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Mr. Greg Knight: Will my right hon. Friend tell the House in which dictionary he looked up that definition? I, too, have consulted a dictionary. The "Concise Oxford English Dictionary" gives another definition of the word "expedient" that is highly relevant to what he is saying. It defines expedient as "politic rather than just".
Mr. Forth: I looked at one of the longer versions of the "Oxford", but I prefer my right hon. Friend's definition. We do not have to choose. We can look at both definitions because they seem to be moving us in the same direction. We have flushed out the Treasury and the Government easily. By using the word "expedient" in the Bill, which we wish to change through amendment No. 14, the Treasury has bared all. The Minister will have to defend herself, her Department and the Government against a charge of immorality because that lies behind the definitions of the word.
Mr. Brooks Newmark (Braintree) (Con): Although I do not wish to be pedantic about the use of language, I am still not clear why we should rely on reason, especially the reason prevailing at the Treasury, if the Department is given the right to create regulations that impose retrospective taxation. Why should we leave the reason to the Treasury because that would take us to the logical result of retrospective taxation?
My hon. Friend is challenging the whole principle underlying the Bill, which I would love to do. We will, of course, have the opportunity to do that on Third Reading. We are examining in a focused way the mechanism by which retrospection would be implemented by the Treasuryafter consultation with
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the commissioners, as I would prefer it. The Bill would allow the Treasury to make its judgment on retrospection simply on the basis of expediency. As we have discovered, no moral judgments would be allowed because the decision would be based on what was practical. That might suit the Government, but I hope that it does not suit the Opposition.
Mr. Forth: I wish that my hon. Friend had tabled an amendment to that effect. I suspect that it might well have been selected, and he would then have been able to share the limelight with me by speaking to it. I accept what he says. Now that he mentions it, I wish that I had tabled such an amendment. Perhaps he and I can get together next time to see what we can do.
You can see, Madam Deputy Speaker, that we are trying to introduce this concept of reasonableness, which of course has been well established over a long period. My right hon. and hon. Friends behind me who are eminent lawyers will be able to expand on that, I hope at some length, in a way that I could not possibly do. I am just trying to lay the groundwork in suggesting that expediency in this context is positively undesirable, whereas reasonableness is something that people want to see in such a measure.
James Duddridge: Will my right hon. Friend explain why the Minister has not risen to her feet to explain the difference between the two concepts, and why "expedient" will remain in the Bill rather than being replaced with "reasonable"? This "reasonable" amendment seems reasonable, and the word "expedient" should be replaced.
Mr. Forth: I suspectand, looking behind you, Madam Deputy Speaker, I can see that a piece of paper is about to wing its way to the Ministerthat Ministers these days do not know the difference between expediency and reasonableness, and need their officials to tell them what it is.
Dawn Primarolo: Those comments were unworthy of the right hon. Gentleman. He is entertaining the House very well this afternoon but knows full well that I will reply to the points that have been made when he and his hon. Friends have concluded their remarks, to ensure that I have heard all their points before I venture to reply. Perhaps, as he is so experienced in the House, he would like to explain that to the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (James Duddridge).
We seem to have touched a rather raw nerve there, Madam Deputy Speaker, do we not? The Minister will, of course, have plenty of time this afternoon. We have two or three hours to go before we are forced by the Government's wicked programming
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and timetabling to curtail our remarks. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say. Perhaps she and my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East can get together afterwards and have a quiet word about morality.
I have simply tried to lay the groundwork for a short debate on these matters. I have tried briefly to outline why we should introduce the commissioners into this part of the process and why a distinction should be made between expediency and reasonableness. I very much hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will be able to support me in this. I hope, too, that in spite of the Minister's prickliness, when she comes to reply, she will able to see the strength of our argument and, who knows, perhaps even accept one, if not both, of those amendments.
Mr. Chope : I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) on stealing most of my thunder on the amendments in my name, Nos. 14, 15 and 17, to which I want to address some brief remarks.
The purpose of the amendments is to introduce a degree of equity, fairness and, most importantly, objectivity that is lacking in the current wording about the power to make retrospective provisions under delegated legislation. The whole issue of retrospection is contentious and controversial, and I am sure that when we come to discuss the next group of amendments, which are designed to limit the extent of that retrospection, we will be able to look at that subject in more detail.
In amendment No. 14, I am trying to introduce a requirement that the retrospection power could not be used unless it was reasonable to use it. I find it hard to believe that the Minister can cavil at that. Why should the Government be seeking powers to exercise retrospective legislation other than in circumstances when to do so would be reasonable?
Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): In looking at the amendments, I am torn between those tabled by my hon. Friend and those tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth). My hon. Friend's amendment No. 14 would leave out the words
The first point is that, as a rule of thumb, my hon. Friend should be inclined to prefer what my right hon. Friend says to what I say, because I am merely one of his hon. Friends. The presumption is that the
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arguments of those Members of the House who are right honourable should be preferred. Nevertheless, that will not stop me trying to make my case.
Mr. Chope: My right hon. Friend was not Deputy Chief Whip for nothing. We can see that he has great powers of diplomacy. I am sure that he is right to suggest that there is merit in all the amendments.
To summarise why I think that my amendment, No. 14, is important, I tell the House that it changes the test of expediency or reasonableness from one that is carried out by the Treasury to an objective test, which would make it much more justiciable. It would mean that if a measure were thought to be unreasonable, it could be challenged in the court. At the moment, the test of whether something is reasonable or expedient would be solely for the Treasury.
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