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Mr. Burnett: I endorse the right hon. Gentleman's comments. He has a high regard for my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey), and so do I. Does he agree with me that my hon. Friend is eminently well qualified to be a member of the Committee? Furthermore, he knows that he is to be appointed, and he wishes to serve.
Mr. Forth: I am glad to hear that. That is the first time we have had such an assurance about a prospective member of the Committee. We shall watch the hon. Gentleman's attendance in the Committee closely, if and when it meets--I am beginning to wonder whether it will.
Mr. Redwood: The Liberal Democrats have not pointed out that the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) is regularly used by them as a spokesman on radio and television shows. I wonder what would happen if an interesting offer from the media clashed with a Committee sitting, as it undoubtedly will. I have a terrible fear that the hon. Gentleman may be tempted to offer himself to the media rather than attend the Committee.
Mr. Forth: That remains to be seen. Suffice it to say that, although the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr. Burnett) believes that someone styled a management consultant is an expert, that is a matter of some debate. I am prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt, but that is another question mark over this proposed name.
We now come into difficult territory. It is a tradition of the House that such matters and Select Committees--if, indeed, the proposed Committee is to be a Select Committee--are free of Government influence as far as it is possible for them to be so. I exonerate the Minister from that because the Procedure Committee, no less, made it clear that it was important for the Minister to be part of the Committee.
I am delighted to say that the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Ms Kelly) has an MSc in economics, which would eminently qualify her for the Committee. That is the good news. The not so good news is that, according to "Dod's Parliamentary Companion", which my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham is studying assiduously, the hon. Lady is a Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. That gets us into some difficulty, because the question must arise whether it is proper for someone to be a member of the Committee who is also a member of what is known in the trade as the payroll--which is a bit misleading in this case, because although the hon. Lady is a PPS, she does not get paid any more. However, as a PPS she is bound to the
I regret to say that the same argument applies to the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr. Pond). He glories in having a BA in economics--regrettably from Sussex, which probably puts it in a slightly different light. That is good news, but he is also PPS to the Paymaster General.
Mr. Hogg: Would my right hon. Friend forgive me if I am slightly less courteous than he has been? Should not the House be cautious about the proposition that the Committee should contain three members of the payroll? Does not that suggest that the Government want to control the Committee that they are putting forward as independent and impartial? In fact, they are trying to make it a creature of the Government.
Mr. Forth: That is the worry. In the previous debate, some of us expressed anxiety that the Committee could be used as a vehicle for stealth taxation or for the inadvertent, incompetent or even deliberate raising of taxes--be it tax rates or the tax burden. Suspicion is raised by the names being nominated to the Committee. The fact that the hon. Member for Gravesham is PPS to the Paymaster General raises considerable doubt about his ability to take an independent view on these matters.
I seem to recall that, in a previous life, the hon. Gentleman played an honourable and expert part in poverty issues. Whether being an expert on poverty makes him an ideal candidate for membership of a Committee considering taxation is an interesting question, but I will not go into it too far. I will say, however, that the hon. Gentleman could favour either increasing taxes to impoverish even more people, or increasing taxes to transfer their money to others who are in poverty. Which he would do I know not; we may learn that only when he starts to deliberate in the Committee.
Mr. Hogg: Will my right hon. Friend consider another question? Is the hon. Member for Gravesham on the list because of his expertise, or because he is the Paymaster General's PPS? If the latter is the case, should he cease to be the Paymaster General's PPS, will the House be invited to replace him with someone else? That, surely, is something that we are entitled to know now.
Mr. Forth: We may have to consider that further. The hon. Members for Gravesham and for Bolton, West may have to confront an important choice: they may have to decide whether they value their roles as PPSs more than their roles as members of the Committee, if the House approves their membership. The need to allow them to make that choice might constitute a good reason for postponing a decision.
Mr. Gerald Howarth: According to convention, a PPS appointed to a Standing Committee does not speak. He is present to assist the Minister, especially in his relations with officials. In Select Committees, it is axiomatic that all members have equal weight, and equal authority to speak. However, given the Paymaster General's membership of this Committee, will it not be rather
It appears that the Committee is to contain a member who I believe will soon retire, a very busy former Chancellor of the Exchequer, someone with a majority of only 56 who, if he has any sense, may spend most of his time in his constituency--he is up against a formidable opponent, our former hon. Friend the Member for Dover, who will probably win the seat--and two Parliamentary Private Secretaries, who may either--
Mr. Forth: Indeed. That allows me to go on to consider my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South. I will not embarrass my hon. Friend by lavishing praise on him. Suffice it to say not only that he has wide experience and has been a Member of Parliament for a long time, but that he is here with us now, attending to his duties, showing an interest in the matter, and being modest enough not to have spoken on his own behalf so far--although he may be tempted to give us some of the reassurances that we have sought. I do not hesitate to endorse his membership, because he has none of the shortcomings that, regrettably, we have identified in all the other potential members.
That brings me back, briefly, to the Minister. The Procedure Committee recommended her membership; moreover, she has--characteristically--sat through this and the last debate, has been utterly courteous throughout and has done her best to inform us. She did not feel inclined to answer a simple query of mine during her summing up of the earlier debate, but I have already forgiven her for that. Nevertheless, I hope that at the end of this little debate she will give us the reassurances that we expect, not least about the role of Parliamentary Private Secretaries and of her colleagues.
During our brief canter around the course I have been uncharacteristically brief, because I know some of my hon. Friends want to speak before we move to other items on the Order Paper which, I am delighted to see, are open-ended. I hope, however, that so far our little debate has illustrated the real difficulties we may face in setting up the Joint Committee and in appointing its members. I am thinking of their degree of commitment, their freedom to be impartial, their freedom to speak and their ability to fulfil the needs of the quorum, low as we may have set them.
I have some qualms about whether the House, as opposed to the other place, will be adequately represented. We await the names of those who will represent the other place--as the Minister said earlier, the other place may be deciding them even now. I hope I have persuaded my hon. Friends to approach the matter with some trepidation, and not to accept on the nod--with no debate or examination--the cosy arrangement made by the usual channels or those on our Front Benches, and to view these issues as they should be viewed, in a critical way.