Education Bill

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Mr. Heppell: Let us accept for the moment that the knives are staying. Even with the knives, the entire Bill must be considered. We may not want to consider some parts as thoroughly as others. However, wherever the knives fall, while we are working and have extra time, we shall be considering something, and that will allow extra time at the end for the matters on which hon. Members have complained that the knives have fallen.

I give the further undertaking that, as I have said before, I will not merely move a knife. I shall move whatever knife the hon. Members for Eddisbury or for Altrincham and Sale, West want, as long as I have a guarantee that I shall have that extra hour. [Interruption.] All that I am asking is for hon. Members to agree to do an extra hour and a half on a Tuesday night, and I shall move by an hour and a half whatever knife hon. Members want to be moved.

Mr. O'Brien: I recognise that that was intended to be an intervention. A difficulty between the Members and parties represented on the Committee and a rather unhappy series of tense relationships relating to what we all believe to be our duty and job in relation to the Bill seems to have arisen. There is an apparent mindset among the Government, or part of the Government, that the motivations and intentions of those who represent Opposition parties are not genuine or in good faith and that an attempt is being made to filibuster or procrastinate, which the evidence does not support.

The next point is allied and simple. The Government Whip suggests that amendments to all clauses should have been tabled before Christmas. However, to some extent, issues arise during the course of debate. I fully accept that the parts of the Bill are to some extent discrete. However, the Minister has said that there is a theme or linkage in the Bill. When we debate one part, it can affect another. There is therefore a need for reflection. Furthermore, it so happens that in those happy days when the Labour party was in opposition, it tended to table a great raft of amendments right up to the procedural deadlines specified in Standing Orders of the House.

It is completely tendentious of the Government Whip to suggest that somehow we should have been sufficiently prescient, or, indeed, had sufficient resources, without the back-up of the civil service, when one might be able to get some allocation of

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resources—[Interruption.] It is perfectly proper and right for Opposition Members and, indeed, Labour Back Benchers to table amendments right up to the deadline.

7.30 pm

It is wrong for any Government Member to suggest that it is out of order or unhelpful not to focus on amendments for clauses that are being anticipated according to a timetable that has been set out way in advance, without any consideration of the true merits of the various aspects of the Bill that the Opposition believe should be debated. It might have been reasonably helpful to have had this airing, but the Government should recognise that the knives are the distortion. If the Government want to give as much time as they like and remove the knives, we are willing to sit.

Mr. Willis rose—

The Chairman: Order. Before I call Mr. Willis, I should say that I would hope that some of the matters that have been raised in the past few minutes could be sorted out informally in the usual way outside the Room. When I served on Committees, it was normal for us to sit until, perhaps 3 am, or even 9 am the following day. We used to think that we were lucky if we finished at 10 pm on a Thursday night. Committee members should know that the relevant Standing Orders have not been changed. They provide that the afternoon sitting can continue until the Adjournment motion has been moved and agreed. I will not be here on Thursday this week, but I will be back next week. I hope that Committee members now understand. It is not for me to judge the rights and wrongs of what is debated.

Mr. Willis: We have now spent 32 minutes on this.

Mr. Timms: I am slightly anxious that, in the heat of the debate, we might have lost the point. There is a pile of letters on the Committee Table, and I hope that hon. Members will each take their copy away with them.

Mr. Willis: I am grateful that the Government Whip has supported what is a reasonable case. We are reaching some important clauses, especially clauses 115 to 144, and I hope that he will agree to remove the knife at the end or our morning sitting on Thursday and run through to clause 144 by the end of play. That would mean that we could deal with the difficult issues of teaching, given the assurance, which I believe that I have, that we will reach clause 144 by the end of play on Thursday.

The Chairman: Order. There needs to be discussion on whether that is permissible for Thursday. A Standing Order provides that Committees should not sit when Question Time is taking place in the House, and that must be taken into account. I do not know the

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rules exactly, and Committee members would have to check them before running straight through. There are rules, and that is one of the reasons why we brought the Thursday sittings forward.

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Mr. Willis: I commend the Adjournment motion.

Question put and agreed to.

        Adjourned accordingly at twenty-seven minutes to Eight o'clock, till Thursday 17 January at half-past Nine o'clock.

        The following members attended the Committee:

        Pike, Mr. Peter (Chairman)

        Bailey, Mr.

        Brady, Mr.

        Coaker, Mr.

        Flint, Caroline

        Heppell, Mr.

        Kumar, Dr.

        Laing, Mrs.

        Lewis, Mr. Ivan

        Miliband, Mr.

        O'Brien, Mr. Stephen

        Purnell, James

        Timms, Mr.

        Touhig, Mr.

        Turner, Mr. Andrew

        Willis, Mr.

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