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Mr. Forth: Yes, I know that, Madam Deputy Speaker. I tried to reassure you by saying, as I led into my argument, that I was dealing with the fact that the quorum is two. I am trying to illustrate the problems that could arise from having such a low quorum. Three of the members present could be members of the payroll, and only two not on the payroll, and so the Government could drive the Committee. However, I will not linger on that if it makes you uneasy, Madam Deputy Speaker. One can readily see that by setting the quorum at only two for the Commons element and only two for the Lords element, all sorts of difficulties could arise, either with the Lords determining tax matters or the Government dominating the Committee. That gives me considerable unease.
Mr. Bercow: The subjective nature of the remit is becoming ever clearer as my right hon. Friend remorselessly takes us through the issues. At what point does a minor change become a major change? Would it not be helpful if the Paymaster General were to set out indicative circumstances, which would show, at least as far as the Government are concerned, which changes fell into one category and which the other?
Mr. Forth: That would indeed be helpful. However, I suggest that my hon. Friend does not hold his breath waiting for that because we can almost anticipate that the Minister will say that those matters are to be determined by the Committee. That takes us back to where we started. I should have hoped, at the very least, for some reassurance to taxpayers, who are also voters, but who will have no vote concerning the members of the Committee. I should have thought that taxpayers would want such reassurance because what constitutes a minor change is highly subjective and a matter of judgment.
Mr. Redwood: On the point about minor changes, given that we start with extremely complicated tax laws owing to the actions of successive Governments, are not changes essential for simplification? Might the Committee not find that important changes were needed to achieve its overriding objective of simplification? My right hon. Friend is being a little too cautious because the Committee will of course need to make changes if it is to simplify tax law.
Mr. Forth: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. We may return to that point when we discuss the Capital Allowances Bill later. That will be a proper discussion about whether simplification inevitably involves change and whether change can take place without a substantive increase in the tax burden, tax rates or anything else to do with tax.
To pursue the point a little further, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is at least possible that the only available minor change in a Bill could have the effect of making tax law more, rather than less, complicated? What would he say to the notion that a major change that achieved simplification might be greatly preferred over a minor change, even though the motion does not allow for that eventuality?
Mr. Forth: It is interesting that my hon. Friend should say that because I have here the 2000 Hardman memorial lecture, which was to form part of my peroration. The lecture was given by the right hon. the Lord Howe of Aberavon, CH, QC, who is well known to and revered by us all, at the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales. It was entitled, "Simplicity and Stability: the Politics of Tax Policy", and delivered on Thursday 9 November 2000. It was a seminal work in the matter to which we are now giving consideration.
All in all, in the brief comments that I have been able to make in this packed debate, I am very unhappy about the motion. I was unhappy right at the start of the debate when I heard both Front Benchers say how consensual, cosy and comfortable they were with the matter. That set alarm bells ringing in my head. When I listened to interventions on the Minister and to my own speech, I developed more and more doubts about what all this means. Subject to what the Minister may say, there are far too many serious questions and by no means sufficient answers. I am minded not to support the motion unless I receive much more assurance.
Come the day when we have a properly elected, representative upper House, I will be much more comfortable with the process. Given the constitutional and historical allusions that I made earlier and, whatever respect I may have for the other place, its Members and their expertise, my unease about enabling and, indeed, encouraging them to participate on taxation matters, the Minister will have to make an awful lot more good and persuasive arguments before I support the measure.