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However, the Minister has coupled the provision with Lords amendment No. 19, which deals with tax variation in respect of any changes in function. Presumably that relates to clause 2, which provides for amending the constitution of regulatory bodies. The Minister simply cannot get away with saying that this is a consequence of Lords amendment No. 18, or that the provision should not have been there in the first place
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in order to deal with the tax variation that should have been present in respect of changes of function for bodies and for transfers of liabilities. There was clearly an omission. That is why we had to have the Ways and Means resolution earlier. This is indicative of the way in which the Bill has been brought in. There have been gross errors and omissions by the Government all the way through. Happily, most of them—I hope all of them, but I have no confidence in that—have been corrected during the passage of the Bill. That is why it is so important that we do our work of scrutinising Bills in this Chamber effectively, as I believe we have done in this case.

Mr. Redwood: As someone who would dearly love to see some taxes abolished, I accept the normal form for doing that. Unfortunately, we have an annual Finance Bill, and it is an increasingly large Bill under this Government. It gives them ample legislative opportunity to make changes to taxes. I would like to press the Minister a little further on surrogate taxation or quasi-taxation. In the regulatory world, many regulators now have the power to impose all sorts of regulatory costs on businesses, individuals, institutions and families, and even to impose direct fees or charges. I would like the reassurance that we shall be able to deregulate, in the sense of getting rid of part or all of a particular regulator and their task, rather than just removing the indirect regulatory costs. Shall we be able to remove the direct fees and charges involved? They should not be deemed to be a tax, under these amendments.

Mr. McFadden: By leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I should like to clarify this issue for the right hon. Gentleman. The prohibition on an order reducing tax would not stop an order reducing fees, including fees charged by a regulator, for example.

Lords amendment agreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 19 to 29 agreed to.

Clause 17

Negative resolution procedure

Lords amendment: No. 30.

Mr. McFadden: I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this it will be convenient to discuss Lords amendments Nos. 31 to 34.

Mr. McFadden: The amendments deal with an issue that is close to the heart of many right hon. and hon. Members who debated the Bill in its earlier parliamentary stages. They fulfil our commitment, made on Second Reading in the other place, to look again at the criteria for the parliamentary Committees’ statutory veto. That issue was debated earlier in our proceedings. The Lords amendments will allow Committees of both Houses to block proposals on any grounds and under any of the three procedures: negative, affirmative or super-affirmative.

Andrew Miller: This issue has been bubbling around during the time my hon. Friend has been dealing with the Bill and before that. For the avoidance of doubt, will he give the House a clear assurance that time will
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be set aside by the Government to enable us to debate the necessary amendments to the standing orders of the Regulatory Reform Committee?

Mr. McFadden: I hesitate to make promises about parliamentary time. My hon. Friend will be awarethat that matter is not solely under my control. I hope that he will acknowledge, however, that the approach that we have taken so far has been to consult the relevant Select Committee Chairs on these issues. I hope to carry forward these matters in that spirit. I also hope that he will understand that it would be unwise of me to make any further promises this evening.

Mr. Andrew Turner: Before the Minister gave way to the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller), he said that this would be a matter for both Houses. Did he mean to say “either House”?

Mr. McFadden: Yes, that is correct. I meant that the amendment will allow Committees of either House to exercise their veto.

It is vital that we strike the right balance betweenthe order-making powers in the Bill and effective safeguards. We hope that, by framing the veto in this way, we will ensure that the relevant parliamentary Committees are equipped with a workable and effective mechanism, should they oppose any proposed orders.

Lords amendment No. 30 makes a drafting change to clause 17 to clarify that, where orders are subject to the negative resolution procedure, the effect of exercising the veto is that the Minister cannot make the order. I commend the amendments to the House.

Mr. Heath: The word “veto” is not entirely appropriate in this case. It is a parliamentary caveat, which enables the House to take a decision, but it is nevertheless an important mechanism, which I welcome.

6.30 pm

I particularly welcome the removal of the criteria that were to have been applied to Committees when exercising their discretion. That was an abhorrent suggestion. It is bizarre to say that Ministers should not be subject to the courts when they determine what is an appropriate matter for the procedure, but that a Committee of the House, of all things, should be. A criterion in statute, which would potentially be enforced by a judicial review, has now been removed—I do not need the Minister to tell me that, because I know that. Had it remained, however, one of the consequences would have been that we would be partly repealing the Bill of Rights, which most of us would have preferred not to do. I therefore welcome the Government’s volte face.

Mr. McFadden: The hon. Gentleman is being a trifle unfair. Does not he accept that giving the Committees a statutory veto was an important statement that Parliament has a strong role in such matters? It was a commitment to a proper balance between ministerial recommendation and parliamentary scrutiny. The Government deserve credit for recognising the proper role and powers of Select Committees in that way.

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Mr. Heath: I am grateful to the Minister for that response, but the Government would have had considerably more credit had they not told us before the Bill was even published that there would be that veto, as he describes it, which they did not put into the Bill when we were first asked to consider it. They were then forced by the majorities in the other place to ensure a proper regard for the rights of the House. That is not the best way of doing business.

As we reach the last moments of our consideration of the Bill, however, let us not be churlish. Let us accept that the Minister has listened to what we have had to say in many respects and that, as a result, the Bill is better than it would otherwise have been. Had he not listened, the Bill would have been a disaster. Now, although I am not sure that it is the most significant Bill in the world, it is not a disaster.

Mr. Redwood: It is a great pity that once again we do not have enough time to have a civilised, sensible debate about an important underlying issue, over-regulation, and ways in which it might be tackled.

I support the Lords amendment, and it is right that there should be as much of a parliamentary check as possible in a world in which Ministers normally command majorities and can therefore rightly carry their wishes in a democratic format. It is good that it has been recognised that we need to—

It being two hours after commencement of proceedings, Mr. Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Question
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already proposed from the Chair, pursuant to Orders[9 February, 15 May and this day].

Lords amendment agreed to.

Remaining Lords amendments agreed to.


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),

Representation of the People

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),

Question agreed to.

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Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 83A(6) (Programme motions),

Question agreed to.

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Armed Forces Bill

Lords amendments considered.

6.34 pm

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): I inform the House that privilege is involved in Lords amendment No. 55 to the Armed Forces Bill. If the House agrees to the amendment, I will arrange for the necessary entry to be made in the Journal.

New Clause

Lords amendment: No. 51.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Derek Twigg): I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this it will be convenient to consider Lords amendment No. 65.

Derek Twigg: Before I start my speech on the amendments, and with your permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am sure that the whole House will join me in sending our sincere condolences to the friends and family of the soldier from the 2nd Battalion Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment who died in Iraq yesterday.

The issue of pardons for soldiers executed during the first world war is most important, and one in which many in the House have a great interest. I am therefore pleased that there is an opportunity to debate the subject for the first time since we tabled our amendment to the Bill in the other place. I am sure that hon. Members will be conscious of the widespread public feeling and support for pardons for servicemen executed during the terrible circumstances of the first world war. As the House will be aware, the Government have given the issue a great deal of consideration over the years, taking note of the many opinions offered.

During a review in 1997, the then Armed Forces Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts (John Reid), considered the possibility of pardons under the royal prerogative. His review concluded that it was unlikely that many, if any, of the individual cases would pass the standard tests for prerogative pardons. The quality of the surviving evidence was an important factor in reaching that conclusion. However, my noble Friend the Minister for Defence Procurement was able to announce on Second Reading in the Lords, on 14 June this year, that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State had decided to re-examine the issue of pardons for first world war soldiers.

The Government believe that the time is now right to remove the dishonour that still taints the memory of those servicemen who were executed, which, clearly, is still deeply felt by their families today. Now, almost90 years after the end of the first world war, it is time for us to recognise that execution was not a fate that those soldiers deserved—

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): This subject is fraught with difficulty. The Minister has referred to the terrible circumstances of the first world war—
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circumstances that none of us can understand. All that happened before the parents of most of us were born. Does not the Minister think that, notwithstanding the unhappiness, we should understand that we cannot make judgments on what happened 90 years ago—any more than we can on what happened 100, 200 or 300 years ago—and try to rewrite history?

Derek Twigg: I am aware of the strong argument that the hon. Gentleman makes, and that others Members and people in the media will make and have made. However, I want to develop my argument in relation to removing the dishonour and stigma, with reference to the historical aspect.

Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury) (Con): No mention is made in the amendment of the 2,700 servicemen whose sentences were commuted and who faced a substantial period of hard labour, which was certainly life-shortening. Logically, therefore, the amendment should also deal with those individuals, but it does not. Why should that be?

Derek Twigg: First, in response to the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan), we are not rewriting history. With regard to the point made by the hon. Member for Westbury (Dr. Murrison), clearly, there is a particular dishonour in relation to those soldiers who suffered execution, which is why we are dealing with that particular group.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con) rose—

Derek Twigg: If the hon. Gentleman does not mind, I shall develop my speech a little further.

As I said, the Government believe that the time is now right to remove the dishonour that taints the memory of those servicemen who were executed, which is clearly still felt by their families today. We should never forget the courage, resolve and sacrifice of those who fought for this country in the first world war.Of course, we will remember them during this Remembrance week. The legacy and impact of the first world war on so many families is difficult to overestimate. My grandfather, Thomas Twigg, of the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry, was awarded the military medal for repeatedly going out under machine gun and mortar fire, acting as a stretcher bearer with another, and rescuing many wounded comrades, himself being wounded in the leg.

The poignancy of the situation deepened when, in 1917, coming back from the front line, he met his brother James. It was the last time that he would see him. James was badly wounded, and died a few weeks later. Every year, on Remembrance Sunday, from where I stand at the Widnes war memorial, I can see the name of my grandfather.

I mention that story to make a point. Neither my father, with whom I have had many discussions about the issue, nor I believes that granting a pardon to those who were executed besmirches in any way the memory of my grandfather or my great uncle.

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