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Tax Simplification Bills: Joint Committee
17 January 2001
Volume 620

3.7 p.m.

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My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That this House do concur with the Commons in their message of 21st December, that it is expedient that a Joint Committee of Lords and Commons be appointed to consider tax simplification Bills, and in particular to consider whether each Bill committed to it preserves the effect of the existing law, subject to any minor changes which may be desirable;

That a Select Committee of six Lords be appointed to join with a committee appointed by the Commons as the Joint Committee on Tax Simplification Bills;

That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, the following Lords be named of the committee:
  • L. Blackwell,
  • L. Brightman,
  • B. Cohen of Pimlico,
  • L. Goodhart,
  • L. Haskel,
  • L. Howe of Aberavon;
That the committee have power to agree with the Commons in the appointment of a chairman;

That the quorum of the committee shall be two;

That the committee have leave to report from time to time;

That the committee have power to appoint specialist advisers;

That the minutes of evidence taken before the committee shall, if the committee thinks fit, be printed and delivered out;

That the procedure of the Joint Committee shall follow the procedure of Select Committees of the House of Commons when such procedure differs from that of Select Committees of this House, and shall include the power of the chairman to select amendments;

and that the committee do meet with a committee appointed by the Commons on Thursday 18th January at half-past ten o'clock in Committee Room 3.—( The Chairman of Committees.)

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My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees for not raising this matter with him beforehand. It shows a lamentable lack of preparation on my part. Can the noble Lord kindly explain to the House the arrangements for the quorum of this Joint Committee? The Motion states that the quorum shall consist of two. However, two is an extremely small number. Although it may be correct proportionally in accordance with precedent, I wonder whether two is an adequate quorum in this case. In the circumstances, and more importantly, I wonder whether the forum should be two, consisting of one Member from each House?

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My Lords, before the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees replies, perhaps I may make one point. The Motion before us is unusual. I wonder whether the noble Lord can confirm that my recollection of this in the Procedure Committee is correct. Most unusually for a Joint Committee of both Houses, this allows for a majority of Members of another place. The reason behind that was due, first, to the request of Members of the House of Commons that that should be so; and, secondly—perhaps more importantly from our point of view—to the fact that this Joint Committee will deal with tax powers. It should not, therefore, be seen as any precedent for the House of Commons being able to have a majority on joint committees of both Houses on any other matter.

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My Lords, perhaps I may take this opportunity—the first available to me—to welcome the noble Lord as the new Chairman of Committees. I hope that he will perform a long and distinguished service in that job. Although I agree that Members of your Lordships' House are more than appropriate for looking at tax simplification matters, I am not madly happy about joint committees with the other place because, generally, Members of the other place tend to be less objective than Members of this House.

I should like to take up another point that arises from the Motion moved by the noble Lord. I refer to the line that says that,
"the procedure of the Joint Committee shall follow the procedure of Select Committees of the House of Commons".
I assume that to mean that, for example, unlike in your Lordships' House, the committee will be able to call witnesses who would be obliged to attend, whereas at present witnesses appear only if they volunteer to do so; in other words, they can refuse to come forward.

If the noble Lord has not already done so, will he look into the question of whether your Lordships should have the same powers as apply in another place, so that we can ensure that witnesses are obliged to attend when our Select Committees wish them to do so?

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My Lords, I am happy to respond to the points which have been made. I hope that the debate does not last as long as the equivalent debate in another place on Monday. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, that we are discussing a special committee set up to deal with tax simplification. It does not change tax legislation; it is an attempt to make it more easily understood by non-experts. That seems to me to be a sensible arrangement.

As regards witnesses, the committee is to follow the procedure of the House of Commons largely for the same reason that I shall mention with regard to a Commons majority. However, I shall have to consider the noble Lord's suggestion that committees of your Lordships' House should have the same powers as the other place with regard to compelling people's attendance.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, that I understand that the quorum of two comprises two Members from each House. However, I freely admit that that is not clear on the face of the Motion. However, I shall check that my understanding is correct. I confirm to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that the committee is considered a rather special one.

I refer to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, with regard to the procedures we are discussing following Commons procedures. As your Lordships know, noble Lords discuss only the Second Reading of the Finance Bill. Finance is very much the province of the other place. The usual channels and everyone else agreed that in this case the Commons should have one more member on the committee and that its procedure should follow that of a Commons committee. That is in no way a precedent for any other Joint Committee.

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My Lords, before the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees sits down, has he observed that paragraph 9.41 of the Companion to the Standing Orders states:

"The procedure in a joint committee is that of select committees of the House of Lords"?
I understand that that will not be the case as regards the committee we are discussing, but does that mean that the Standing Orders will have to be changed as a result?

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My Lords, I cannot instantly recall the line that the noble Lord mentioned. However, it is not my understanding that the Standing Orders will have to be changed. The Motion will allow for the change to be made as regards the joint committee we are discussing.

On Question, Motion agreed to, and a message was sent to the Commons to acquaint them therewith.