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Mr. Neil Hamilton : I am not making the case that a decision made by two is as good as a decision made by four, and in this case the decision will be made by four after an exhaustive examination of all the evidence put before us, including that which has been put before other members of the Committee when one has been out of the room in the proceedings on the Bill hitherto. So unless my hon. Friend is saying that the quorum of a Committee of four should always be four, I do not understand the logic of his argument.

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Mr. Moate : I remind my hon. Friend that, although the quorum is three, there is a strict injunction on all Members that they should be in attendance at all times and that the reduction to three should be exercised very sparingly indeed. The Chairman has the power to report to the House--I do not think that the power is exercised any longer--any Member who is absent for quite a short time, so the quorum is very much a fallback.

If the general rule is that four hon. Members should be present, and three on occasions, that rule should apply throughout the proceedings. Otherwise, petitioners who lose their case might feel aggrieved that for much of the proceedings, when they were putting their case, only half the Committee members were present. The House should not pass the motion. We should follow the recommendations of the Select Committee and not reduce the quorum to two. That was specifically rejected in the report. A Committee of two is an absurdity.

8.59 pm

Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East) : Like the Government, the Opposition do not have any official view on this motion, as it is a House of Commons matter and it is for all hon. Members to make up their minds accordingly. Having served on one or two of the private Bill Committees to which the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton)--who spoke to this proposal in his usual able and amusing way--referred, I have great sympathy for him and his Committee members.

I served on the two Channel tunnel Committees, in 1975 and in 1985, the latter of which spilled over into 1986. They were hybrid Bills. I am talking about longevity rather than procedure. They were long-drawn-out affairs. I do not claim the same affinity with my Whips' office that the hon. Gentleman obviously has with his, but I was rewarded on the last occasion by being put on to the Standing Committee that followed the Second Reading of that Bill. I have some experience of long-running Committees and the disruption that they cause to the daily lives of hon. Members. For that reason, I shall be voting for the motion.

The Committee is unanimous in its view ; that fact should make some impression on hon. Members. The fact that, if we pass this motion, we will be accepting a quorum of two should not concern us too much. If the Committee consists of only four hon. Members, and three hon. Members form a quorum, as the hon. Member for Tatton rightly said in his intervention in the speech of the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate), it is not that two people are taking the decision--the whole Committee is taking the decision- -but that some of the evidence will be heard by a smaller number than makes up the Committee. That is not unusual. I point out to the hon. Member for Faversham and some of my hon. Friends that, if the quorum for debates on the Floor of the House was 75 per cent. of hon. Members, the House would be a much quieter place.

Every hon. Member who has participated in the debate agrees on the inappropriate nature of our proceedings for schemes of that magnitude. The hybrid Bill on the Channel tunnel was not an effective way of agreeing, debating or discussing what could be said to be the major civil engineering project of this century. For a Committee of that size to be responsible for a decision of that magnitude is not a sensible way for the House to proceed.

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As all hon. Members know, one of the problems with the railways is that, traditionally, any alteration to a railwaay building or to the existing railway system must be done in this laborious way. That is something that we should examine. For the Channel tunnel, the King's Cross terminal and the link from the Channel tunnel that will join it with King's Cross--indeed, the railway links with the rest of the country--to be decided in that way is nonsense to say the least and brings the proceedings of the House into disrepute.

Mr. Corbyn : I accept and understand my hon. Friend's point about major railway developments, but does he accept that the private Bill procedure protects some smaller railway developments or railways that might have been closed?

Mr. Snape : I cannot say that my memory goes back that far. I am sure that, in the last century, there were good reasons for the procedures that we still have today, but they have been somewhat outworn by the passage of time.

Another point that most hon. Members who have spoken have mentioned, and one with which I agree, is that normal planning procedures are circumvented by our procedures in the House. Again, that is an understandable matter of concern for those who live in and around the King's Cross area, such as the constituents of the hon. Member for Dulwich (Mr. Bowden) and others who participate regularly in debates such as this. People cannot generally understand how schemes of this magnitude can be debated and decided in this place by a handful of hon. Members using archaic procedures left over from the last century.

I hope that those in the Government responsible for these matters have listened to the debate, that those who have not listened will read the report of the proceedings, and that the House of Commons will do something to reform those procedures which bring all of us into disrepute. However, I repeat that I was impressed by the case made by the hon. Member for Tatton and the other distinguished members of the Committee, and for that reason, if it becomes necessary, I shall be joining them in the Division Lobby tonight. Question put :--

The House divided : Ayes 107, Noes 24.

Division No. 71] [9.08 pm


Allason, Rupert

Arbuthnot, James

Ashby, David

Atkinson, David

Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)

Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)

Bevan, David Gilroy

Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter

Boscawen, Hon Robert

Boswell, Tim

Bottomley, Mrs Virginia

Brandon-Bravo, Martin

Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)

Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)

Buck, Sir Antony

Burns, Simon

Canavan, Dennis

Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)

Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)

Carrington, Matthew

Cash, William

Chapman, Sydney

Chope, Christopher

Cook, Robin (Livingston)

Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)

Coombs, Simon (Swindon)

Cormack, Patrick

Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)

Dewar, Donald

Dickens, Geoffrey

Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James

Durant, Tony

Fearn, Ronald

Fookes, Dame Janet

Forman, Nigel

Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)

Foster, Derek

Freeman, Roger

George, Bruce

Goodhart, Sir Philip

Graham, Thomas

Greenway, John (Ryedale)

Gregory, Conal

Grist, Ian

Grylls, Michael

Hanley, Jeremy

Column 1099

Harris, David

Hawkins, Christopher

Heathcoat-Amory, David

Hinchliffe, David

Home Robertson, John

Hordern, Sir Peter

Hunt, David (Wirral W)

Hunter, Andrew

Irvine, Michael

Janman, Tim

Kennedy, Charles

King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)

King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)

Kirkhope, Timothy

Knapman, Roger

Knight, Greg (Derby North)

Lang, Ian

Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)

Lightbown, David

Lilley, Peter

Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)

Lord, Michael

McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)

Mans, Keith

Mawhinney, Dr Brian

Mitchell, Sir David

Monro, Sir Hector

Montgomery, Sir Fergus

Nicholls, Patrick

Nicholson, David (Taunton)

Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley

Page, Richard

Paice, James

Patnick, Irvine

Portillo, Michael

Renton, Rt Hon Tim

Riddick, Graham

Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas

Sackville, Hon Tom

Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas

Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)

Sims, Roger

Snape, Peter

Speed, Keith

Speller, Tony

Stevens, Lewis

Stradling Thomas, Sir John

Sumberg, David

Taylor, Ian (Esher)

Taylor, John M (Solihull)

Thurnham, Peter

Walker, Bill (T'side North)

Waller, Gary

Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)

Watts, John

Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)

Widdecombe, Ann

Wiggin, Jerry

Wilshire, David

Wood, Timothy

Young, Sir George (Acton)

Tellers for the Ayes :

Mr. George Galloway and

Mr. Neil Hamilton.


Aitken, Jonathan

Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)

Banks, Tony (Newham NW)

Bermingham, Gerald

Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)

Cartwright, John

Fenner, Dame Peggy

Flannery, Martin

Harman, Ms Harriet

Hayes, Jerry

Haynes, Frank

Leighton, Ron

Lewis, Terry

Mahon, Mrs Alice

Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)

Moate, Roger

Nellist, Dave

Pike, Peter L.

Rowe, Andrew

Shaw, David (Dover)

Skinner, Dennis

Spearing, Nigel

Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)

Vaz, Keith

Tellers for the Noes :

Mr. Harry Barnes and

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn.

Question accordingly agreed to.


That, notwithstanding the provisions of Standing Order 121 (Quorum of committee on opposed bill), leave be given for the Committee on the King's Cross Railways Bill to proceed with a quorum of two.

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