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Mr. Forth: We will want to hear about that from the Minister who, uncharacteristically, if I may say so, did not catch Madam Deputy Speaker's eye when she introduced the debate. I do not know whether the Minister was ashamed of the list of names, or whether she thought that the House would nod it through. She should understand that under the exciting and radical modernisation proposals, nothing gets nodded through the House. The House insists, properly, on scrutinising everything that comes before it, so the Minister should not be too surprised that we want to give full attention to the matter. That is what I hope to encourage the House to do.
Mr. Bercow: My right hon. Friend has provoked me to a further thought. The reason that the hon. Lady moved the motion formally and did not wish to speak to it may be that she recalls that during the 1992 election campaign in Bristol, South--where, I confess, she was not only triumphant, but a very courteous opponent--she was decidedly and perhaps even gratuitously rude about my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe
Mr. Forth: Madam Deputy Speaker, I am about to come to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke)--he is next on my list--so my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) is simply anticipating me. At his invitation, I shall come to our right hon. and learned and distinguished and senior Friend the Member for Rushcliffe, who is nominated as a member of the Committee. It goes without saying that our right hon. and learned Friend may be more qualified than almost anyone else to take part in the deliberations of such a Committee.
My right hon. and learned Friend's qualifications must be above and beyond question, but I wonder whether he has been asked how much time he will be able to give to the Committee and its deliberations. As we know, he is an extremely busy man, and a senior man much sought out in international forums and other important meetings. I raise only the slightest scintilla of a question about whether my right hon. and learned Friend will be able to give to the Committee and its deliberations the amount of time and commitment that we would expect, particularly in the light of the question mark that we raised over the quorum in the earlier debate.
Mr. Hogg: Surely the House should not approve the names in the motion unless we have the opportunity of hearing from the Members named, to the effect, first, that they knew they were to be appointed, and secondly, that they are willing to commit the time that, as my right hon. Friend suggested, will be necessary.
Mr. Forth: I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend. I am beginning to think that it might be a good idea to adjourn the debate to give those right hon. and hon. Members an opportunity to come to the House, seek to catch Madam Deputy Speaker's eye, and tell the House briefly whether they are prepared to make that degree of commitment. That would be an extremely good idea. We have touched on only two Members, one of whom may be retiring at the end of this Parliament, and the other who, for reasons that we all understand, is a very busy man. Questions arise after only two potential members of the Committee have been discussed briefly. You may wish to consider, Madam Deputy Speaker, whether it would be proper for the debate to be adjourned.
Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot): My right hon. Friend has drawn attention to the commitment that will be required of members of the Committee. Has he considered that, at this moment, our right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) may be diverted? It is proposed that the Second Reading of the Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Bill will take place next Monday. As our right hon. and learned Friend is deputy chairman of British American Tobacco, I wonder whether that Bill will distract him from his membership of the Committee--rightly, as it is an important Bill which he, like us, will undoubtedly
Mr. Forth: That is an important point, which our right hon. and learned Friend will have to ponder. He may have to recuse himself from the Committee--that is an American word of which I am extremely fond, which we heard quite a lot during the recent presidential election. If, in the event of a conflict of interest, our right hon. and learned Friend had to recuse himself from the Committee, that would threaten the quorum. Time and again, as we go through the motion and think about the matter, we may see the sense in the quorum being set at such a low figure. I suspect that many of the Committee members will hardly ever be there.
Mr. Hogg: Those of us who have a high respect for my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) or, for that matter, the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton), would not wish to impose on them the obligations of belonging to the Committee unless we had been assured that they wanted to be members of that Committee. Is not it strange that we do not know whether they do or whether they do not?
Mr. Forth: We may find that out, because I get the feeling, as we develop this little debate, that the Minister will enlighten us. My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway) may help us by giving his view of the degree of commitment that we are giving to the Joint Committee. I know that his commitment will be total--we can take that for granted, because he is here with us and we know the assiduity with which he approaches his responsibilities.
Mr. Bercow: Before my right hon. Friend proceeds to the next prospective member of the Committee, will he agree with me that, subject to a guarantee of conscientious attendance, there could be two great merits in having my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) on the Committee? The first would be the considerable expertise that he would bring to its deliberations as a result of his service as Chancellor of the Exchequer. The second would be that it would minimise the amount of time available to him to indulge in Euro-babble.
Mr. Forth: My right hon. Friend has raised a matter that has not come up in this or the prior debate. We are wandering about in a bit of a fog, because until we know the frequency of meetings envisaged for the Joint Committee and the length of time it is likely to sit, it will be difficult for us to judge whether the commitment that we expect of our colleagues will be forthcoming. That is another important issue that the Minister may be able to help us with, and that will allow us to judge the suitability of these candidates as we develop the argument and when we vote on the motion, which I suspect we will have to do.
We now come to the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey). The good news about him is that he is styled as a management consultant. That leads me to believe that he has some expertise and experience that have a bearing on the matter in hand. That is my hope, but it is the only good news about him. The bad news is that he is a Liberal Democrat, so he may or may not be able to bring much of value to the Committee. The even worse news, which follows the point made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham, is that the hon. Gentleman has a parliamentary majority of 56. For the benefit of those who do not follow these matters closely, that means that his chances of holding his seat at the next general election, which we are led to believe will be soon--
The parliamentary majority of the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton puts a large question mark over the likelihood of his being in the House to make a contribution to the Committee after the next election.