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Session 1997-98
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Standing Committee Debates
Finance (No. 2) Bill

Finance (No. 2) Bill

Standing Committee E

Thursday 11 June 1998


[Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody in the Chair]

Finance (No. 2) Bill

(Except Clauses 1, 7, 10, 11, 25, 27, 30, 75, 119 and 147)

10.30 am

The Chairman: Before we resume our proceedings, I have a brief announcement to make.

Right hon. and hon. Members will notice that a number of amendments to schedule 21 and to clauses 126, 127, 128 and 130, which appear on today's selection list as starred amendments, have been placed in square brackets. The amendments in question were properly tabled with the Clerk before the Committee rose on Tuesday night, but as a result of a fax machine failure they did not reach the printers in time to be issued yesterday. As hon. Members know, starred amendments are not usually called for debate, but in view of the technical problem, I shall treat the amendments in square brackets as if they were not starred. If they are reached, they may therefore be considered today.

Mr. Michael Fallon (Sevenoaks): On a point of order, Mrs. Dunwoody. I apologise for removing my jacket before you gave formal permission to do so.

I have another, rather more serious, point of order. When we adjourned on Tuesday night, the Paymaster General was addressing the Committee. I note that he has disappeared from the Committee; more seriously, his speech has been removed from the relevant Hansard report. According to column 712 of it, the last recorded remark is that of Mr. Butterfill, your co-Chairman, Mrs. Dunwoody, who said "it is good to talk". However, as we remember it, the Paymaster General rose and began to respond to the debate he was on his feet and addressing the Committee when we adjourned. That speech appears not to have been printed.

The Chairman: I understand that the Paymaster General did not begin his speech because the hon. Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth) interrupted him.

Mr. Fallon: If the hon. Gentleman interrupted him, the Paymaster General must have been on his feet. He was on his feet, and he was addressing the Committee. A number of points were made during the debate to which he had begun to reply, and to which we are expecting him fully to respond. This is a serious point. If the Committee's proceedings are to be doctored, and speeches removed from the record, the matter should be put to Madam speaker.

Several hon. members rose

The Chairman: Order. Those hon. Members who wish to speak will be called to do so.

Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton): Further to that point of order, Mrs. Dunwoody. The Chairman's provisional selection of amendments says in respect of clause 116:

    "Question proposed: Mr. Robinson called".

The remarks made by the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon) are therefore pertinent.

Mr. Philip Hammond (Runnymede and Weybridge): Further to that point of order, Mrs. Dunwoody. I stand to be corrected, but my recollection of Tuesday evening's proceedings is that the Economic Secretary had left the room by the time that the debate had progressed to clause 116, and before the Committee had adjourned. I therefore wonder how she can possibly respond to the matter. However, if I am wrong I aplogise unreservedly.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): I am the person who is perhaps most affected by this doctoring of Hansard, because it was my speech as recorded by Hansard to which the Paymaster General had begun to respond. However, he is not here to complete his response. Moreover, I have further points to make, to which I shall also not receive a response. That is a gross discourtesy not only to me but to the Committee and, indeed, to the House. It is a serious matter if Hansard is to be doctored in that way. There is no question in my mind but that the Paymaster General had started to reply to my points.

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Mrs. Helen Liddell): Further to that point of order, Mrs. Dunwoody. In response to the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond), I know that I am on a diet but I have not disappeared yet. I was in the Committee. He may have missed the fact that during the Division, I managed to drop my handbag and a number of hon. Members spent some time helping me to find everything. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I was present in the Committee. I listened closely to the points that were made. The Paymaster General is involved in government business this morning. For that reason, I took great note of the points made and I have responses to Tuesday evening's debate.

Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells): On a point of order, Mrs. Dunwoody. We have just heard the Economic Secretary say that the Paymaster General is engaged on government business. I think that you would agree, as Chairman of the most important Standing Committee, that the Finance Bill takes precedence over any other government business. Your selection list must stand. It says clearly, as the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) pointed out, that Mr. Robinson was called. He obviously has to respond to the debate. Otherwise, he is defying your authority as Chairman.

For the avoidance of doubt, may we refer to the taped record of the Committee? We know that our proceedings are taped for the purpose of the Official Report. That will clear up any doubts about which Minister was replying and who was on his or her feet when the Committee adjourned.

The Chairman: That is already being done. When hon. Members raised the matter with me, I questioned exactly what had happened and the tapes are being[The Chairman]checked. My information is that the hon. Member for Coventry, North-East, who moved the adjournment, interrupted the Minister at the vital moment. Rather than argue the point, however, I should make it clear that the tapes are being checked. I shall report to the Committee in due course.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: As a matter of clarification, Mrs. Dunwoody.

The Chairman: Order. I am not aware that there is a Standing Order for a point of clarification, but if the hon. Gentleman insists on raising a point of order with the Chair, I will listen.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: On a point of order to you, Mrs. Dunwoody. As a matter of clarification, what you have said is exactly what happened. The Paymaster General was replying to my point when he was interrupted by the hon. Member for Coventry, North-East.

The Chairman: I have made it clear that I was not present and that I will have the tapes checked. I do not wish to continue this discussion. It is clear that we need to check the tapes.

We must now come to the debate on clause 116, Question proposed, that the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: On a point of order, Mrs. Dunwoody. I thought that you said that you would adjourn the Committee until the matter was clarified.

The Chairman: No, that is not what I was suggesting.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: May I propose that the Committee does adjourn?

The Chairman: You may certainly propose that, but the Chair controls whether the business of the Committee shoud continue. Ministers are present and are prepared to respond to the debate. I am calling the debate because I am assuming that the debate on clause 116 is what we are dealing with this morning. In the interim, as we proceed, I am having the tapes checked on the specific point of whether the Paymaster General has in any way this is a very serious charge doctored the Official Report. We should proceed.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: On a point of order, Mrs. Dunwoody. I am sorry to press this matter, but I now refer back to the selection of amendments, which is in your name. It says clearly that Mr. Robinson, who is the Paymaster General, has been called. If he has been called and he is not here to answer, that puts the Committee in an impossible position. I suggest that the only way to resolve this is for you to adjourn until the Paymaster General can respond to a debate that you have called on him to attend.

Mr. David Ruffley (Bury St. Edmunds) rose

The Chairman: Order. First, the Chairman does not decide who shall or shall not respond to a debate, as the right hon. Gentleman knows. Secondly, I have called the debate on clause 116 and there are Ministers here who are prepared to take the debate forward. That is my responsibility, and I intend to fulfil it. Meanwhile, on the point of order that was raised by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen, we shall check the tapes. I have made the position clear, and I do not intend to take any more points of order on this matter.

Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford): On a new point of order, Mrs. Dunwoody. I am extremely concerned about the Official Report's accuracy. It failed to report the fact that on Tuesday evening the Paymaster General had been called, and it states that the Committee adjourned accordingly

    "at Ten o'clock till Thursday 11 June at half-past Ten o'clock."

My clear recollection is that we adjourned not at 10 pm but at 9.45 pm, when the vote was called in the Chamber.

The Chairman: It is my responsibility to find out what happened. We have heard two totally opposing sets of memories, and we should establish the facts. The House is very well served by the Official Report, which, on the whole, fulfils its task with extreme accuracy. It is important that the tapes be checked, so that we can know exactly what happened.

Mr. Fallon: As I raised the original point of order, may I respond to your ruling, Mrs. Dunwoody? Two issues are being confused. The first is the discourtesy that the Paymaster General shows in not being present, which we should have raised with you anyway. The second is the substantive allegation that the Paymaster General was speaking when we adjourned on Tuesday evening, and that his speech in response to that debate has been removed from the Official Report. It is not right for us to proceed until we know whether he was speaking. May I suggest, Mrs. Dunwoody, that we have a short adjournment while that simple matter of fact is checked?


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