Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton): Continuing the theme of the hon. Member for West Dorset, I also believe that a spirit of self-sacrifice has brought you to this arduous task, Dr. Clark. You may well be pleased if our proceedings are cut short. Will you pass on our greetings to the other two ChairmenMr. O'Hara and Mr. Hood?
As the hon. Member for West Dorset said, there is little that is controversial in the Bill, and he fairly described it as boring. Some of the flaws in our procedures are worth noting. The Bill may be boring and relatively uncontroversial, but it is also complex, and we have little time to find the problems lurking within the complexities.
Problems that the parliamentary draftsmen have not foreseen may escape our attention because we are debating a long Finance Billparticularly in comparison with the Finance Bills of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. In the short time available, we may fail to pick up the problems. I regret any failings and apologise to those who may be affected by them. It is less a failing of our abilities than of the whole process. I have long felt that it is a key and urgent task for this House to reform that process and I hope that the Government will give it serious thought. Let us hope that whoever is returned to power after the forthcoming election, will also give serious thought to reforming it.
Mr. Letwin: I just want to put on record how much we agree with that. I also hope that after the election a political consensus will emerge across the House. There is no doubt about the need for deep reform of the procedure. Much more strenuous and detailed examination is required in a different format.
Mr. Davey: I am grateful for that outbreak of consensus and I suspect that the hon. Gentleman and I might find other reasons to agree as we progress through the Bill. I am also grateful for the Chief Secretary's warm and amusing remarks. Sometimes when reading Hansard, irony does not immediately strike one from the page, so let us make it clear that there was a degree of irony in the right hon. Gentleman's comments. When I first served on a Finance Bill Committee I was surprised at how long debates could last. That being the case, I shall now sit down.
Mr. Jack: I also welcome you to the Chair, Dr. Clark, and the other Chairmen who will be presiding over our proceedings.
I rise to express a note of sadness because the programme motion breaks a long tradition in the way in which Finance Bills have been handled in this House. In days gone by, Standing Committees would sit through the night. There was a robustness about the debates that will sadly be lacking under the more forensic approach outlined in the programming motion. Sometimes we alight upon a point on which it is right to spend a little more time examining what a Minister may say to justify a position. With the constraints of a timetable, that facility will not be afforded to us, except at the expense of some other part of the Bill. I record my sadness that we must have a programming motion on a Bill that has always proceeded with a degree of consensus and tradition.
The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Andrew Smith): Does the right hon. Gentleman acknowledge that both the out-date of the programming motion and its structure have been determined by his hon. Friends? Moreover, are his comments made in the conservative spirit of wanting to leave things as they were or in the radical spirit of reform that the hon. Member for West Dorset advocated just a few moments ago? It is very early on to have such a serious Opposition split.
Mr. Jack: If the Chief Secretary wants to debate the reform of the tax system, I will gladly detain him, but it would be unfair to do so in the light of the programming motion. Having been involved in the tax law rewrite exercise since its inception, I know that there is a great deal to commend the approach mentioned by my hon. Friend. I just wish that the Government had shown enthusiasm similar to that of the Chief Secretary for doing something about the subject. One item not included in the motion, and therefore not in the Bill, is a commitment to do anything to report to the House on possible simplification of the tax system and our procedures. I welcome the Chief Secretary's conversion to the subject. Perhaps before the end of the Bill we might even see some tangible sign that we are going to deal with the issue.
My purpose in commenting was not to criticise the allocation of time in the motion, but to acknowledge the passing of a tradition under which we agreed on the conduct of the Bill by consensus, giving us time to alight where necessary to debate in detail some fact that emerges in debate. That facility could be lost as a result of the programming motion.
Mr. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth): For the sake of the record, should the right hon. Gentleman's regret at the passing of those late night debates in which he and I took part on occasion and which were of dubious quality and forensic outcome, especially on the Conservative side, be read as irony or humour?
The Chairman: Order. The right hon. Member for the Fylde should respond briefly. I have so far been listening to items that are not in the motion or the Bill. Now we are reverting to a historical review of the proceedings of the House. Unless the right hon. Gentleman is brief, I shall have to call him to order.
Mr. Jack: Thank you, Dr. Clark. In recent times, the amount of time that we have spent on undue late sittings has reduced. One could argue that the quality has improved.
The programming motion refers numerically to the clauses that we must debate. Although, as my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset pointed out, this is supposed to be a non-controversial Finance Bill, it still contains 180 clauses and 28 schedules. It shows no indication of the reforming zeal that the Chief Secretary enunciated a moment ago towards the way these procedures are taken. Finally, when Ministers come to present their case for these clauses, I hope that they will be prepared to give us detailed evidence to justify the policy positions being advanced.
Question put and agreed to.
The Chairman: Before we proceed I have several announcements to make. First, copies of the ways and means and money resolutions agreed to by the House on which the Bill is founded are available in the Committee Room. Secondly, in view of the resolutions of the House relating to the declaration of interests, right hon. and hon. Members are required to declare relevant interests when they table amendments, as well as when they speak to them. Copies of the rules are available from the Committee Clerk. Thirdly, I referred earlier to the boxes behind me to my right. If hon. Members wish to make use of them, they can be locked in a filing cabinet when the Committee is not sitting. Finally, adequate notice must be given of amendments. Neither I, nor my co-Chairmen Mr. O'Hara or Mr. Hood, will as a rule call any starred amendments, including any starred amendments that may be reached during an afternoon sitting.
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