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Dr. Kumar: Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that most of the members of the House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology are scientists, former scientists and engineers? They therefore complement the Members of the House of Lords in building up its progress on the issues.
Mr. Forth: The hon. Gentleman was trying to be helpful, but he has alarmed me considerably. If we are now faced with the prospect, as apparently we are, of a number of self-appointed experts sitting together concurrently, I shall be really worried. I was about to concede the point that some gifted amateurs from this House, with their elected accountability, and some experts from the other House, with their expertise but no accountability, might have provided added value. Now the hon. Gentleman has worried me, because he tells me that all the members of the concurrent Committee will be experts. I wonder whether there is, therefore, a real risk of a conflict of expertise.
The right hon. Gentleman must understand that there are sincere people in the House of Commons who have some understanding of science. We recognise his expertise, although it fails me now to describe it. Labour Members must have persuaded Opposition Members that the arguments in the stem cell research debate were worth supporting. We can take science and technology forward to ensure that the United Kingdom is foremost in that area of endeavour.
Mr. Forth: The hon. Gentleman's example is a relevant one. However, there is a problem. Of course, expertise has a role to play in many debates, although one wonders how many hon. Members--particularly on the Labour Benches--who participated in the debate on the Hunting Bill have ever been on a horse or chased a fox. I do not know the answer to that, just as I do not know how much expertise they were bringing to bear.
Some of the contributions made during those debates arose from passion, conviction and a sense of moral values. Therefore, my point is that we must decide the relative role that we expect the Committee to play--first in terms of expertise and/or representation and, secondly, in terms of Commons and Lords.
Mr. Bercow: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way because there is a particular significance, which will certainly not have escaped you, Mr. Speaker, in the fact that the hon. Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) has intervened. Is my right hon. Friend aware that, as long ago as 28 November 1997, the hon. Gentleman made it clear that his judgments are based not in any way on scientific evidence but on his insatiable thirst for class struggle?
I do not want to be diverted or deterred in any way from my central and focused purpose, which is to try to bring to the attention of the House the question whether joint or, as the motion says, concurrent, meetings of
Mr. Tipping: Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will accept that the Chairman sends his apologies. I know from personal discussions with him that he is extremely keen for the motion to be passed. I am sure that he will read the right hon. Gentleman's words with great interest.
Dr. Gibson: Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it would be better for a Joint Committee to go to Porton Down tomorrow to consider issues of great purport to many people in this nation, and perhaps even some in his constituency, than for two Committees to undertake consideration independently?
Mr. Forth: No, I do not accept that. The hon. Gentleman is making the same assertion--I shall not call it a mistake. He is simply saying, as a matter of fact, that surely it is better for two Committees to travel together and consider the same issues together. I do not necessarily agree with that proposition. That is the point that I am trying to make, although it is obvious that I shall have to labour it further to impress him and his colleagues.
I put a proposition to the hon. Gentleman and to the House: the two Committees, rather than travelling together, could sit separately and under different chairmanship, use different staffs, consider the same proposition from different perspectives and reach more valid conclusions in their different ways. If that were not the case, it would be logical to merge all the Committees of the two Houses to achieve the improvement or added value that has been suggested.
Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston): The right hon. Gentleman believes in this place passionately, but does he recall that, only a matter of days ago, the House passed by 486 votes to three a motion to establish with the Lords a Joint Committee on Human Rights? I presume that he was among the three. Against such a background, does not he think that he is a little out of touch?
Mr. Forth: Well, no. The 400 were out of touch with me. I try to be consistent in these matters and I recall that I was indeed one of the three. On human rights, I argued on a similar basis and for similar reasons that I doubted the validity of the approach, as I do in this case. It occurs to me, as it did in connection with human rights--perhaps, if anything, even more than in connection with this--that the perspective that might be brought to this matter from another place could, legitimately, be very different from the perspective from which it might be viewed here, and that therefore the two Committees might reach differing conclusions.
Mr. Forth: I do not want to become involved in a discussion of that kind at this stage, because I suspect that, in a sense, the question is settled by our Standing Orders, to which I referred at the beginning of my remarks. However, what my hon. Friend has said is relevant in one respect.
Let us examine the wording of the part of the motion that deals with--if I can put it like this without sounding disrespectful--the Lords end of things. It is proposed that meetings should take place concurrently with
Mr. Bercow: Is it not intellectually unsatisfactory, to put it mildly, for the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) to cite a much earlier vote in support of the passage of motion 6? Does my right hon. Friend agree that Conservative Members, at least, subscribe to Johnson's view that right rather than fashion should prevail?
Mr. Forth: Of course I subscribe to that view; and, much as I normally admire precedent, which I think has an important role to play in our affairs, the reference by the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston simply to a vote on what on the face of it seemed to be a similar matter is not in itself conclusive. [Interruption.]
The hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston says, from a sedentary position--I do not often report such remarks, but in this case I think it rather helpful--that it was the will of the House. Yes, on that occasion it was: as he has reminded us, 400 Members voted the wrong way and three of us voted the right way. But that concerned an entirely different matter, namely a Joint Committee on Human Rights. That, in all conscience, can hardly be seen in the same light as a very much more focused Committee on science and technology. I am sure the hon. Gentleman's colleagues would agree that such a Committee must necessarily take a very different view of things, and must have a different methodology, different procedures and different expertise.