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7.46 pm

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham): My right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) is right to argue for a short and penetrating debate on the selection of members to serve on this important Committee.

My worry relates primarily to the nature of the work involved, and whether it is properly married to the individuals and personalities concerned. I freely admit that I would not be the right person to serve on such a Committee, because I am interested in lowering taxes. I am interested in tax policy, so I would want to change taxes because I think that they are too high and that there are too many of them, and I do not like stealth taxes. I would find it difficult to concentrate on the minute detail, to try to ensure that the proposals being made had not changed tax policy. I would be saying to myself, "But I want to change tax policy." That is one reason why I stood for Parliament: those who wish to take such action should obviously put their case to a wider group of people and try to gain endorsement.

I suspect that at least two of the Labour Members on the list are like me, in that they came here because they had views and wanted to campaign and advance their arguments. I fear that they would find their work in the Committee rather tedious and difficult, given the nature of their minds. We are fortunate that one of them is with us tonight, which implies that he may even be slightly interested in the appointment that is about to be thrust upon him. I refer to the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr. Pond).

When I read about the hon. Gentleman's record--he held interesting jobs before coming here--I see a man who, like me, cares a great deal about poverty, although he has reached slightly different conclusions from mine as to how it should be dealt with. Now he is putting up with carrying a Minister's bag. Tonight--he is giggling a bit, because he knows how implausible it is--he even seemed to be suggesting that he likes to spend hour upon hour in Committee, trying to guarantee that the same tactics are imposed on the poor at the end of his deliberations as were imposed at the beginning. Why does he not say, like me, that he would like to take taxes away from the poor, because that is one way of taking people out of poverty, and also take taxes away from other people?

Mr. Hogg: I am sure that my right hon. Friend will be pleased to know that I agree with what he says. Would it not be helpful, however, if the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr. Pond) took this opportunity to tell the House how he envisages his function on the Committee, the extent to which he will feel able to speak freely, and whether he thinks he can remain a member when he ceases to be a PPS? Are we not entitled to know, as the hon. Gentleman is apparently a candidate, how he sees his role? Indeed, he might care to tell us what he thinks the Committee will do.

Mr. Redwood: I fear that my right hon. and learned Friend's implication is correct. I have the impression that

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the hon. Gentleman is rather reluctant to take on the task. As he has not expressed a view that is distinctive from others that we have heard in the two debates on what the Committee should do, and has not said how he would like to do his work, I begin to fear that he will not enter into it wholeheartedly. I fear that he will not speak with an independent voice, but will be looking out of the window and dreaming of a time when he might have an interesting job enabling him to do the things about which he has written and spoken in the past with such passion and concern.

I have exactly the same fear about the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Ms Kelly). Like the hon. Member for Gravesham, she has written and thought a lot about policy. She is clearly interested in getting into the big debates about policy, how the economy works, what the Chancellor should do and so forth. She finds herself cursed or burdened with the task--it looks as though it has been thrust upon her; she is not here to say how much she welcomes it, or wants to take it on--of sitting on a detailed, technical and probably long-winded Committee that must do crucial work to ensure that all the things that she wants to change have not changed as a result of the deliberations.

Mr. David Ruffley (Bury St. Edmunds): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Redwood: I will, but I must make some progress.

Mr. Ruffley: Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is highly unlikely that two PPSs would even consider disagreeing with the Paymaster General on any issue raised in the Committee?

Mr. Redwood: I am grateful to my hon. Friend because he rightly hurries me on to my next important argument.

My second worry about the choice of the three members representing the Government is just that--we have three members representing the Government on the Committee. My recollection of when I was a Minister with a PPS is that PPSs were required to follow the line precisely. On one occasion, my PPS erred a little in what he said one morning on the radio. I was not too worried--I thought that it was just one of those things--but the Chief Whip was extremely worried. The PPS, who is now no longer in the House, was severely reprimanded for saying something that I could not have said or did not want to say, but that he had wanted to say for himself, so I have a feeling that the two PPSs, in a Government who pride themselves on being highly controlled, will have to take the Government line.

That raises an interesting point in relation to Select Committee procedure. Will the PPSs receive the official briefing beforehand? Is that within the rules of the procedure, or would they find that an embarrassment? Normally, Select Committees are distant from the Executive.

Clearly, the Minister will have to know the Government's official line because she is there to represent that on the Committee. I suspect that, rightly, the PPSs will want to be fully apprised of the Government's line, so three people, if they all turn up to the Committee at any given time, will be charged to say exactly the same thing. Indeed, the two PPSs will be under

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pressure to ensure that they do not say anything different to prove that they are loyal and attentive members of the Administration.

Mr. Hogg: Will my right hon. Friend consider this point? We do not know the composition that may emerge from the other place, but is it not possible that one or more of the Labour appointees will themselves hold ministerial office? Therefore, we will have a Committee almost entirely dominated by the Government Front Bench.

Mr. Redwood: My right hon. and learned Friend makes a powerful point. We could have four or even five members of the Committee all coming along, if they turn up on the same occasion, to say exactly the same thing. That does not seem a sensible use of their time. It is certainly not a sensible use of the Committee's time.

I have every belief that the Minister could read out the official Government position perfectly adequately without needing two PPSs and perhaps one or two spokesmen or Ministers from the Lords saying exactly the same thing, but, more importantly, does that not make it an impoverished Committee? The purpose of this type of open procedure is to apply a wide range of different minds to what are technical, not political questions--they are not huge, but they are important--as to whether the law as amended is exactly the same in its impact as the law that the measure seeks to replace. The next question is: if so, has it simplified anything? I still find it difficult to believe that one can do both those things satisfactorily, but I hope that I can be proved wrong. However, I believe that the more minds there are to puzzle over those conundrums the better, and the House would be foolish to allow three, or perhaps four or five members of the Committee all to say exactly the same thing as the Minister.

That brings me to the other proposed names. Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, I am happy that a Minister should be on the Committee. Indeed, it would be bizarre if the Government did not have one of their chosen ministerial spokespeople putting forward their view on important technical taxation measures. I am sure that she will take the official brief and do the job as we would expect her to--in her distinctive and charming way.

Unlike my right hon. Friend, I have no worries about my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke). I am sure that he must be aware that his name has been put forward. I guess that he is not here because he is happy with that. I am sure that he will realise that time will be needed to sit on the Committee, but his task would be easier--our task would certainly be a lot easier--if the Minister told us how much time is involved. I understand the concerns of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst. It is normal when setting out a job specification, even in this august place, for people to be told a little more about what is entailed before they are signed up, or put into the position of perhaps having too many commitments.

In agreeing with my right hon. Friend, I have serious doubts about the ability of the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) to turn up often enough. The hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr. Burnett), another Liberal Democrat, is pricking up his ears. I was

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not about to disparage the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton, but he is a busy man. I would have thought that anyone with a majority of 56 wanted to spend a lot of time in the next few weeks in his constituency, particularly when he has an energetic candidate against him. I know that he has various media commitments, which he obviously thinks are important. I worry that those could conflict with the time required for the important but technical work on the Committee. Therefore, I urge him perhaps to think again, or I urge the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon to have a word with him and say that it has become a matter of debate. He might like to come to the Chamber to clarify the matter.

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