Education Bill

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Mr. Turner: In the Order of the Committee of 11 December, it says that we will finish at seven o'clock tonight.

The Chairman: All that we must finish at seven o'clock is the business to be disposed of up to that stage. We can go beyond that, and that is what will happen. The business that I will take at seven o'clock will be that up to where the knife falls. The Committee can continue beyond that after seven o'clock.

Mr. Brady: Further to that point of order, Mr. Pike. It would be a matter of considerable concern if we proceeded to aspects of the Bill on which hon. Members have had no opportunity to table amendments. We expected that certain aspects of the

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Bill would be dealt with on Thursday, and that amendments would have to be tabled by close of play tonight.

The Chairman: I have no powers to adjourn the afternoon sitting of a Committee until the motion has been made. It is not in the Chairman's power to do that. The Chairman has some power to influence the hour at which the meal break is taken, but if the Committee wishes to continue to two o'clock or seven o'clock tomorrow morning that is quite permissible.

Mr. O'Brien: On a point of order, Mr. Pike. I seek your clarification on an associated point. Does that mean that the Government Whip and the Ministers are entirely in charge of the timetable, irrespective of any absence of agreement or even discussions—

The Chairman: Order. I must now put the question. I will respond to that point of order once I have dealt with the business.

It being Seven o'clock, THE CHAIRMAN proceeded, pursuant to Sessional Order D [28 June 2001] and to Orders of the Committee [11, 13, 18 December 2001 and 10 January 2002], to put forthwith the Questions necessary to dispose of the business to be concluded at that time.

Clauses 87 and 88 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 89

Temporary exceptions for individual pupils

Amendment made: No. 291, in page 58, line 7, after 'school' insert 'or maintained nursery school'.—[Mr. Timms.]

Clause 89, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 90

Information concerning directions under section 89

Amendment made: No. 292, in page 58, line 39, after 'school' insert 'or maintained nursery school'.—[Mr. Timms.]

Clause 90, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 91 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 107

Development work and experiments

Amendment made: No. 293, in page 69, line 132, leave out 'him' and insert 'it'.—[Mr. Timms.]

Clause 107, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 108 and 109 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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Clause 110

Temporary exceptions for individual pupils

Amendment made: No. 294, in page 70, line 16, after 'school' insert 'or maintained nursery school'.-[Mr. Touhig.]

Clause 110, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 111

Information concerning directions under section 110

Amendment made: No. 295, in page 71, line 1, after 'school' insert 'or maintained nursery school'.—[Mr. Touhig.]

Clause 111, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 112, 92, 113 and 114 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

The Chairman: I shall now respond to Mr. O'Brien's point of order. I cannot adjourn the Committee until the question has been agreed to. When the motion is moved in the afternoon sitting, it is debatable and can be voted on.

Mr. Heppell: On a point of order, Mr. Pike. Both Opposition spokespersons received a letter telling them of the intention to run late tonight. I know that the Conservative Whip has his letter, as I have seen him put it in his file. They should not pretend that they did not know about it.

Mr. Brady: Further to that point of order, Mr Pike. I have received no letter from either the Government Whip or a Government Minister in that regard. I am not prepared to hear it suggested that I have. I have received no such letter. The hon. Gentleman said that he had written to me.

Mr. O'Brien: On a point of order, Mr. Pike. The Government Whip seeks to place on the record an impression that is simply not true. I received a letter yesterday, and I daresay that the Liberal Democrat spokesman or Whip received something similar. It should be stated that it did not confirm the intention to go on past 7 pm. After receiving the letter, I instigated a telephone conversation in which I made it perfectly clear that the official Opposition declined the proposal, because the Government Whip would not consider or make any effort to meet our concerns. Normally, a deal requires interest by both parties in removing or shifting the knives. The knives are causing distortion in the debate, and are preventing us from holding the Government to account for a Bill that they seek to put through the Committee with the claim that it has had democratic scrutiny. On that basis, it is a failure of the process.

Mr. Heppell: Further to that point of order, Mr. Pike. My recollection of the telephone conversation is different. The Government will move the knives if the Opposition indicate either where we will get to in our

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consideration of the amendments or the amount of extra time by which they are prepared to extend the sitting. If they are prepared to sit for another three hours, we will move the knives three hours.

Mr. O'Brien: Further to that point of order, Mr. Pike.

The Chairman: Order. I cannot continue to accept points of order. I indicated that the Chair cannot rule on the matter. I suspect that the Government wish to take some of next Tuesday's business to ease next Tuesday. It is not for me to express a view on whether that is appropriate. Debate a motion to adjourn the sitting if you wish, but do not continue to raise points of order on which the Chairman is not in a position to give an answer.

Mr. Turner: On a point of order, Mr. Pike.

The Chairman: I will accept it only if it really is a point of order, Mr. Turner. The Committee can debate a motion to adjourn and can vote on it.

Mr. Willis: I beg to move, That further consideration be now adjourned.

I apologise to you, Mr. Pike, and to the Government Whip. I have only now received the letter. It states clearly that the Government Whip is thinking about taking such action; it certainly does not say that he intends to.

This is a serious issue. The Ministers and the Government Whip think that the Opposition are procrastinating over the legislation. We are not. People other than members of the Committee are interested in the Bill. I urge the Minister to think carefully about what I am about to say. The part of the Bill that we shall deal with next is of crucial significance, particularly to the quarter of a million teachers who expect the Bill to be properly debated. My hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws) and I have put down a series of amendments that resulted from discussions with teachers' organisations about their major concerns. We understood that the timetable to which the Committee agreed would have a knife on Thursday that would begin at clause 115 and go up to clause 144. That is what people who are coming to listen to the debates are interested in.Indeed, that was the assumption when teachers' associations approached us to table amendments to be debated on Thursday.

I accept that the Government have a right to say that we must get to clause 144 by the end of Thursday--I do not like it and accept it reluctantly--but it would be a travesty to bring forward Thursday's business to this evening. It would be absolutely disgraceful. I am sure that the Minister, on reflection, would not wish to deal with such an important issue in such a cavalier way, and I urge the Committee to agree to the Adjournment.

Mr. Brady: I am appalled at the Government's demonstration of bad faith. In our deliberations to date we have had a number of disagreements about the

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timetable that has been applied to these proceedings. We have had a particular disagreement over the Government Whip's attempts to place a so-called knife in the proceedings so as to constrain debate of those aspects of the Bill on which Opposition Members wish to focus. As the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough says, we have had no choice but to accept that the Government have used their majority to force the Committee to follow a certain timetable, irrespective of our wishes and without any consensus.

In the Committee's proceedings so far, the Government have held to their timetable. As the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough has said, Opposition Members and outside bodies and organisations have also been aware of that timetable and have relied on it. One of the consequences of the Government forcing through an extremely tight timetabling motion has been that it has placed pressure on the Opposition parties, which do not have the benefit of a large number of officials to assist and advise them in the process of the Bill. It has also placed considerable pressure on outside organisations that have been struggling to follow the process of the Bill, to draft and promulgate amendments and to brief members of the Committee.

It is nothing short of bad faith for the Government Whip to try to end that practice without notice. It is utterly unacceptable for the Government to seek to prevent proper debate and scrutiny by imposing time constraints, and now we have the ultimate abuse of the Government trying to manipulate the timetable so as to prevent members of the Committee from tabling amendments. It is a gross abuse. I hope that the Minister will accept that that is an affront not only to democracy and the procedures of the House, but to outside bodies and organisations that rely on the Committee to provide proper scrutiny of the Bill. Having had a chance to consider the situation that has arisen, I hope that the Minister will now recognise that it would be appropriate to allow a sensible interval to enable amendments to be tabled and proper scrutiny and debate to continue.

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