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Mr. Pike: I assure the right hon. Gentleman that the Committee has never gone beyond the House of Commons on official business.

Mr. Forth: I am reassured to hear that, but I am looking to the future. The hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) may want to dwell on the past, but I am a visionary who looks forward to what may lie in the future. We have established that the Minister is a conservative at heart, and that the Chairman of the Committee looks to the past. By contrast, I am a radical who looks to the future.

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My aim is to establish the fact that the Standing Order contains an explicit provision that almost invites the sub-Committee to travel. I have never known hon. Members to be reticent or hesitant about accepting an invitation to travel. It would be a revelation to come across one that was, but we can examine the matter of travel later. [Interruption.] One of the greatest experts in the universe on parliamentary travel has just arrived in the Chamber. I welcome the right hon. Member for Swansea, but confess that I cannot recall just now whether his constituency is Swansea, East or Swansea, West.

Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East): I represent Swansea, East.

Mr. Forth: I am sure that the right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) would not thank me for confusing the Swansea constituencies.

Mr. Anderson: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Forth: Of course.

Mr. Anderson: My grandfather always said that the east is where the wise men came from.

Mr. Forth: I shall leave that for the right hon. Gentleman to sort out with the right hon. Member for Swansea, West. I do not want to intervene in the matter, although I know Swansea and like it enormously.

Paragraph 12(c) sets out the sub-Committee's extensive powers to send for "persons, papers and records", and to sit while the House is adjourned. The provision also allows it to travel, and hon. Members are clearly reluctant that reference should be made to that possibility. However, I suspect that those who have not examined the Standing Order will hardly be able to believe one of the other provisions.

The sub-Committee's work inevitably will be complex, technical and difficult, yet its quorum is to be set at two. It is therefore likely--or at least possible--that two Members of the House could bind this very important sub-Committee, which does such important work. Moreover, earlier provisions in the Standing Order mean that those two hon. Members could have a great deal of influence on what the House itself subsequently determines.

The House must decide whether it feels comfortable--in the context of Parliament and the legislative process--with the possibility that just two hon. Members might be able to discharge such important and onerous responsibilities. I do not feel comfortable with that possibility.

Amendment (b) is modest, as it would merely increase the sub-Committee's quorum from two to four. I could have tried to go further, but I want to try to persuade the House that that modest increase would at least provide the assurance that it would not be possible for two members of the sub-Committee to influence events in the way I have described.

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The Chairman has said that he has no control over the flow of work; he seems to rely on the Government to feed his Committee with material. If the record is to be believed, one measure a year seems about the average. In a funny way that reassures me, because if we end up, as I fear we may, with a sub-Committee operating on a quorum of two and the Committee on a quorum of only five, I sincerely hope that they will do only one thing a year. I would be nervous if I thought they would do any more work of any great importance at any great rate.

Mr. Pike: A few moments ago the right hon. Gentleman said that he was a visionary, looking forward, but now he is looking back to what happened under the Tory legislation. Should we not be looking at what will happen under Labour's Regulatory Reform Act 2001?

Mr. Forth: I have been looking back because I was told--I hope reliably--that the Committee had dealt with one measure over the past year. [Interruption.] The Chairman of the Committee says with some pride that the Committee did three things yesterday. I will grant the Chairman that--the Committee has done four things in the past year, if my arithmetic holds up under this scrutiny. Even so, that does not strike me as anything to write home about, as my dear mother used to say.

Mr. Pike: That was under the Tory Act.

Mr. Forth: I accept the Chairman's interventions because I know that he offers them in a helpful way. He seems to be saying that under legislation passed by the wicked Conservative Government, progress was very slow, but that under the exciting and dynamic version of the legislation passed by this Government, there will be rapid progress. We will judge that in the future. We will wait until the next Parliament elects the members of the Committee--and I stress that this House elects the members of the Committee--and the Committee elects its Chairman. The hon. Member for Burnley will no doubt be a contender for that position if he seeks it, but there is no guarantee that he will be elected by the Committee. After that, we can see the pace at which work will be done.

Mr. Bercow: My right hon. Friend has just held out the prospect, which will be enticing for some but not for others, of a Committee which will never knowingly be undertravelled. May I put it to my right hon. Friend, consistent with the point that he has just made, that to have a titchy--one might almost say piddling--sub-Committee quorum of two trotting about, conducting their very important, distinguished and complex business, is not entirely consistent with the ambition for the Committee that the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) has described?

Because the declaration of a personal interest is always of the essence in our proceedings, and my right hon. Friend has several times dwelt, with a certain contagious enthusiasm, on the need for election of the Chairman and members of the Committee in the future, may I put it to him that he may wish to be considered for the chairmanship of the Committee under the revised Standing Order, and that if he were successful, he would thereby attain a peak of eminence to which he has never previously so much as aspired?

Mr. Forth: My hon. Friend is characteristically generous. I doubt whether my modest experience and

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humble aspirations would raise me to anything like the level that my hon. Friend suggests. However, that is something on which I should like to ponder if I am re-elected to this House--an assumption that none of us must make.

I hope that the House will give serious consideration to my amendments. I am honoured that my amendments have been selected, but I think that the argument goes wider. I am unhappy and uneasy about the low quorum numbers that apply to Committees of this House. I am also uneasy, not least because of the comments of the hon. Member for Burnley during this debate, that we are in danger of asking Committees and colleagues to do very important work in very small numbers. I wonder whether the extent to which very small and possibly unrepresentative numbers of Members can have a disproportionate influence on events is widely appreciated. I am assiduous in my attendance in the House on Fridays, and I am happy to say that, because so few other Members turn up, those who are here have a disproportionate influence on events which not all colleagues appreciate. That illustrates the importance of a realistic quorum figure. That this House, in its majesty, cannot even muster a quorum of 40 Members on a Friday indicates that the attitude of many Members to our work does not bear close scrutiny.

I hope that the House will consider my amendments carefully. I would like this to be the first exciting breakaway from the past--so beloved of the Minister--into a future in which we take our work more seriously and are prepared to commit ourselves to larger quorums. I hope that those fortunate enough to be elected in the forthcoming election will come here with an enthusiasm, vigour and commitment; and that they will not be afraid of a quorum of seven, as I suggest for a Committee of 18, or four, as I suggest for the sub-Committee "with passports".

I believe that my request is modest and that agreeing to it would be a step in the right direction. Accepting the amendments would be a strong signal for other Committees to follow the same course.

6.6 pm

Mr. Richard Page (South-West Hertfordshire): I appreciate the way in which the Minister presented the case. However, I thought that he started on a rather unfortunate note when he referred, as I recall, to "mainly thoughtful" amendments. I thought that a gratuitous swipe at Liberal Democrat Members and their amendments--an unwise move, given that the whole House knows that the Labour party has entered into a tactical alliance with the Liberal Democrat party for the next election. To criticise one's partners in such a way is not a career-enhancing move. I therefore advise the hon. Gentleman to be careful about this in the future.

We are in favour of any measures that can reduce burdens, particularly on small businesses. We have seen such burdens increase over the past few years at an extraordinary rate.

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