Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Hogg: There is a bright aspect about the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) not being able to attend the Committee. In reality, the Liberal Democrats are part of the Labour party. If he is not able to turn up, that will have the beneficial effect of reducing Labour control by one.

Mr. Redwood: My right hon. and learned Friend takes me in an interesting direction. There are considerable worries that the Liberal Democrats are often not a party of opposition, although they choose to occupy one of the Opposition Benches. They seem to agree with the Government.

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. The right hon. Gentleman appears to be going rather wide of the motion.

Mr. Redwood: I will endeavour to keep my remarks precisely on the motion, Madam Deputy Speaker.

The hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton could do what the Liberal Democrats often do, effectively, and take the payroll line. We could then be in a position where we had not just the three whom we know about from the House of Commons, but the two who could be appointed from the other place, if that is the Government's wish, and the Liberal Democrat who, if he did manage to get to the Committee, might say to the Government representative, "What is the line on this?", as Liberal Democrats often do and then go along with it.

Mr. Hogg: And the Liberal Democrat from the other place.

Mr. Redwood: My right hon. and learned Friend points out that a Liberal Democrat from the other place could be on the Committee. We are told by the Minister that there is likely to be a Liberal Democrat representative. I dare say that the Minister and the usual channels have enough control to know what they are talking about on these matters. A Liberal Democrat from the other place could add to the payroll opinion, so hon. Members can understand my concern about the possibility of a large number of members on the Committee having no independent view, in an area where independence of mind--the critical skills, the aptitude of members--should be the main consideration. It is not high politics or high drama. We are looking not for great actors and actresses, but for people who are seriously minded to go into all the detail of the legislation.

Mr. Burnett: I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and

15 Jan 2001 : Column 93

Surbiton (Mr. Davey) is a thoroughly independent person who will exercise a profoundly benign effect on the Committee. He is an utterly reliable and independent individual.

Mr. Redwood: I hope that that is right, but I have a fear that, on the occasions when the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton does turn up--I hope that he does, although I still have my worries--he might dash in, having been too busy and had too many other things to do, not properly prepared and not having read all the detailed papers, which clearly a Committee member would need to read. The Liberal Democrats could be tempted to turn to the Minister or to the PPS and to say, "What is the line on this? We do not want to rock the boat. It does not matter to us. It will not win any votes in Kingston and Surbiton", or wherever.

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. Again, the right hon. Gentleman is repeating the argument that he advanced earlier when I brought him to order.

Mr. Redwood: You are right, Madam Deputy Speaker. I was provoked by the intervention of the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon. It led me into a little repetition. I will go on without hesitation or, I trust, repetition, so that you will regard me in order again.

That brings me to my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway). I know him to be an experienced and hard-working parliamentarian. He spends a lot of time in and about the House. If I can make him blush a little, he is likely to have the best, or certainly one of the best, attendance records of any Member whom we end up appointing to the Committee. Attendance is very important.

My hon. Friend will also be one of the few Committee members who will take the briefing papers home in advance, despite their bulk and weight, and go through them. I see him smiling in agreement with me on that crucial point. I can see him salivating already at the thought of all those fascinating papers that he could be reading rather than watching "Match of the Day".

I am a little worried that the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) might find "Match of the Day" more exciting. He might have to decide whether Italian football, on a Sunday afternoon, is more exciting than those very bulky papers that he needs to read over the weekend to be well prepared for the Committee. It would be lovely today to see him in the Chamber and to hear how he would put those temptations behind him, and how--in the remaining weeks of this Parliament, as it splutters towards its conclusion--he would wish to give his undivided attention to the crucial matter of tax reform.

I should like all the Committee members to be independent, bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and fully briefed, to have read all the papers and taken a bit of independent advice, to make use of the large budget that the Minister was too coy to tell us about in the previous debate, and to ensure that they are properly apprised of all the crucial issues that will come before the Committee. Looking at the list of Committee members, however, I just fear that we shall end up with some people who have not read the papers, and quite a few people who just take the Government's line. If that is the case, I fear that the Committee will not be able to do its work as well as it should.

15 Jan 2001 : Column 94

8.1 pm

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot): I do not wish to detain the House for long, because my right hon. Friends the Members for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) and for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) have done an extremely good job of surveying the issues. Nevertheless, I should like, in a moment, to return to one or two of the points that I made in interventions on my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst.

Like my right hon. Friends, I agree entirely that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, is extremely well qualified to be a Committee member. He spent many years at the Treasury, navigating the country back to economic prosperity and into a fit state, which the current Government inherited, and he will certainly bring a fine mind to the Committee. Nevertheless, I recognise that his other commitments will inevitably limit the time that he can give to the Committee.

I also agree with my right hon. Friends that my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway) is extremely well qualified and will serve well on the Committee. He and I have something in common, as we both have a picture in the parliamentary calendar; his for December, and mine for September--[Interruption.] I do not think that my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr. Davis) understands the significance of the pictures, which are perfectly honourable. A year ago, my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South and I both submitted pictures for the parliamentary exhibition and, fortunately, they were both chosen to be used in the parliamentary calendar.

I am a great admirer of the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr. Burnett), who is a substantial improvement on his predecessor. However, I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham that the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) might have two difficulties in serving on the Committee. First, we are unquestionably approaching a general election, and his small majority will inevitably draw him down to the south-west extremities of the capital. Secondly, it is fair to say that, on so many of the key issues, Liberal Democrat Members seem to be in bed with the Government.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. The hon. Gentleman is engaged in repeating arguments that have already been made more than once in the debate. I must urge him not to persist with that line.

Mr. Howarth: I take your guidance entirely, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was merely seeking to reinforce the argument made by my right hon. Friends the Members for Bromley and Chislehurst and for Wokingham. My comment on Liberal Democrat Members was made only in passing.

I have already made the substantive point, on the nature of the Committee, in an intervention, and I should now like to expand on it. Last week, we had an extensive debate on the constitution of the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill. You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would rule me out of order if I were to try to discuss that Select Committee, and I do not wish to do so. However, I do wish to draw to the House's attention the clear parallel between the motion on that Committee and today's motions.

15 Jan 2001 : Column 95

Two weeks running, we have been seeking to create hybrid Committees. However, not one member of the Select Committee on Defence was proposed to serve on the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill. In relation to today's motions, at least it can be said that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe is undoubtedly well qualified to serve on the Select Committee. The Paymaster General is clearly wholly qualified to serve on the Committee--and is therefore safe from my strictures. However, as my right hon. Friends have asked, what qualifications do some of the other proposed members--other than my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South--have? I shall, however, not revisit that issue.

It is also fair to point out that the Select Committee will not be a Select Committee in the sense that each of its members will be a free agent, charged by the House with a duty quite independently to examine the issues that it considers. Tax simplification is an extremely important issue. I do not know what discussions the Paymaster General has had with her accountant, but my accountant tells me that he is tearing out his hair at the complexity of the tax regulations. No one can dispute that tax simplification is an extremely important issue both for the accountancy profession, and by definition, for members of the public.

Next Section

IndexHome Page