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Mr. Forth: I do not need to refer just to that Bill because the Minister told us, if I heard her correctly, that a series of Bills would be referred to the Committee. It is not just the Bill on the Order Paper with which we should be concerned, but any future Bill that comes to the Committee, designated by the Government as a tax simplification Bill, regardless of content, and containing within it the possibility of taxation by stealth and modification of tax burden or rates by incompetence or deliberately--I know not yet.

It is not only the Capital Allowances Bill, to which we will come in due course later in the evening, about which we should be concerned, although we are right to be concerned about it. I know that my right hon. Friend has made a detailed study of it and I look forward to his comments. However, we should be concerned about whatever Bills may follow that are designated as tax simplification Bills, which may contain within them the sort of drift or stealth process of which I am so fearful.

Mr. David Ruffley (Bury St. Edmunds): Is my right hon. Friend aware that future tax simplification Bills of the kind to which he refers are already known about--to wit, the first income tax Bill covering employment and possibly social security and pensions income, which we are told will be ready in November 2002? There is also a second income tax Bill of a simplifying kind, which will cover trading income, property income, savings and investment income.

Mr. Forth: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I was aware of something of the kind. It occurs to me that even a cursory glance at the Capital Allowances Bill to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Fylde referred, and now, more speculatively, the matters that my hon. Friend talks about contain at least the possibility of an increase in tax rates or burden or a change in the basis on which some taxes are assessed or levied in a way that is not yet clear or predictable. However, we know that the process through which the motion proposes that these Bills will go then allows the possibility of such changes.

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As my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham pointed out not long ago, the very words

admit the possibility of changes, but try to provide reassurance by designating them as minor. However, my right hon. Friend has been around long enough to know that what is minor to one person may not be minor to another. We have no indication--and I am not aware of any in the provisions, the motion or any of the Bills--whether there is any limitation or cap on what can be deemed or designated as minor. In that respect, I believe that this mechanism gives rise to an open season.

Mr. Bercow: My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley) made the point that the Joint Committee's scope for future consideration of Bills is wide, and he helpfully adumbrated a couple of examples to make the point. However, will my right hon. Friend accept from the other end of the spectrum that the scope is not that wide? Does he agree that the signing away of a variety of tax privileges that we enjoy, under the auspices of the so-called harmful tax competition working party, is not a matter under the guidance of this Treasury that is subject to a Bill, and would not therefore be--and has not been to date--subject to scrutiny by any committee?

Mr. Forth: That is part of the problem; we are left wondering about the effectiveness of procedures that we always thought were well established--I will not say that they were foolproof, but we certainly thought that they were well understood. They enabled the voter and the taxpayer to be reassured that their interests were properly safeguarded when it came to raising and spending money. My fear is that the proposed mechanism may well breach that reassurance--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but he is straying into repetition. I have heard certain points made several times--I must warn him on that.

Mr. Forth: I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because I can now move on to the next part of my argument, in which I again refer to the January 1997 report of the Procedure Committee that gave rise to all these matters. Interestingly, paragraph 21 states:

the very subject of the motion--

The interesting point is that the presumption is that it is highly desirable for that small group of Members of both Houses--seven from this place and six from another place--to be brought together in the Joint Committee and then to engage in the process of taking oral evidence all in one go.

I can see the superficial attraction of that, but I want to turn the argument on its head: there is a far greater attraction in the sequential taking of evidence by one House and then the other, so that each could examine the evidence given to the other and build it into their own taking of oral evidence. The apparent and seductive efficiency offered by the Procedure Committee's suggestion contains a danger. It is all very well for that

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cosy little group of people to get together, to take their oral evidence and to say, "That's that then", but I should feel as reassured--probably more so--if we had proceeded in the more traditional way, whereby each House took evidence separately, perhaps taking into account what the other had done in developing both the argument and the taking of evidence.

The second of what the report fairly characterises as "perceived advantages" refers to

Again, that may or may not be the case. I am not sure whether the legal evidence available in the Lords is not available to the Commons--we might want to consider that point. It certainly seems to be a slender argument on which to base the dramatic move suggested.

The report notes--giving the lie to a matter to which I shall return in a moment--that the third perceived advantage is

We are really in some sensitive and interesting territory, are we not? We are being told that one of the main reasons for setting up a Joint Committee is that their lordships have so little to do that they will be able to spend quite a lot of time on the Committee, whereas Members of this House are so busy that they will, presumably, be unable to give much time to the Committee.

Looking around the Chamber, it is obvious that Members of this House are certainly so busy that they have been unable to attend this evening's debate--notwithstanding its important substance. However, the Procedure Committee had the gall to suggest, in January 1997, that the reason for setting up a Joint Committee was that their lordships had fewer other things to do and would thus, by implication, be doing most of the work. That Lords element in the Committee worries me--and, I should like to think, other Members of this House. It worries me that the Lords should be involved in taxation at all.

Those were the reasons given by the Procedure Committee for taking that path. I, for one, am reluctant to accept much or any of them. The report made several recommendations. It stated:

Well, you can say that again, Madam Deputy Speaker--it would indeed set a precedent; a very worrying one. Such a precedent, if we were mistaken enough to accept this motion, could be prayed in aid for many other developments.

My rooted objection, which is reflected in the passages I cited from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries--

Dawn Primarolo: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Forth: Yes, of course.

Dawn Primarolo: I am listening carefully to the important points that the right hon. Gentleman makes about the supremacy of this House in taxation matters. What puzzles me is that Standing Order No. 60 was agreed when his party was in government, and when

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he was, I think, a member of the Government. If these matters worry him so much, why did he remain silent when his Government introduced Standing Order No. 60 and voted it through the House?

Mr. Forth: Because I was on the payroll. I suspect that the hon. Lady may not necessarily agree with everything that her Government have done since May 1997--although she will not admit it at present, she will when she is in opposition again. Her colleague, the Financial Secretary, who is sitting on the Treasury Bench beside her, may share that view. Ministers do not make such a powerful argument as they think when they tell someone such as myself, who had the privilege of serving in government for almost nine years, that if I signed up to something during that time, I cannot possibly argue against it now. The answer is that that was then and this is now. I was on the payroll then and judged that the matter was not one on which to resign. I suspect that if the hon. Lady and I were to have a quiet drink together, I could probably winkle out of her that she was pretty unhappy about a few things done by her Government during the past three years, but that she did not think them quite important enough to resign over--[Interruption.]--perhaps she is about to confess.

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