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Mr. Clifton-Brown: Does my right hon. Friend agree that paragraph (2) of the motion is a standard provision in motions establishing all Committees and that it is just so much hogwash? The Committee, even with the benefit of paragraph (2), will not be able to ask for the advice given to Ministers. Therefore, requests for all the really important information that the Committee might wish to know could well be refused by Ministers--even by the Minister dealing with the Capital Allowances Bill. Can that Minister be called before the Committee to give evidence?

Mr. Jack: As the relevant Minister will be part of the Select Committee, she will be able to contribute to its proceedings in her own way.

As for my hon. Friend's point on advice to Ministers, it is true that documentation that moved between Revenue officials and Treasury officials when I was a Treasury Minister would not be available to Ministers now. I would also not expect Select Committees to be able to gain access to information on the policy issues discussed by officials. However, in relation to the consultative committee's work and the number of exposure drafts that have preceded the Bill, the Bill has been written in such a transparent manner that the exercise itself has been very transparent.

If my hon. Friend wishes to avail himself of the available information, like the Select Committee he will have to conduct a comparative exercise between the "old" Bill and the "new" one. Then he will be aware of precisely the issues that would have been before Ministers. I recommend, however, that he conducts such an exercise only if he is an insomniac. Assuming that he wants to remain sane and normal, as he usually is, I remind him that he would be embarking on an extremely complex and difficult task--a remark that I shall repeat during the wider debate on tax simplification, if I have the opportunity to do so.

Mr. Bercow: Hot wet towels.

Mr. Jack: My hon. Friend is correct, although the towels will have gone stony cold by the time such an exercise is complete.

I am grateful to the Paymaster General for her clarification on quorums. As I said, the issue is an interesting insight into the points of detail that will be the stuff of the hon. Members who comprise the Joint Committee. I welcome the original proposal on which the Procedure Committee deliberated and I wish the Joint Committee well. I hope that the House will approve the motion.

5.36 pm

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): I confess that I cannot join in the cosy unanimity that has so far been displayed. I am always suspicious when I am assured that everybody has been in agreement, not least when that assurance is given by Labour Members. Such statements always strike me as a recipe for sure disaster. Everybody will remember the agreement about the Child Support

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Agency, the Dangerous Dogs Act 1989 and many other measures that were brought to the House in a rush of consensual happiness, but which ended in universal tears. Might not the House now be considering another such measure?

When I see the words "tax" and "Lords" mentioned together in one motion, I become suspicious and wonder why we have all suffered from collective amnesia on the history of this place and on the relative roles of the Commons and the Lords, especially in respect of tax matters. The original Procedure Committee report of 27 January 1997 gave the lie to that. It states:

It would, wouldn't it? The House of Lords has been trying for centuries to get its collective toes into tax matters.

The Procedure Committee went on to state that

It continued:

The Committee conceded that a genuine judgment had to be made on whether it was appropriate for members of the other place to be involved in taxation matters at the current stage in our constitutional development.

Those recommendations set the tone that should have been reflected in the current debate. After reading them, I consulted "Erskine May", as one does on these occasions; indeed, I am sure that all hon. Members have done so. Under the interesting headings "Restrictions Under Constitutional Usage" and "Basis of modern practice with respect to privilege", page 797 of "Erskine May" reminds us that the original resolution relating to practice

dates back to 1671. The resolution, which I have before me, therefore relates directly to the legitimacy of the role of the other place in taxation matters, which is precisely the substance of the motion. It states:

As was the practice in those days, the resolution is written clearly and succinctly--would that such practices were followed now. Interestingly--I add this in passing--the record states:

Mr. Jack: Can my right hon. Friend point out any specific words within the tax law rewrite exercise that give powers to those involved in the exercise to make the type of changes to which he has just referred?

Mr. Forth: I need not do that, because I referred only to the motion and I shall return to this matter later. The motion refers to the responsibilities of the Joint Committee

In answer to my right hon. Friend's question, I read that wording as almost inviting the proposed Joint Committee--about which I am unhappy and do not share

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the general approval so far expressed--to make minor but significant changes to tax law and possibly, therefore, to the burden of tax or to the rates of tax.

Mr. Jack: Has my right hon. Friend considered the before-and-after effect by reading the old law and the new law?

Mr. Forth: If I catch your eye in a subsequent debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I hope to argue that dangerous scope for a stealth tax drift is built into the procedure, mechanism and wording of the proposal. However, I would not want to pre-empt that argument now.

Suffice it to say to my right hon. Friend that I am sufficiently unhappy that there is at least a danger that the mechanisms could alter the burden of tax, either inadvertently or deliberately--I know not which, yet; perhaps we shall consider that later.

Mr. Bercow: I appreciate the vantage point from which my right hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) is approaching the subject. He thinks that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) has unjustified fears. However, would my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst care to entertain a scenario in which six members were present at a meeting of the Joint Committee, two of whom hailed from this House and four from the other place? Does he accept that, in those circumstances, decisions would effectively be made by noble Lords and that they could be decisions to which absentee members of the Committee subsequently declared themselves to be profoundly opposed?

Mr. Forth: My hon. Friend has, as he often does, pre-empted an argument that I hope to make later on the quorum. I am going to work steadily and methodically through my many headings in this debate, and I have barely scratched the surface of the first.

Perhaps my hon. Friend will bear with me, but he has anticipated one of my anxieties. Not only does the motion give potentially equal say on tax matters to Members of another place but, as he pointed out, we could end up with Members of another place determining matters relating to tax by outnumbering Members of this House on the Committee. Later, I shall again quote the Procedure Committee on the matter because it has given the lie to the whole issue.

Undeterred, I shall press on. I shall be brief, as I am just setting the scene. "Erskine May" also helpfully draws our attention to a further resolution of 1678 entitled--or "intituled", as they used to say in the good old days--"Rights of Commons in granting Money". It states that it was resolved:

The history of this argument is clear--or, at least, it was in the balmy days of 1678. "Erskine May" also states that:

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A further reference that I wish to pray in aid is also drawn to our attention by "Erskine May". It dates from 1860--we are getting more up to date--and is headed Tax Bills:

I quote that to illustrate the constancy and consistency of the attitude of the House of Commons over the centuries--that it is to this House alone that the raising of money and revenues, and the disposing of tax matters, should rest.

I add in parenthesis that that quotation continues:

In those good old days the House did a proper week's work--none of this bunking off on a Thursday--

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