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Sir Brian Mawhinney (North-West Cambridgeshire): Further to that point of order, Sir Alan. Will you give the Committee a little more information? If amendments are to be tabled for consideration on Report--you have generously indicated that that possibility is open to us--are we to take them in the normal way to the Table Office, leaving it to the Table Office to draw them to your attention; or are we to bring such amendments directly to you, in which case, how will we be told whether they are in order and have been selected for debate?

The Chairman: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I should state, for the benefit of Committee, that it is usual to have a Report stage only if amendments have been made in Committee. We have not yet made any amendments, so the matter we are discussing is a contingency on a contingency.

Mr. Michael Fallon (Sevenoaks): Further to that point of order, Sir Alan. I hope that the Committee does not assume that the Bill is not amendable--

The Chairman: Order. I said no such thing. I merely said that what was being discussed was a contingency on a contingency. We cannot be aware in advance whether the Committee may choose in its wisdom to amend or not amend the Bill.

Mr. Fallon: I understand that, Sir Alan. Perhaps I did not express myself clearly. I wonder whether you could advise the Committee on the difficulty of tabling manuscript amendments if the Bill is amended in Committee and we do not have a print of it. In those circumstances, I do not see how manuscript amendments could even be brought to the Table. If we do not have a print of the Bill, on what basis can we construct amendments?

The Chairman: Should that matter arise, I think that it is possible for manuscript amendments to be brought to the Table.

Mr. William Ross (East Londonderry) rose--

Mr. Forth: Further to that point of order, Sir Alan--

The Chairman: Order. I think that the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross) was trying to make a point of order.

Mr. Ross: Further to the point that has already been raised, Sir Alan. I apologise for being a few minutes late but I was trying to check one or two things in the Public Bill Office before I came into the Chamber. If you are having some difficulty in deciding which amendments should be taken, you will appreciate--given the expertise on which you have to draw and the help that you receive--the tremendous difficulty that Back-Bench Members face in trying to table amendments. Although the Bill is narrow in content, it has wide consequences, which began to become apparent to hon. Members only

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yesterday, on Second Reading. We need rather more time than we have so far had to consider the possibility of tabling amendments.

The Chairman: That is going back over a past argument which I do not think we can now repeat. I should make it clear to the hon. Gentleman and the Committee that I have not had any difficulty in my selection of amendments, which is made in accordance with the normal considerations on these occasions.

I said earlier that I had tried to be flexible so as to give hon. Members the maximum time in which to submit their amendments, and to ensure that my deliberations encompassed the widest range of amendments that hon. Members wished to table.

Mr. Forth: On a point of order, Sir Alan, may I ask for further guidance? If the Bill were to be amended in Committee, it might be proper, even if at that stage the Government were proposing indecent haste in pressing on immediately with further stages, to suspend the House of Commons for a period to give reasonable and proper time for hon. Members to consider those proceedings before being forced by the Government to go forward with indecent haste on to Report. Might that be in your mind, Sir Alan?

The Chairman: All politicians fight shy of hypothetical situations, and I regard the one that the right hon. Gentleman has described as hypothetical. We shall deal with matters as they arise. The Committee might now move on to the substance of the matter.

Mr. William Ross: On a point of order, Sir Alan. You will appreciate that in considering amendments we sometimes approach the same issue from slightly different points of view, and apply different standards. Would it be possible to have a vote on each amendment in a group if that were thought necessary by Back-Bench Members?

The Chairman: I think the hon. Gentleman knows that the occupant of the Chair will judge that according to the content of the debate. I shall listen carefully to all that is said. I call Mr. MacKay.

Mr. MacKay: I hope that you will appreciate, Sir Alan, that I would not wish to abuse the Chair. However, there are important points that I--and other hon. Members--wish to make. The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has refused to accept my offer that he should confirm that the Bill is urgent or in any way important emergency legislation.

Mr. George Howarth rose--

Mr. MacKay: It seems that the hon. Gentleman has changed his mind; clearly he has been briefed.

Mr. Howarth: I intervene for the purpose of the record, Sir Alan. As you rightly said, this is a short three-clause Bill. It was published before Christmas. There were consultations--and certainly with the leadership of the Ulster Unionist party. I cannot

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understand what the present concern is all about. There has been plenty of opportunity to debate these matters. Members were able to read the Bill and introduce any amendments that they thought suitable. Indeed, some right hon. and hon. Members have done so. I fail to see what all the fuss is about.

Mr. MacKay: I do not want to be distracted unduly, but I must respond to the Minister, who has given no reason why the Bill must proceed with such haste. The hon. Gentleman has been a Member of the House for some years--it is some time since he won his by-election--but I shall give him a brief tutorial none the less. The normal circumstance is that a Bill has its Second Reading. If that is agreed to, the Bill goes into Committee the following week at the earliest. Only urgent or emergency legislation goes into Committee the following day. I would suggest in the strongest possible terms that the Bill is neither urgent nor emergency legislation. I am asking the Minister to tell me why it is urgent.

Mr. Howarth: As I understand it, these matters were sorted out through the usual channels. I do not believe that any concerns were raised by the official Opposition about timing. I do not know why the right hon. Gentleman has chosen today to raise them.

Mr. MacKay: Let me make it absolutely clear--I have checked with the Opposition Chief Whip--that there has been no consultation through the usual channels. We were merely informed. We were not asked for our views and we were not given an opportunity to consider an alternative timetable.

I shall finish my tutorial. It seems that the Minister does not fully understand the procedure. In normal circumstances, a Second Reading debate takes place one week and, at the earliest, the Bill is considered in Committee the following week. In my recollection, the only exception--I have served in the House of Commons for more than 20 years--is when we deal with emergency legislation. I do not believe that the Bill is emergency legislation. Perhaps the Minister might care to tell me why it is.

Mr. Howarth: The right hon. Gentleman said a few moments ago, I think somewhat disingenuously, that the Opposition were consulted through the usual channels, and said--[Hon. Members: "No, not consulted."] Well, he said that they were told through the usual channels. He said that that is not quite the same as being consulted. But if the Opposition were not happy with that, they should have raised their concerns at that stage. They did not do so, and we were entitled to believe that the official Opposition were content with the timetable. We proceeded on that basis, and I see no reason for the Committee to be detained any further on this matter.

Mr. MacKay rose--

The Chairman: Order. I said to the right hon. Gentleman that I would allow him some prefatory remarks before he moved into the substance of his speech on the amendment. Almost a quarter of an hour has passed, during which points of order have been raised, and I think that it would be in better order for the Committee to proceed to the substance of the amendment.

Mr. MacKay: Let me say, Sir Alan, how much I agree that it would be in better order if we moved to the

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substance of the important amendment that I am moving. I would not have discussed other matters for so long if I had received some sort of answer from the Minister. I place it on the record that the Minister has signally failed to tell the Committee why the Bill is emergency or urgent legislation.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Mike O'Brien): It is not.

Mr. MacKay: Oh, it is not. I thank the hon. Gentleman. We have an answer. I appreciate that. From a sedentary position, the Home Office Minister has said clearly that this is not emergency or urgent legislation. That being so, I fail to understand why it is being pushed through the House of Commons at such speed. As the hon. Gentleman seems to know more about the Bill than the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, perhaps he will explain to me why the Bill is being dealt with at such speed. It seems that he is not prepared to do so.

It is now clear, Sir Alan, that we are not dealing with urgent or emergency legislation. That being so, we are faced with total abuse of the House of Commons. You have been placed in an extremely difficult position. As you rightly said earlier, you have had a tight timetable, as has the rest of the House of Commons, to consider amendments. We know now of the Government's arrogance. We know also that they could not care less for the House of Commons. They wish to push through non-urgent legislation at an extremely fast pace. We now see clearly what the new Labour Government are all about, and it stinks. The Under-Secretaries of State should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.

I shall now proceed because I do not wish to drag you into these matters, Sir Alan. My quarrel is not with you because you are being put in an equally difficult position. Having said that the Ministers should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves, and its having been made clear that this is not emergency legislation, I repeat that the Government are bulldozing the Bill through the House of Commons in a most unsatisfactory way. I shall now discuss my amendment in some detail.

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