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Mr. Forth: I am interested in what the hon. Gentleman has just said. He might want briefly to explore the implications of consideration of all stages in one day. It strikes me that if, for example, an error were to be found during one stage of our deliberations, it might procedurally be difficult, or even impossible, to deal with that error in the immediate subsequent stage. By conflating consideration in that way, we would have less chance of picking up what could potentially be a serious error in the Finance Bill, of all things, in our usual procedures.

Mr. Tyler: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. He has more than adequately made the point to which I was coming. A manuscript amendment may be appropriate in some circumstances, but not on a Finance Bill. I served in Committee on a Finance Bill. At 3 am the Minister responsible explained that we were trying to correct an error that had been made the previous year. I asked whether he could recall, or perhaps his officials could, at what stage in the night in the previous year the mistake had been made. It had been made in the middle of the night. That is what is unusual about the Finance Bill. Not only is it extremely—

Mr. Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove): Will my hon. Friend bear in mind the high proportion of the contents of each Finance Bill that consists of correcting mistakes that were left over from previous Finance Bills? Does he agree that to accelerate that process is to worsen it?

Mr. Tyler: If I did not know my hon. Friend so well, I would think that to be a planted question. As he is such an independently minded Member, I know that not to be the case.

I was about to say that during consideration of the Finance Bill on the occasion to which I was referring, part of the previous year had been spent correcting another part of a previous Finance Bill, passed two years previous to that. That is what is so significant about a Finance Bill. There are some members of the Treasury team on the Government Front Bench, and I am sure that they will be the first to concur that every year the Chancellor has to bring forward some proposals to correct mistakes made not necessarily by a previous regime but in a previous year.

The Finance Bill is significant in that respect. It must be extremely precise. That is why it is exceptionally important in this instance that we have proper management of the time given to the Bill.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham): I ask the hon. Gentleman, for the information of the House, whether he received any indication that this matter would appear on the Order Paper today. I understand that we, the official Opposition, received no such indication. Despite the abbreviation of the way in which we scrutinise Bills now, at least there is some consultation on them

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between both sides of the House. It is a heinous crime that on something as important as the Finance Bill, no discussion has taken place across or through the usual channels.

Mr. Tyler: I am grateful to the hon. Lady. I shall cut short my remarks to enable an occupant of the Government Front Bench to respond to that. However, it is not only a matter of indication; the convention in the House on a matter of this sort is that there is consultation, not merely a unilateral statement of what the Government intend to put on the Order Paper. There should be consultation with the Opposition parties for the good order of business in the House. Surely that is what we should all be interested in.

The handling of the Bill may have justification, but as far as I and my Chief Whip have been involved, and I understand that it is a similar case with those on the Conservative Front Bench, there has been no consultation or explanation whatever. That is a break with the conventions of the House. Yes, there are elements of the Order Paper that can be issued as a Government diktat or fiat, but usually the business of the House involving a major Bill, let alone a Finance Bill, would be a subject for consultation.

Now that the Leader of the House and senior members of the Treasury team are with us, I very much hope that they intend to speak on the matter. It would be quite outrageous if they simply pushed it through by the force of numbers, without any explanation, given that the proper way to do business in the House is that we, the House, decide how we handle our business—not the Government, but all Members of the House.

I am sure that hon. Members on the Government side will agree, as will the Father of the House, who is present and who is always a great protector of the interests of the House, that it would be against all precedent and all convention for the motion to be carried forward without proper discussion and consultation between the parties. I hope that we will now get an explanation and that there will be a proper discussion before we come to a conclusion.

9.51 pm

The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Robin Cook): I thank the shadow Leader of the House for this unexpected pleasure—unexpected, in part, because I announced the business for the next week last Thursday, and unexpected also because, contrary to what the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) said, the order was laid on Thursday and has been on the Order Paper since last Friday. [Hon. Members: "Ah!"]

The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) asked me for an assurance that the order would be no precedent. I can tell him that tonight's order will form no precedent because the Order Paper and the history of the Journal of the House of Commons are littered with precedents to the same effect. I refer the right hon. Gentleman to page 739 of "Erskine May", which states that

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that is, consideration on Report—

The right hon. Gentleman will be particularly interested to know that there is a footnote, No. 5. When I refer to footnote 5 for the precedent for taking the Third Reading after consideration on Report, I find that it quotes 1995–96. [Laughter.] I hope my hon. Friends will allow me to continue. I think that the look on the right hon. Gentleman's face is the nearest that he is capable of getting to being sheepish. I managed to get through school without studying modern studies, but as I recall 1995–96, it was the right hon. Gentleman's party that was in power at the time, and he was a member of the Government of the time who created that precedent.

As to the reason for the order, I remind the right hon. Gentleman—who is present every week for the business statement and hears the business announced every time—that virtually every Bill whose remaining stages we have considered in this Session has been taken on Report, with the Third Reading immediately afterwards. Most of those Bills have been the subject of a programme motion which set that out from the start.

There is no programme motion covering this Finance Bill. The reason is that the right hon. Gentleman's own party requested that it should not be the subject of a programme motion, which meant that we would require such an order to handle the remaining stages. I make no complaint of the fact that the right hon. Gentleman's party requested that there be no programme motion. My understanding is that the proceedings in Committee have been perfectly amicable, carried out by agreement, with both sides fully delivering on the agreements that they achieved in Committee. The right hon. Gentleman now looks rather more than sheepish.

At no stage during the proceedings in Committee has the right hon. Gentleman's party asked for more time. At no stage has it disputed the allocation of time in Committee. Indeed, last week's Committee sitting rose early because members ran out of things to say about the Finance Bill. I understand that it is expected that the Committee proceedings will finish at tomorrow's sitting. In those circumstances, I think that two full days in total to consider the remaining stages is perfectly adequate provision. It is adequate partly because this Finance Bill has already been through more consultation with the industry, outside bodies and financial services than any previous one. Many of the clauses were seen in draft form by the industry, which may partly explain why the Opposition ran out of things to say in Committee.

Mr. Forth: I am, as ever, grateful to the Leader of the House for his history lesson and analysis of the Bill to date, but will he give me the undertaking that I requested? Notwithstanding the explanation that he has just given, which is just about adequate for the purposes of the motion, will he go that step further and give us an undertaking that, if we agree to it for the reasons that he has kindly given us in respect of this Bill, it will not be quoted as a precedent for doing the same thing again for future Bills without similarly valid reasons?

Mr. Cook: I understand that the right hon. Gentleman is now scrabbling for firmer ground and I do not wish to discourage him. I am very happy to give him the assurance that, for all future times, should we be minded

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to introduce similar provision for future Finance Bills, we will always quote as our precedent that which was set in 1995 to 1996. He can therefore rest assured that no new precedent is being created.

I sense that we are winning the argument, so I am happy without further ado to commend the motion to the House.

Question put and agreed to.


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