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John Robertson: Does my right hon. Friend agree that in many cases parents ask their child to take their mobile to school and to ring up when they are ready to come home? The parents then come by car to collect their children—[Hon. Members: "Tell them to walk."] Should we not be trying to educate the parents as well?

Mr. Denham: There are such pressures, but I have discussed the point with a significant number of head teachers, all of whom successfully pursue a policy of not allowing mobile phones in their school. They all insist that in the vast majority of cases it is not a major problem to make arrangements that do not rely on mobile phones. After all, as parents, we all seemed to manage without them until a few years ago. Schools can make arrangements for emergency calls and contacts. I am convinced that the balance of advantage for our young people is not to carry mobile phones; there is much evidence that the peak period for mobile phone theft, certainly in London, is during the hour or so after school ends. We need to realise that.

I do not want to detain the House too much longer—

Norman Baker rose

Mr. Denham: I shall obviously have to detain the House for a little longer—I give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Norman Baker: I rose only because I hoped that the Minister would respond to a point that I made earlier on the situation in Northern Ireland. What discussions has he held with his counterparts in the Irish Republic, given that the legislation is intended to apply to Northern Ireland?

Mr. Denham: The legislation will apply throughout the United Kingdom, but it will not apply to the Republic of Ireland. As I mentioned earlier, we are anxious to encourage states throughout Europe to harmonise their approach, but I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman that this measure will deliver such a system outside the boundaries of the United Kingdom.

I hope that we have covered the key points. We have been given fair warning of the amendments that will be discussed later this week and I am grateful to the House for its co-operative and constructive approach to the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 63 (Committal of Bills),

Question agreed to.

Committee tomorrow.

22 Jul 2002 : Column 729

Select Committees

7.20 pm

The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Robin Cook): I beg to move,

In the Table

After item 9 insert

'Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the RegionsOffice of the Deputy Prime Minister11'

Leave out item 13 and insert

'TransportDepartment for Transport11'

Line 11, leave out from 'Committee' to end of line 12.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): I understand that with this, it will be convenient to discuss the following motions:

Mr. Cook: The first motion is self-explanatory and simple—it contains no hidden tricks. It arises from the recent Government decision to separate the Department for Transport from the former Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions. We now have two new Departments—the Department for Transport and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, which embraces housing and local government and the regions.

It is a cardinal principle of the Select Committee system that our departmental Select Committees track Whitehall Departments, so any change in the Departments requires a corresponding change in Select Committees. The motion

22 Jul 2002 : Column 730

gives effect to that change, which we are trying to introduce without disruption. The motion therefore includes a commitment that the new Committees will inherit the unpublished and unreported evidence taken by their predecessors; it was tabled just after the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions completed its pre-legislative scrutiny of the Local Government Bill. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr. McWilliam), the Chairman of the Committee of Selection, for his flexibility, enabling us to introduce the motion in the House tonight. It is important that the House considers and disposes of the matter tonight, because if the motions are carried the new Select Committees will be able to meet before the recess, elect Chairs and take a preliminary look at their future programme of work.

The Government have recently demonstrated powerfully their commitment to the Select Committee system by the historic appearance of the Prime Minister before the Liaison Committee. The motion before the House demonstrates again our commitment to keep our Select Committee system in good order, and I commend it to the House. I cannot think of any conceivable controversy that might lurk within this simple and straightforward motion. I therefore hope that it can proceed expeditiously so that the House can address itself to the richer, more complex and diverse topics that will arise on the motion for the Adjournment.

7.22 pm

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): Believe me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I have tried to find something controversial in the motion, but I seem to have failed, so it falls to me to welcome the timely way in which the Government have introduced it. I accept what the Leader of the House said and the spirit in which he said it, and I urge the House to agree the motion.

7.23 pm

Mr. John McWilliam (Blaydon): I thank my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House for his congratulations, which are entirely undeserved as they apply to all members of the Committee of Selection. May I repeat that it is in interests of the House to deal expeditiously with the matter? If we do so, I shall move formally the motions tabled in my name.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): I shall be expeditious, but not quite as congratulatory as the Conservative spokesperson. It is not what is in the motions that is controversial—it is what is missing from them.

I am relieved that the motions have been grouped together, as that helps me to deal in a more businesslike way with concerns that I share with my colleagues. We accept the logic of dividing the Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions into two Select Committees. We acknowledge that the Committee has worked extremely effectively, but it is obviously important to reflect the division of departmental responsibilities since the recent change—that is not a problem and we have no difficulty with it.

Our discussion of the motions, however, could have provided an implicit opportunity to redress an injustice that occurred after the general election. There is a long-standing convention, of which you will be aware, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the arithmetic proportionality of

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the membership of the House should be reflected not only in membership of Select Committees but in the allocation of chairmanships. Members in the Chamber will probably recall that there was a major injustice after the election—the Liberal Democrat party was allocated only one chairmanship, although we had two in the last Parliament, when we had fewer MPs—which has not be subsequently redressed.

The Leader of the House has acknowledged that problem, and he and his colleagues have borne in mind the difficulty caused by that allocation, but our debate could have provided a good opportunity to correct the problem. The Modernisation Committee has produced a report on Select Committees, paragraph 25 of which reiterated the principle that chairmanships should be allocated on an arithmetic basis. That recommendation was not a matter of contention when we debated the report and, as far as I am aware, has never been challenged since, so it is the obvious way to proceed and one that has a long history in the conventions of the House.

After setting up the two Committees, we naturally progress to agreeing from which party their Chairs should be drawn. Of course, it is usual practice for Committee members to elect as Chair someone who is a member of the party that has been allocated the chairmanship. We do not oppose the motions as they are inherently sensible, but we request an assurance from the Leader of the House that the matter that I have drawn to his attention will not be overlooked yet again in the weeks and months ahead. It has been a long wait to get justice and we require a firm assurance that the discrepancy will be addressed at the earliest possible opportunity.

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