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Mr. Redwood: My hon. Friend introduces the very interesting idea that it will be a hybrid Committee: not quite a Standing Committee in which the Parliamentary Private Secretary does not speak but merely helps the Minister, and not quite a Select Committee all of whose members are independent. Does my hon. Friend have some intelligence from the Government that I missed on how the hybrid Committee might work? Will the PPS vote and speak? Will they speak only in line with the Government, or will they have an independent judgment? Has he been given information on that?
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman has been given no such information, as it would not be relevant to what we are discussing now, which concerns the names of those who have been proposed to serve on the Committee. If the hon. Gentleman persists in straying outside that, I shall apply Standing Order No. 42.
Mr. Howarth: I have no intention of straying outside that, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I entirely understand your strictures. However, I hope that you will agree that it is fair to make the point that we are being asked to approve the membership of a Select Committee although we do not think that its members will be able to behave in accordance with the conventions of the House and in the manner that is usually expected of Select Committee members.
Mr. Hogg: Does my hon. Friend accept that the conventions are plain and that Parliamentary Private Secretaries must follow the Government line? In all probability, they will not be entitled to speak and must keep strictly to the Government brief if they do so. Those are the conventions and practices that will be operating; there are no others.
Mr. Howarth: My right hon. and learned Friend makes the point succinctly. I share his view. The House is entitled to know whether the conventions that he described will be applied to the Committee or whether it is intended that they will be dispensed with. Especially in the light of the manner in which the Government operate, I cannot conceive that anybody who is on the payroll, paid or otherwise, will be allowed to depart from the official line. Nevertheless, it would be helpful if the Paymaster General would give us her thoughts on the matter. As I understand it, the point applies also to the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Ms Kelly).
Mr. Ruffley: Will not the likely role of the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr. Pond) in the Committee be similar to that which he will play on the Standing Committee that considers the next Finance Bill, if there is to be one? Will he not merely carry the Minister's notes to the civil servants' Box and back again?
I was briefly Parliamentary Private Secretary to my noble Friend Baroness Thatcher, sadly after she lost office. I was debarred in 1991 from voting against the Government on any issue, because such a vote would have been perceived as a vicarious vote by my noble Friend. Roy Hattersley mentioned the matter when I abstained from voting on the Maastricht treaty in December 1991. The House has a clear and long-established convention, but the motion invites us to establish a Select Committee from which one of the key features of such a Committee is excluded. A Select Committee should be independent of the Government and should comprise hon. Members who are allowed to express their individual views and are not subject to the Whip. The House is entitled to some clarification from the Minister on that point, as well as those made by my right hon. Friends the Member for
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): I rise to support the reservations expressed by my right hon. Friends the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) and for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth).
A number of serious points must be made about the motion. I begin with considerable anxiety about the Committee process. I voted against the motion on the establishment of the Joint Committee, which was considered previously, because I am concerned that tax simplification will be turned into a form of tax changing.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) was not here for a considerable part of the previous debate. The points to which he refers have been amply rehearsed, so I cannot hear anything further from him on that subject while we are considering the current motion.
Mr. Hogg: I had the opportunity to address the House on the matter in December, when, as you may recall, Mr. Deputy Speaker, it was last debated. It is relevant to the point that I am about to make. We need to understand where we are coming from. A Committee such as that which is proposed, which is ostensibly about simplification, can also be used as a mechanism for changing the law. It is, therefore, especially important that we consider its membership. That is why I stressed my first point.
On membership, the first question that one is entitled to ask is whether the hon. Members who are nominated wish to serve on the Committee. With the exception of the Liberal Democrat member of the Committee, the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey), and my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway), I do not have a clue about that. I assume that silence from the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr. Pond) means that he wants to do so, but he has not told the House that. I have no means of knowing whether the hon. Members who are named in the motion want to serve on the Committee. Even if they want to do so, can they devote to it the time that the House has a right to expect of them? That, too, is something about which we are entitled to know before we vote on their names.
I am perfectly prepared to accept that the Paymaster General and my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South will devote the proper time. As Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Paymaster General, the hon. Member for Gravesham is her creature, so I am prepared to accept that he, too, will be present during the Committee's proceedings, although what else he will do is another matter. What about the rest of them, however? Will my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), for whom I have the greatest respect and affection, be able to devote the necessary time? Will the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) be able to do so, especially as he is standing down at the next election? I think that the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton has a majority of 56, so he will most certainly be cultivating his back garden.
The chances are that the majority of the hon. Members who are nominated will not be able to devote the proper time. It would be helpful if they were present in the Chamber to assure the House, which is being asked to decide on their names, that they will be able to devote that time. Their absence suggests that they are heavily committed elsewhere. If that is the case, why should they be present during the proceedings of the Committee? Their absence makes me very cautious.
Furthermore, I have to ask how the nominated hon. Members were identified for membership in the first place? I did not play a part in their nomination, although I might have done so; my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe is an admirable candidate. Who selected them for consideration? It is the usual channels. My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South knows that I am extremely cautious about the usual channels, down which some pretty rum things flow. I am very cautious when I see a coterie of names that has been cobbled together by the usual channels.
It is a great pity that we cannot amend the motion, but must either accept it en bloc or reject it en bloc. I would like the ability to pick and choose, a la carte, and to make other suggestions. I approach the matter with considerable caution.