Standing Committee F
Tuesday 14 May 2002
[Mr. Roger Gale in the Chair]
(Except Clauses 4, 19, 23, 26 to 29, 87 to 92,
131 and 134 and Schedules 1, 5 and 38)
The Chairman: Order. Before we start, there are a couple of housekeeping matters. First, hon. Members who have not already done so may, while I am in the Chair, remove their jackets. I cannot speak for Mr. Benton, who will decide whether to afford the Committee the same concession.
Secondly, would hon. members please switch off their mobile phones when they take their seats? It would be helpful if they did not ring during our proceedings.
Thirdly, there is no timetable motion, but I am reliably informed that we may complete our proceedings in time to enjoy the summer. However, there is a sittings motion and I call the Minister to move it.
The Paymaster General (Dawn Primarolo): I beg to move,
That, during proceedings on the Finance Bill (except Clauses 4, 19, 23, 26 to 29, 87 to 92, 131 and 134 and Schedules 1, 5 and 38), the Committee do meet on Tuesdays at half-past Ten o'clock and half-past Four o'clock and on Thursdays at half-past Nine o'clock and half-past Two o'clock.
Good morning, Mr. Gale. I welcome you to the Chair. I speak for the whole Committee in saying that we welcome your expertise and know that you will keep us on the straight and narrow while not allowing us, however much we may be tempted, to stray on to matters that are not strictly relevant. I know that you and Mr. Benton will have a light touch so long as the Committee conforms to required conduct.
I welcome the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), who will lead for the Opposition. I know that he relishes the opportunity of scrutinising Government business and I look forward to the many ways in which he explains, describes and challenges it with his vast vocabulary. I know that my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary, too, is looking forward to those discussions.
I also welcome the right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack), who is an experienced member of the Committee, having been Financial Secretary and having participated in most of our Finance Bills since 1997. I look forward to thoughtful and challenging debates with him.
The Chairman: Order. We cannot have people who are not Members in the body of the kirk. The Rope delineates the body of the Committee and perhaps the person concerned would take a seat.
Dawn Primarolo: I note that the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) has escaped the pleasure of being a member of the Committee and I put on record
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our congratulations on his new appointment as rural affairs spokesperson for the Opposition. It is his loss that he will not experience the thrilling detail of debate in this Committee.
This my sixth Finance Bill as a Minister. They run into one another and I think that I have taken part in eight—two as an Opposition Treasury spokesperson. The hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Mr. Flight) has participated in three and the way in which he has conducted business in the past—usually in good humour, but not always—bodes well for the Committee and our debate on the details of the Bill. I welcome the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey), who has been on every Finance Bill since 1997; he is an expert on many of the issues and is gathering further expertise quickly.
I welcome the many talented, able and excellent Labour Members, who I know will support the Government and ensure that we are properly scrutinised. I also welcome Opposition Members who have already proven themselves in debates on the Floor of the House. I am indebted to my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary and my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary for making progress for the Government as the ministerial team leading the Finance Bill.
It is a good idea to get off to the right start, so may I welcome the Whips? My hon. Friends the Members for Basildon (Angela Smith) and for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe) will keep us in order. I welcome the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff), who is the Opposition Whip; he enjoys Finance Bills so much that he cannot remember whether he has been on three or four because each of them has been such an ecstatic experience. I welcome the police officers, the Hansard writers and the Clerks, who will ensure that we keep to the business.
Let me quickly address a few details in the motion. The Committee will proceed from clause 1 through the Bill in an orderly fashion. The motion suggests that there should be some movement of clauses to facilitate debate—I hope that Opposition Members agree to that. Clause 36 follows clause 33 because it is a consequential clause on minor benefits and employer-subsidised bus services. Clause 39 will follow clause 37—
The Chairman: Order. I am sorry to have to interrupt the Minister again, but she is moving on to the order of consideration, which is to be debated shortly, and away from the sittings motion.
Dawn Primarolo: Thank you, Mr. Gale. In my desire to conclude this part of the business, I have got ahead of myself.
As we begin consideration of the Finance Bill, I should like to echo your point, Mr. Gale: I hope that we do it in an orderly fashion, but in a way that will ensure that we see some of the English summer. I welcome you, Mr. Gale, and members of the Committee.
Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): It is a pleasure to join the Paymaster General in supporting the sittings motion.
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I should like to begin my remarks, as she began hers, with a warm welcome to you, Mr. Gale. From past experience, many hon. Members will be able to testify that the Committee will be chaired with a combination of firmness, discretion and humour, which are the guarantors of good progress and a harmonious atmosphere. I am also pleased to return what I shall choose to interpret as a compliment from the Paymaster General. It is a pleasure to joust with her. We spoke earlier about how many Finance Bills she had been involved with—they number no fewer than eight. I can honestly say—I speak for my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs as well—that the hon. Lady has built up a formidable reputation as somebody who knows her onions and does her homework. We treat that with respect and consideration.
The fact that the hon. Lady and I go back some way should not remain a state secret, as it is important to put to rest any uncertainty about the matter. I fought the Bristol, South constituency in 1992, long before the consideration of the sittings motion. From my point of view, the downside was that the constituency of Bristol, South fought back. The hon. Lady converted a marginal Labour seat into a safe Labour seat, and I had to pursue my parliamentary peregrinations elsewhere. I believe that I can safely say that things have moved on somewhat since that time. The hon. Lady and I enjoy better relations now than we did in those days, because I am marginally more civilised than I was then, although I emphasise the word ''marginally.''
It is also a pleasure to debate the Bill with the Financial Secretary and other Committee members. I wish to echo what the Paymaster General said about the importance in the process of the respective Whips. My Whip for this Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire, is decent, considerate and keen that we make proper progress. I know that the same can be said of the hon. Members for Bradford, South and for Basildon. The hon. Member for Bradford, South is one of the true gentlemen of the Government Whip's office. I do not wish to wreck his future prospects in making the observation that he commands respect and, indeed, affection among many Conservative Members. I hope that that is also true among Liberal Democrats and members of other parties. I have regularly jousted with the hon. Member for Basildon. I believe that her political activities before she entered the House fully justify my innocent observation that, in addition to all her other qualities, she is renowned as a foxy lady.
The Bill is lengthy—it is 488 pages long and consists of two volumes—and 604 pages of explanatory notes accompany it. There are many important issues to consider, and there is scope for considerable and, perhaps, extensive discussion. However, we want to enjoy the summer months. We do not want to take excessive time if it is not necessary, which is why I join the Paymaster General in underlining the commitment to make timeous progress. I am sure that when you, Mr. Gale, are not here, Mr. Benton will also chair the Committee with consummate skill.
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My final observation is that I am joined by an admirable team on the Conservative Benches. I single out my right hon. Friend the Member for Fylde, who is a distinguished former Financial Secretary to the Treasury. His contributions in Finance Bill Committees carry weight and are listened to with respect. There will be many occasions in the next few weeks when we on the Conservative Benches will be the better for his guidance, and I look forward to the benefit of it.
I am also assisted by my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs. Many will know not only of his experience with Finance Bills but of his day-to-day involvement in the work of many of the institutions that are the subject of parts of the legislation. In other words, my right hon. Friend is not merely a theorist but someone with practical know-how that is born of his commercial acumen and the track record that goes with it.
I am delighted to be assisted as well by a former Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope), and by my hon. Friends the Members for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field), for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) and for Fareham (Mr. Hoban). The Finance Bill Committee is an enticing prospect. We should now proceed without delay to consideration of the clauses.