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Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 15 (Exempted business),

Question agreed to.

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Business of the House (Railways Bill)

10.29 pm

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I have been a Member of the House for some time, and I cannot recall ever dealing with a motion such as the next one to come before us. Is it possible to share with the House the precedents for that motion? If there are none, what consideration has the Select Committee on Procedure given to the procedure that we shall shortly follow?

Madam Speaker: The hon. Gentleman has been here a long time, and so have I. I can assure him that the motion would not be on the Order Paper unless it were in perfect order.

Mr. Bottomley: Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. I was not suggesting that the motion was out of order, but asking whether there were any precedents for it. If there are none, and the procedure is new, has it been considered by the Procedure Committee, or have the Government sprung it on the House with only one day's notice?

Madam Speaker: It is for the House to decide what it wishes to do with the motion on the Order Paper, and for the hon. Gentleman either to put his arguments for or against it to the Minister who will reply to it.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex): Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. Am I right to think that we can debate the motion?

Madam Speaker: The motion can be debated until any hour.

Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne): Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. Standing Order No. 63(2) says that the motion may be moved without notice. If that is so, is it permissible to move an amendment without notice?

Madam Speaker: I have not read the Standing Order, and the hon. Gentleman gave me no notice of his point of order. I should require notice of any amendment, in the usual way.

Does the Minister for Transport wish to move the motion formally?

The Minister for Transport (Mrs. Helen Liddell): No, Madam Speaker; I should like to speak to it.

Madam Speaker: In that case, the Minister must be allowed to speak.

10.31 pm

Mrs. Liddell: I beg to move,

(1) notwithstanding Standing Order No. 63 (Committal of bills), the Railways Bill be referred to the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee; and
(2) the Committee shall consider the provisions of the Bill and report thereon by 12th November 1999.

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I am delighted to return to the Dispatch Box, and I hope that all the problems on the other side of it have now been nailed down. We have had a full Second Reading debate and many Members have displayed their interest in an important Bill that will create a proper framework for the operation of the Strategic Rail Authority. Members have many views, and many want additional information. Several options for pre-legislative scrutiny of Bills have been presented to the House in discussions of new procedures for modernisation of the business of the House. The motion deals with such pre-legislative scrutiny.

Referral to the Select Committee on the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs is part of our modernisation process, one more procedure that we are adopting to ensure that our legislation is of the highest possible quality. We are recognising that legislation can be improved by proper consideration. Many organisations have supported the Bill, and we are anxious to ensure that all views are taken into account.

Mr. Peter Bottomley: After November, when the Select Committee on the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs has completed its consideration of the Bill, may it suggest amendments? Will there be another Second Reading? Will there be a new Bill if the Select Committee recommends changes?

Mrs. Liddell: The procedural motion before us relates to the Select Committee's activities. It is not for me to tell the Chairman, my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), how to conductthe Committee's deliberations. The hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles) suggested earlier that my hon. Friend would not find it possible to bring back a report from her Committee by 12 November, the date suggested on the Order Paper. The hon. Gentleman was sure to make that point when my hon. Friend was not in the Chamber.

Mr. Eric Pickles (Brentwood and Ongar): Too right.

Mrs. Liddell: To have done otherwise might not have been the wisest move that the hon. Gentleman has ever made.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): As the Minister has mentioned the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), may I speculate that the Government wish to introduce the novel procedure of involving the Select Committee on the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs in further scrutiny only as part of a deal by which the hon. Lady agrees not to threaten or attack the Bill so long as the Select Committee is allowed to consider it?

Mrs. Liddell: That is a very serious allegation against the Chairman of the Select Committee.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich): I must make it absolutely clear--because that is an offensive suggestion--that my Select Committee was asked whether it would be prepared to consider the matter. I have been known to threaten the Deputy Prime Minister, but I have certainly not threatened him about railways for some time. If there were any question of a

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Select Committee Chairman using that form of rather ignorant blackmail, I assure the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) that it would have to occur on his side of the House because this side of the House does not do that.

Mrs. Liddell: My hon. Friend has made a very important point. I think it is regrettable that the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins), who was not even in the Chamber during the previous debate, should make those allegations.

The Select Committee will discuss complex issues that are of considerable interest. The hon. Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway) admitted as much when, on 25 March 1998, he said:

The opportunity for the Select Committee, under the expert chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich, to examine the Bill in detail and to hear evidence from witnesses will add considerably to our knowledge and to the process of democracy.

Mr. Pickles: The Minister is entirely correct about the timing of my remarks about the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), whose intervention indicates the wisdom of my actions. Why is the November date so important? Has the Minister received any sign from the Chairman of the Select Committee when the Committee will meet to consider the matter?

Mrs. Liddell: They are matters for the Select Committee. The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the spill-over at the end of this Session that will allow the Select Committees to do additional work. The Select Committee has already done considerable work in closely related areas. Only last Monday, we debated in some detail several points related to the Bill as part of our consideration of the estimates.

I believe that the Second Reading debate earlier this evening will send a clear signal to the rail industry about the will of Parliament. It will also give the Select Committee an idea of some of the anxieties of hon. Members, not least that expressed by the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) about plastic hanging baskets.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) rose--

Mrs. Liddell: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman wishes to ask me about that now.

Mr. Howarth: That is a completely pathetic remark from the former sidekick of Robert Maxwell.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. I do not think that that is a helpful remark--and it is not the first unhelpful remark that I have heard. The House would do better to discuss this motion on its merits. The House must consider different and new procedures from time to time and they should be considered on their merits. The House will make better progress if it adheres to that principle.

Mr. Howarth: I agree entirely, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If the Minister grows up, we might get somewhere.

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The Minister has not dealt with the point raised bymy hon. Friend the Member for Worthing, West (Mr. Bottomley). If the matter goes to the Select Committee--its formidable Chairman, the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), will clearly ensure that the Committee runs independently of the Government--and the Committee hears evidence from a variety of people, that will take some time. If the Committee recommends changes to the Bill, will the Minister bring it back to the House? Will the Bill receive another Second Reading to consider the amendments made in Committee? Will those amendments be tabled on Report? Will there be a Standing Committee stage? Will the Minister explain the precise procedure?

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