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The hon. Gentleman makes a strong case. Does he realise that the situation is even worse, as the cut in the price of a pint that the Chancellor announced on Budget day is unlikely to happen? It is extremely likely that the landlords and breweries will not pass on the cut in duty.
Mr. Bercow: I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not being too pessimistic, but he might be[Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) rather ungenerously observes that the hon. Gentleman's intervention was "All froth". Only time will tell, I know not.
I have, typically, understated my critique of the Government this afternoon, but it would be a disservice to the House not to mention the stop-press news about the Budget. The verdict is highly critical; it states:
Mr. Bercow: That is the verdict of the report on the Budget published today by the distinguished Labour- dominated Select Committee on the Treasury. It is a savage denunciation of the Government by their own friends. Truly, we live in interesting times. The Committee stage is now an enticing prospect. My hon. Friends and I will approach it with relish.
Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe): On the points that the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) raised at the end of his speech, I shall credit him with perhaps not realising that what he calls a Labour-dominated Committee was in fact a childish ambush set by Conservative and Liberal Democrat Members to take advantage of a funeral. There is a long tradition that Select Committees operate by consensus. That tradition is normally to the benefit of Opposition Members, as otherwise Government Members on Select Committees would routinely pass motions praising the Government to the skies and approving every detail in every Bill.
On this occasion, because I was absent for the funeral of the brother of my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), and because other hon. Members were absent for other reasons, Opposition Members took the opportunity to force through 25 wrecking amendments to the draft report that had been discussed on the basis of the deliberations of the previous week.
Mr. Laws: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, but I regret the intemperate language that he is using. He has completely misrepresented the amendments that were put through, which were not party
Dr. Palmer: Let us consider an example. In one of their amendments, the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Members on the Committee lay great emphasis on the alleged sophistry of having a ceiling on the standard rate of national insurance, because, they say, there is a 1 per cent. extra charge on higher incomes. That is the kind of piffling sophistryI use the word that Opposition Members usedthat so irritates people outside Westminster.
The whole operation was typical of the kind of thing that annoys people about politicians. People say that we spend more time trying to trip each other up than we do addressing the issues. Not one of the amendments that the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats tabled to the draft proposals in Committee addresses the central issues for the population at large. Not one of the amendments deals with the national health service and whether the increase in funding is worth while. Not one of them deals with the child tax credit and the relief that it will provide to low-income families. Not one of them deals with the impact on the environment of the reduction in duties for non-polluting fuels. Instead, there was one piffling, technical amendment after another.
Mr. Jack: I have listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman's observations. If Labour members of the Committee were so concerned by what was happening when they were in a minority as decisions were being taken, will he explain why they did not produce a minority report in which they could have addressed the points that he has made?
Dr. Palmer: I do not believe that there is provision for minority reports[Interruption]but even if there were, that would not address the essential point. The report makes perfectly clear the votes on each amendment. Again the right hon. Gentleman makes a point about parliamentary procedure and does not deal with the central issues that concern the population at large.
Dr. Palmer: I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman, who is normally an amiable fellow, takes the view that the funeral of a leading county councillor in my constituency is not an important matter. I disagree with him.
Mr. Jim Cousins (Newcastle upon Tyne, Central): My hon. Friend will be aware that, if one wants to produce a minority report in a Select Committee, one has to indicate one's desire to do so at the beginning of the proceedings. I voted 25 times in the Committee yesterday to try to get a slightly more sensible report and, if I had known about the way in which Conservative and Liberal Democrat members of the Committee wished to handle proceedings, I would have signalled my desire to produce such a report. Sadly, I assumed their good will and good sense, so I did not do that.
Dr. Palmer: I sympathise with my hon. Friend. It is sad, because hon. Members on both sides of the House have put a lot of effort into building up a sensible tradition of Select Committees. Unfortunately, the two Opposition parties are so desperate for petty tactical success that they put it first.