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7.34 pm

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The question that will now arise is on the formation of the Standing Committee. Normally, as you know well, the committee of nomination would select the Standing Committee in accordance with party composition. However, you will know from page 693 of "Erskine May" that it is a rule of the House that the strength of opinion as expressed in any Division on Second Reading is properly to be reflected on the Standing Committee. The Government obtained a majority of five on Second Reading. May I suggest that they are therefore entitled to a majority of only one on the Standing Committee; otherwise, the rule in "Erskine May" will not be respected?

Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I join in the remarks made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg)? Clearly, in such a case the support to be

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considered is that on the respective Benches in this place. It is clear that, on this occasion, those on the Opposition Benches almost prevailed. It would be quite wrong if the membership of the Committee did not reflect the fact that the vote was very close—the majority on the Committee should be no more than one.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Following on from the point made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham, I hope that you, in your wisdom and after your deliberations, will feel free to give guidance to the Committee of Selection so that there can be no doubt in its mind as to the wish of the House, as expressed through the Division that we have just had. We must also bear in mind the fact that the guidance in "Erskine May" must be followed on this occasion by the Committee of Selection. It would be an insult to the House were that Committee, for any reason, to decide to compose the Standing Committee so that it has anything other than a very even balance that reflects the vote in the House.

Mr. Speaker: I thank the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) for giving notice of his point of order. It is the duty of the Committee of Selection, under Standing Order No. 86, to

Queen's recommendation having been signified—

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 52(1)(a) (Money resolutions and ways and means resolutions in connection with bills),

Question agreed to.



Mr. Forth: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Does not the fact that we have passed that motion show that Westminster Hall is indeed a triviality and an appendage to the House? We have casually swept aside its

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proceedings to suit some convenience—we know not what. As we were unable to debate the motion, we do not know why it appeared on the Order Paper; we can only guess. Does not this show very clearly—and set a precedent to the effect that—proceedings in Westminster Hall can now be casually set aside by the House to suit the convenience of who knows who?

Mr. Speaker: We have changed the time; the proceedings have not been put aside.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I raise a related matter? Will you protect the rights of those in the House who help to administer the House and make it work? I refer to those additional Deputy Speakers who serve in Westminster Hall, who are also senior members of your Chairmen's Panel. I have consulted the Chairman who would be in Westminster Hall tomorrow, and he was in no way consulted before the motion was tabled to enable this change to take place.

Do you think, Sir, that it is unreasonable that a Chairman, who might have other—

Mr. Speaker: Order. First, let me say that we have to be careful here. This is a nod-or-nothing motion. My clear understanding is that I have declared that the Ayes have it, so we are not going to debate a motion that the House has already agreed to. For the benefit of the hon. Gentleman, who is a Chairman in Westminster Hall, I say this: this is not a matter for the Chair, as this is a piece of Government business. If there was no consultation, that is no fault of the Chair. The motion was tabled to benefit the Member who has that Westminster Hall Adjournment debate and who clearly wants to show an interest in what might be happening in the Chamber at that time.

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will know that I had the half-hour Adjournment debate in Westminster Hall at 3.30 pm tomorrow. I understand that it will now take place at 5.30 pm. I simply want to thank everyone concerned.

Mr. Speaker: I thank the hon. Lady.

Jim Dowd (Lewisham, West) (Lab): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) is well rehearsed in such matters and if he genuinely wanted to make a point, he could have objected to the motion, which would have rendered it redundant. The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) is an esteemed Chairman of proceedings in Westminster Hall. The proceedings have not been thrown aside; there is a debate in which I particularly want to speak, if I get the chance. I presented a petition on a similar matter on Monday evening. The business has simply been moved for the greater convenience of the House. We should all have regard to our primary purpose here.

Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. As the prime beneficiary of the motion that the House has just accepted, I express my gratitude because it will enable

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those who want to participate in the debate in my name on an important subject to attend the Prime Minister's statement on Hutton as well as debating important matters in Westminster Hall.

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con) rose—

Mr. Speaker: Order. We have laboured the point; we have really hammered it home. That is not bad for a nod or nothing—we have taken about five points of order on it.

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Information Technology/Retail Crime

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Gillian Merron.]

7.40 pm

Mr. Tom Watson (West Bromwich, East) (Lab): My heart went out to my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (David Cairns) this afternoon when 600 hon. Members filled the Chamber for his ten-minute Bill. I can hear the sound of 600 hon. Members scurrying away from my Adjournment debate. Nevertheless, I am pleased to have secured a debate on IT and retail crime.

I want to make several points that are of growing concern to many thousands of people outside the House. The Government and our party are currently engaged in a big conversation, and I have been holding a big conversation on my weblog— The issues raised in that online conversation are different from those that arise in our constituency surgeries and public meetings. Webloggers around the world have raised a specific point about the new wireless technology, which is known as radio frequency identification—RFID.

I want to begin by thanking several weblogs for alerting me to RFID technology and its uses in Britain and abroad, notably,, and CASPIAN—Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering. The latter is an American pressure group that advises groups in the United Kingdom.

Radio frequency identification tags are tiny microchips, little bigger than a grain of sand, which can contain information from the price of goods in a shop to a person's entire medical records. They have been proclaimed as the global successor to the 30-year-old barcode, but they are much more sophisticated. They can not only store much more data, such as a product's expiry date, colour, packaging, origin and destination, but transmit it through the airwaves. Crucial to their operation is a microscopic antenna, invisible to the naked eye, which allows the chip to be read by a scanning device.

A barcode label can be read only with the customer's knowledge and co-operation, but with a scanner next to the product, active RFID tags can be scanned remotely, without the customer knowing. Most scanners are currently in the range of around 5 ft to 20 ft, but more powerful devices, which can read smart tags at a wider range, already exist and could conceivably become more commonly used.

Although the technology has existed since the 1960s, its use has become more widespread only through recent advances. As the technology gets smaller and smaller and cheaper and cheaper, it is increasingly used under our noses, with most UK citizens completely oblivious to it. It is not surprising that the tags have become known in some circles as Big Brother-style "spy chips."

Supermarket chains are already testing the extent to which British consumers are willing to accept those discreet invasions of our privacy. Stores, including Marks and Spencer and Tesco, have been using them in their warehouses to keep track of stock for some time.

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However, last summer, the tags strayed outside the storeroom and were tested for the first time on the shop floor. Tesco and Gillette created a so-called smart shelf to house their razor blades—one of the most commonly shoplifted items. In Tesco's Cambridge store each packet of blades bore an RFID tag, and the shelf contained a tag reader and a small CCTV camera. Every time someone picked up a packet from the shelf the tag triggered the camera, which took a picture. Photographs were also taken when the blades were taken to the till. By combining the information, Tesco could, in a small number of cases, pass to the police photographs of shoplifters and other criminals—people who had taken the razor blades from the shelf, but had not been to the till to pay for them.

Perhaps understandably, there was a significant consumer outcry once people began to realise just what was happening in the store where the trials were taking place. Protests outside ultimately led to the suspension of the Tesco tests. However, British retailers continue to test the technology, although for the moment closed-circuit television cameras are not being tested after the initial test. Only yesterday, Philips and IBM announced a deal for joint development of RFID technology for shops, with Philips manufacturing the chips and IBM developing the computer systems.

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