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Dr. Brand: Would it not have been helpful if the right hon. and learned Gentleman had looked up the procedure followed by the Select Committee that scrutinised the Food Standards Bill? He would then have had answers to many of his questions.

Mr. Hogg: The hon. Gentleman does me an injustice. I have taken some advice on the matter. In any event, the procedure is not homogeneous. For example, the Armed Forces Bill is subject to a different procedure from that adopted for the Food Standards Bill. That is why the Minister talked about flexibility. I am entitled to answers to specific questions, and I hope that even the Liberal Democrats want those answers, even though they are in bed with Labour.

I am not opposed to the timetable motion as it stands, but I hope that the Minister will give us some answers to specific questions. He will forgive my observing that I am a bit chary when I see a relatively unusual procedure laid before the House. I would like to know rather more about why it has been put before the House.

10.20 pm

Mr. McLoughlin: I wish to point out some of the anomalies that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) referred to last week.

We had two programme motions last week. The Regulatory Reform Bill had its Second Reading on 19 March and the timetable motion stated that it would be out of Committee by 29 March--a very short time indeed. On 20 March, we debated the Special Educational

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Needs and Disability Bill [Lords]. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham pointed out, it is a substantial Bill of 57 pages, 43 clauses and nine schedules. The timetable motion stated that it would be out of Committee by 5 April. Therefore, we look at today's timetable motion with a little scepticism about the Government's actual intentions. The motion states that the special Select Committee will report the Bill to the House on 12 June.

I make no apology for asking the Minister again about the composition of the special Select Committee. He said that the Committee will be composed in the same way as that which considered the armed forces legislation.

Mr. Hutton: The hon. Gentleman asks me about the composition of the special Select Committee. Will he indicate what he would like in terms of its membership?

Mr. McLoughlin: I can certainly do that in due course. [Interruption.] I said "in due course". I have 24 minutes in which to expand my comments, and I may do so if I am encouraged.

The Minister, in response to my earlier intervention, referred to the armed forces legislation. The composition of the Select Committee considering the Armed Forces Bill was sorted out on the same day as Second Reading. That may have been because there was some urgency about the Bill. There is no such motion on today's Order Paper--there is not the urgency.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) said, the Bill was not mentioned in the Queen's Speech. It has been introduced as a result of the pressure put on the Government by the private Member's Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden. [Interruption.] It is typical of the contempt that those on the Government Front Bench have for this House that they laugh at such a matter. If it were not for my hon. Friend's private Member's Bill, I do not believe that we would be debating this Bill today.

I freely admit that I welcome the time allocated to the special Select Committee. However, we must ensure that it is set up this week so that it can start its work relatively soon and is not put on to the back burner, as I expect the Government to do. The Minister acknowledged that he expects a substantial number of changes to be made to the Bill.

I was asked what size I wanted the special Select Committee to be. I would like it to be of a decent size, with perhaps 10 or 20 members. I would be quite happy to suggest 10 Conservative members. The Government could have eight and the Liberal Democrats, who always support the Government, could have the other two. In that way, the composition of the Committee would be evenly balanced across the House.

The Bill should not be about party politics--[Interruption.] I am sorry that Ministers find that so funny. The Bill is far too important to be about party politics. That is why I welcome the timetable motion and hope that it will set a precedent for future motions.

10.24 pm

Mr. Hutton: With the leave of the House, I shall respond to the genuine points put by the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham

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(Mr. Hogg), who asked sensible questions about the composition of the special Select Committee. Many of those questions will be addressed, successfully I hope, through the usual channels, including those on the composition of the Committee and when it will start its work. As he knows, I am not in a position tonight to answer his detailed points.

The special Select Committee will not have the power to amend the Bill. It can suggest amendments, which will be considered in turn by the House. We do not envisage a Committee of the whole House to consider the Bill--we wish to convene a Standing Committee in the usual way as soon as the Select Committee completes its investigation of the Bill.

The hon. Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin) made one of the most pointless and useless speeches that I have ever heard. I suspect that he knows that, and I shall not respond in any detail. I thought that he was simply going through the motions, and he almost made me sad that the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) was not here to make the same points.

Mr. Hogg: I hope that the Minister will forgive me for being a little puzzled. I understood him to say that the Select Committee would report to a Standing Committee, which would subsequently report to the House on Report. I am not clear why we do not go straight to a Special Standing Committee, which would have the capacity to take evidence, consider the detail of the Bill and make any necessary amendment.

Mr. Hutton: I shall write to the right hon. and learned Gentleman and other hon. Members if I have misled them. I do not think that I have. The special Select Committee will report to the House. The Standing Committee will be set up in the normal way, and, armed with the information in the report of the special Select Committee, it will be better able to complete its deliberations on the Bill.

I should have thought, with respect, that the right hon. and learned Gentleman would welcome this opportunity for more detailed and effective scrutiny of a Bill. He was not here for most of the Second Reading debate--I do not quibble about that; it is perfectly reasonable, and I am sure that he had lots of important business to attend to. However, had he been here, he would have learned that there is strong support for and consensus around the Bill.

The hon. Member for West Derbyshire criticised me for saying that we have an open mind about the Bill and are prepared to listen to serious suggestions for amending it. Given the hysterical reaction that we usually get from Conservative Members about the attitude of the Government towards the House of Commons, I should have thought that he would welcome what I said rather than making a pathetic attempt at party political point scoring--which I must say, with the greatest of respect to him, was entirely ineffective.

I have responded to the questions raised in this debate, and I hope that the House will support the motion.

Question put and agreed to.

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Queen's recommendation having been signified--


(a) any expenditure incurred by a Minister of the Crown by virtue of the Act; and
(b) any increase attributable to the Act in the sums payable out of money so provided under any other enactment.--[Mr. Jamieson.]


Mr. Speaker: With permission, I shall put together the motions relating to delegated legislation.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),

Channel Tunnel

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation) and Order [13 March],

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