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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?
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.
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.
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
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:
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
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: