Orders shall be interpreted as reference to a time five hours before the time so specified, save that reference to half-past Eight o'clock shall be substituted for reference to Twelve o'clock in Standing Order No. 24 (Adjournment on a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration); and
(d) no standing committees sitting at Westminster shall sit between the hours of twenty-five minutes past Nine o'clock and half-past Ten o'clock, except as provided in paragraph (2) of Standing Order No. 88 (Meetings of standing committees) with the substitution in that paragraph of 'twenty-five minutes past Nine o'clock' for 'One o'clock' and 'twenty minutes to Ten o'clock' for 'a quarter past One o'clock';
(2) notwithstanding Standing Order No. 16 (Proceedings under an Act or on European Union documents), the Speaker shall put the Questions on the Motions in the name of Mr. Secretary Darling relating to the draft Guaranteed Minimum Pensions Increase (No. 2) Order 2000 and the draft Social Security Benefits Up-rating (No. 2) Order 2000 not later than three hours after the commencement of proceedings on the first such Motion;
(3) proceedings on the Motion for the adjournment of the House in the name of the Prime Minister relating to matters to be considered before the forthcoming adjournment, may continue for up to three hours, and may be proceeded with, through opposed, after Five o'clock; and
(4) in the Order relating to Sittings in Westminster Hall, in paragraph (1)(b), for 'half-past Two o'clock', there shall be substituted 'half-past Twelve o'clock'.

Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I do not think that the motion makes sense, and I ask you to consider whether it should be withdrawn and put in some order before it is debated. Paragraph (3) reads that

In my 13 years in this place, I have always read "though opposed".

If I am correct, we have a meaningless motion on the Order Paper. As no amendment has been tabled to correct it and as manuscript amendments are not acceptable, I contend that the motion is out of order and should be withdrawn.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): I think that the hon. Gentleman knows that the simple answer is that there has been a typographical error. I will put the

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motion in the form in which it is clearly intended, the word meaning "though" as opposed to "through". I hope that that deals with the matter.

Mr. Tipping: I shall set out briefly the consequences of the motion for the benefit of Members who are in the Chamber. In effect, it moves a normal Monday to Wednesday sitting day forward by five hours to a 9.30 am start. It protects the slot for questions, business questions and any possible statements. It allows the normal period of three hours for debate on the draft Guaranteed Minimum Pensions Increase (No. 2) Order and the draft Social Security Benefits Uprating (No. 2) Order. These measures may be taken separately or together, dependent upon the view of the House.

The motion allows the traditional three-hour pre-recess Adjournment debate. If the House agrees to it, it will allow the House to rise rather earlier on Thursday than usual. Given the time of the year, I know that that will be welcomed by many Members, if not all, and most particularly by members of staff.

Although I may have another opportunity before the House rises for the Christmas recess, perhaps I can take my chance now and wish you, Mr. Deputy Speaker--

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Tipping: Wait a minute.

I wish you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), with whom I have spent many happy hours during the year, and other Members a very happy Christmas. I will of course give the opportunity of a pre-Christmas present to the right hon. and learned Gentleman.

Mr. Hogg: It is good of the Minister to be so nice. Perhaps he will now answer my question. I understand that there are advantages in bringing forward the sitting hour on Thursday 21 December, and I do not object to that. Will the hon. Gentleman make it plain to the part of the House that is now present that he is not intending to build on the motion, and is not intending to apply it to ordinary sittings on Thursdays?

Mr. Tipping: No, that is not the Government's intention. I give the right hon. and learned Gentleman that guarantee from the Government. Business motions always have to be approved by the House. We discussed that earlier today. A number of hon. Members want such matters to be discussed by the House. That is right and appropriate, and it is a matter for the House.

I hope that the right hon. and hon. Members who are present will approve the motion. It is for the benefit of most hon. Members and for the benefit of staff. I commend it to the House.

11.20 pm

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton): I support the Minister's proposal. I am the only woman in the Chamber and I hope that hon. Members will not take this as a sexist comment, as I am sure that it applies equally to them, but the coming Thursday is an exceptional Thursday. I would share the concerns of my

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right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) if I thought that the Minister's proposal was to become the norm for Thursdays, but this Thursday is different.

No doubt we all have turkeys to stuff, mulled wine to warm and halls to deck with holly this Thursday. That is not something that I would do on any other Thursday during the year, and I am sure that all hon. Members will welcome the opportunity to make their Christmas preparations and pass on their good wishes to their constituents and members of their family.

I warmly welcome the pragmatic suggestion from the Minister. I hope that that does not sound too much like the late Harold Wilson. As the Minister knows, I am not a great supporter of modernisation per se, but in this case he has struck the right chord and the right balance without diminishing the quality of our debate.

In case the proceedings on Thursday pass so rapidly that I do not get a chance to do so then, I join the Minister in wishing all right hon. and hon. Members a happy Christmas. I hope that the House will recognise that we have important business on Thursday. We want it to be given sufficient time and properly dispatched. I look forward to taking my place in the Chamber with the Minister on Thursday, to hear important speeches in the Christmas Adjournment debate. It is right that we are allowing sufficient time, and also allowing hon. Members to get home in good time to be with their families for the Christmas recess. I warmly support the Minister's proposal and urge hon. Members in all parts of the House to support it.

Question put and agreed to.


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