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Mr. Speaker: Once again, that is not a matter for me.

Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have recently learned that the Chairman of the Select Committee on Education and Employment, the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman)--[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. I need to hear what the hon. Gentleman is saying.

Dr. Harris: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I learned today that the Chairman of the Select Committee on Education and Employment, the hon. Member for Huddersfield, has called for my resignation from the Committee, apparently, for opposing the majority report. May I ask you to confirm that members of Select Committees are appointed by the House to scrutinise the Government and that it is not appropriate for the Chairman of a Select Committee, whose job it is to try to create consensus, to make such a decision or, indeed, to express such an opinion? I apologise for giving you short notice of this point of order, but I notified the hon. Gentleman's office about half an hour ago that I hoped to raise the issue with you.

Mr. Speaker: The hon. Gentleman is right. He was appointed by the House, and that appointment will cease only by a decision of the House.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will have noticed that the Prime Minister yesterday set a two-year timetable for the abolition of the pound and the merger of this country's economy with those of continental Europe. Given that all the indications are that over the past two years public opinion has hardened from a two to one majority in favour of keeping the pound to more than three to one in favour of keeping the pound, have you received any notification of a ministerial statement, perhaps to be made by the Minister for Europe, on whether or not the hoped for turnaround could be funded--

Mr. Speaker: Order. There has been no such approach to me. I hope that that helps the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am sorry to have to rise, but you heard the altercation between those on the two Front Benches during the points of order on the

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Hunting Bill. May I ask you whether you could advise those Conservative Members who were party to the arrangements on those proceedings that they might consider their position, since the usual channels arrangement depends on the truth being told at all times? My hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Mr. Hall) has set out precisely what happened. The hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) and the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Mr. Prior) should clarify the position at the Dispatch Box. Unless they do so today, there may be implications for the way in which the Bill is handled during the next week or two.

Mr. Speaker: I keep well away from matters regarding the usual channels.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I should be most grateful to you for your guidance. Would you be good enough to confirm to the House that the fact that the Hunting Bill (Programme) (No. 3) motion, on extending the time for debate, is not eligible for debate in no way precludes us from saying that, although the extension of time is welcome, it is patently inadequate for the consideration of the remaining new clauses and amendments to the Bill?

Mr. Speaker: The hon. Gentleman is getting a bit rusty; that was not a point of order.

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I apologise for the fact that I have not had an opportunity to give you notice of this point of order, but the information has only just come into my possession. A little while ago, at Education and Employment questions, I asked a Minister about concerns involving the future funding of education business links and was told that the Secretary of State had made an announcement on the matter today.

I have since discovered that the Department issued a press notice on the matter at 10.25 this morning, only an hour before questions to the Department for Education and Employment were due to start. The information was sneaked out, and not in a parliamentary answer. Sufficient time was not given to Members on both sides to become aware of the press notice's contents, and that made it impossible for me and other Members to question the Minister about whether there had been a cut in funding. I believe that there has been a cut of at least 20 per cent. I should also have liked the opportunity to ask whether the additional funding announced will be ring-fenced or will be discretionary funding for the Learning and Skills

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Council. Is it not the case that you, Mr. Speaker, deprecate the practice of sneaking out in press notices information that should come to the House?

Mr. Speaker: I shall look into the matter.

Mr. Alan Simpson: Further to the point of order raised by the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker: I have taken many points of order, and the business of the House takes priority.

Mr. Simpson: My point of order is about the business of the House which we shall have to consider shortly. As a member of the Committee considering the Hunting Bill, I am somewhat confused about how the matter has come back to the House. Presumably it was discussed by the usual channels, who presumably agreed that the House should authorise further time for the Bill's consideration in Committee. I do not understand where the points of conflict and contention arise when such agreements are brought back to the House as a matter of consensus. As a member of the Committee, I would welcome your guidance, Mr. Speaker, on where and how this practice should be properly--

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman should not worry about confusion; I get confused every day of the week. I cannot help him on this point.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Does this matter not show the very reason why Programming Sub-Committees should not meet in secret? We have asked that they do not meet in secret, but the Government insist that they do. If the Committees were to be open, there would be no circumstances in which misunderstandings could take place.

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) rose--

Mr. Speaker: I must stop the discussion now, because we are now getting into a debate. Let us move on to the main business.


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Orders [7 November and 20 December 2000],

Question agreed to.

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Social Security Contributions (Share Options) Bill (Programme) (No. 2)

1.32 pm

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Stephen Timms): I beg to move,

The motion proposes that the proceedings on consideration and Third Reading shall be completed at today's sitting, with consideration concluding by 3.30 pm and Third Reading at 4.15 pm.

The Bill gives companies the chance to settle their national insurance liabilities on the options granted between 6 April 1999 and 19 May 2000 early--in advance of the date when the actual gain is made by the employee. Companies that wish to use this measure will calculate the amount of national insurance due by reference to the accrued gain up to 7 November 2000--the day before the pre-Budget statement when the proposals were announced. They will be required to notify the Inland Revenue and pay the appropriate amount within 92 days of Royal Assent to the Bill. That effectively caps the national insurance contribution liability by reference to the company's share price on 7 November, so providing the company with certainty.

Our debates in Committee were brief but purposeful. The Opposition introduced worthwhile amendments, and we were happy to accept the main thrust of some of them. In particular, we accepted that the deadline for sending the notification and paying the special charge under the Bill should be extended from 60 to 92 days. We tabled an amendment in Committee in response to the Opposition request that companies with a nil liability to the special contribution should not have to go to the trouble of lodging a formal notification within the 92-day deadline. Under our amendment, such companies will be deemed to have lodged formal notice within the set period. Both those changes will help to reduce the burden of

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compliance for companies and will allow all companies whose liability for the special contribution would be nil to qualify automatically.

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