Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am sure that you can confirm that the deferred Division whose result you have just announced, whereby the Question was negatived by a very large majority, was on a Question that referred to business conducted on Monday 22 July; therefore, we were voting today on the nature of the business that took place two days ago. I think that that is an accurate account. Is that not the ultimate absurdity and does it not bring the House into disrepute?

Is it not also the case that, although the motion was in the name of the Leader of the House, it was negatived, I am told, at the behest of the Government Whips? Has not

24 Jul 2002 : Column 1044

the Leader of the House been undermined by his own Whips for the second time in only a few weeks or months, and do we not therefore face a crisis in the House of Commons? The Leader of the House is being systematically undermined by his Whips and his parliamentary colleagues.

Mr. Deputy Speaker, the more important question is, can you now refer the matter of deferred Divisions to the Procedure Committee? Surely you, as a staunch defender of the House, its procedures and its rights, cannot accept either the position in which we find ourselves—that of voting today on a matter that was dealt with two days ago—or that the Leader of the House has been put in a position of such embarrassment. This situation must be of as much concern to you as it is to my colleagues and me, and I hope that you can assure us that something will be done about it.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Today's circumstances might demonstrate that there is a problem with the House's present rules on deferred Divisions. The Sessional Order resolved on 28 June 2001 requires the Speaker to defer a Division if his decision is challenged after 10 o'clock, or after 7 o'clock on a Thursday. The deferred Division must then take place on the next Wednesday on which the House sits. That is what happened today in conformity with the House's rules. The Speaker has no power under those rules to cancel a deferred Division. It is up to any right hon. or hon. Member to refer to the Procedure Committee any matter which it is thought deserves careful consideration.

As for whether the ultimate absurdity has been reached, I think that we will have to serve many more years in the House before that happens.

Mr. Forth: Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am most grateful for your response, and I am certainly prepared to rise to the highly acceptable challenge that you have laid down. However, may I press you a little further? Can you say whether Mr. Speaker or you, as Chairman of Ways and Means, are sufficiently concerned about the issue—given the difficult position in which, I fear, you and Mr. Speaker have been placed by it—to give the House or me a little encouragement to refer the matter to the Procedure Committee?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: It is not for the Chair to encourage or discourage any Member of Parliament to raise a matter with the Procedure Committee. Right hon. and hon. Members have sufficient wit and savvy to know when it is proper to take up a matter in that way, and I am sure that it will be done. What has happened is instructive and it will, no doubt, be noted by members of the Procedure Committee.

24 Jul 2002 : Column 1043

24 Jul 2002 : Column 1045

Export Control Bill

Lords Amendments in lieu of an Amendment to which the Commons have disagreed, considered.

New Clause

Lords amendment: No. 10B, in lieu of Lords amendment No. 10, to which the Commons have disagreed, after clause 6, to insert the following new clause—Protection of certain freedoms

7.3 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Nigel Griffiths): I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): With this it will be convenient to take Lords amendment No. 10C and the Government motion to agree thereto.

Nigel Griffiths: Hon. Members will recall that on 24 June, the House disagreed with a number of Lords amendments that aimed to provide protection for academic freedoms, but would, in fact, have opened several extremely damaging loopholes in the Bill. At the same time, the Government introduced in the other place a clause that was designed to provide explicit protections for certain freedoms which are of particular concern to the academic community. However, the Opposition considered that the clause did not go far enough to protect those freedoms.

In spite of those differences, it was clear that all concerned—the Government, the Opposition and the universities' representative bodies—shared essentially the same aim: to find a way to provide protections that would prevent a future Government using the powers in the Bill in ways that could damage freedoms that are important to the academic community and others, and at the same time ensuring that the Bill provides the Government with the powers they need for an effective export control regime. Necessarily, any such solution should not contain loopholes that could be exploited by the unscrupulous.

Discussions were held with the Opposition parties and Universities UK to see whether we could reach agreement on the text of a revised clause that all were content would protect the freedoms about which concern had been expressed, while avoiding the creation of loopholes in the Bill. I am pleased to say that we were able to obtain agreement, and the amendment proposed in the Lords message reflects that agreement.

24 Jul 2002 : Column 1046

The revised clause that the amendment would insert deals with two of the concerns that the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) expressed about the clause it would replace. The first was the issue of interchanges of unpublished research between academics. The new clause, in subsection (1)(a), introduces a reference to a new activity to be protected by the clause, namely

That is in addition to the activities of publishing information or communicating published information. The House will have noted that the clause included in the message from the other place applies to all those engaged in scientific research. Thus it meets one of the Government's criticisms of the Opposition's new clause with which this House disagreed on 24 June.

The second concern voiced by the hon. Member for Salisbury was that the previous clause required the Secretary of State to consider only the matter of academic freedom, and no more. While the Government did not accept that that was a fair description of the clause's effect, we did accept that there was scope to strengthen the requirements placed on the Secretary of State. The revised clause therefore states that it is for the Secretary of State to determine whether interference in any of the freedoms described by the clause is necessary in the light of

That formulation in the clause makes it explicit that the Secretary of State must form his or her view of the need for the interference in the light of all the relevant facts and other surrounding circumstances. Those will include international obligations and commitments undertaken by the United Kingdom. It also makes explicit the balancing exercise that must be carried out by reference to those circumstances and the need to control the activity and to respect the freedom to carry on that activity. This means that the Secretary of State will have to identify the ways in which particular proposed controls are likely to impinge on the freedom to communicate in the ways that are specified in subsection (1), and the reasons for that interference. He or she will then have to decide whether that control is necessary.

These procedures will require the Secretary of State to consider the proportionality of the proposed controls to be able to conclude that the degree of interference is no more than is necessary to meet the identified reasons. This places a stronger duty on the Secretary of State in terms of the requirements on him or her to ensure that the freedoms described in the clause are not interfered with except for good reason and, where necessary, when drawing up control orders. Therefore, the procedures give the court more ability to strike down unacceptable provisions in a control order than does the clause that is being replaced.

At the same time, the proposed clause avoids creating the sort of loopholes in the Bill that the Opposition amendments would have created and with which the House disagreed on 24 June. I am pleased to say that, in the light of the agreement reached with the Opposition and Universities UK on the revised clause, the Lords have not insisted on their amendments with which the House disagreed. I therefore invite the House to agree to both amendments as proposed by the Lords in lieu of Lords amendment No. 10, to which the Commons have disagreed.

Next Section

IndexHome Page