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Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will know that the Government intend to publish their White Paper on reform of the 14 to 19 curriculum in our schools and colleges in the very near future. Given the extremely long time scale that is likely to be needed for implementing the proposals and the absolute necessity to build a cross-party consensus in support of the Government's proposals, will he find time in the busy schedule over the next weeks for a full debate on the subject—not just a statement from the Secretary of State—as part of the process of building that all-party consensus?

Mr. Hain: I cannot promise a debate. However, the subject is vital and the Secretary of State wants to make a statement at some point, if there is an opportunity for her to do so. Indeed, she gave an interesting presentation in Cabinet this morning about the Government's plans. Raising the skills levels of people in the British economy and focusing on improvement and reform in 14-to-19 education is, she indicated, probably the greatest priority that our educational system faces.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): In terms of topics for debate after the recess, should not the private finance initiative take priority over Northern Ireland electoral registration? More than 10 per cent. of GDP is tied up in such schemes. Jarvis is teetering on the edge of the financial abyss. Fourteen PFI projects are at a standstill, including London's Whittington hospital acute facilities, with HBOS plc refusing to step in. Finally, today saw the publication of Sir John Bourn's National Audit Office report on the Darent Valley hospital in Kent. It shows inflated performance scores, leading to unearned profits, and refinancing, leading to internal rates of return to The Hospital Company (Dartford) Ltd., the contractor, at 56 per cent., which is 60 per cent. higher than planned. Does not all that show that PFI is prohibitive in cost, flawed in concept and intolerable in consequence to the taxpayers, patients and NHS workers?

Mr. Hain: No, it does not.
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Points of Order

1.25 pm

Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. This is a serious and genuine point of order. You are a stout defender of the rights of Members of this House, and we look to you for that protection and rely on you to discharge that function, which you do. Will you reflect on whether it might help the House to make a Speaker's statement to clarify the relationship between parliamentary questions and the Freedom of Information Act 2000, and in particular to rule whether they should be treated with the same force as a freedom of information request? It would be intolerable if parliamentary questions carried less weight than a request from someone outside the House.

Mr. Speaker: I think it would be best if the hon. Gentleman wrote to me. I can then give the matter reasoned consideration.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Yesterday, you rebuked Defence Ministers for failing to provide full and accurate answers to me, my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) and the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock) about Swan Hunter. I regret to have to seek your guidance today, but a Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation will this afternoon debate the armed forces pensions appeal tribunals. Unfortunately, there is little on the face of the statutory instrument to indicate what it is all about.

The Department has helpfully provided an explanatory memorandum, which better explains the measure. Interestingly, it says:

As 93 per cent. of all represented appeals by ex-servicemen are represented by the Royal British Legion, and as it told me this morning that it has not received that information, how can we proceed this afternoon given that the principal
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organisation—a charitable organisation—charged with undertaking the responsibility of representing ex-servicemen has been unable to study the information and therefore advise Members of Parliament on how we should deal with it?

Mr. Speaker: Every hon. Member of this House has a high regard for our ex-servicemen and the organisations that represent them, including the Royal British Legion. My understanding is that the hon. Gentleman can attend the Standing Committee, and he should raise that matter with the Minister there, which will put the Minister in the position of making a reply that goes on the record. That will be beneficial to the ex-servicemen's organisations.

Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it possible for a dilatory motion to be made in circumstances in which information provided to a Committee is misleading in such a way? Clearly, the views of the Royal British Legion on pension appeals are crucial. If they are not known, there should be a delay—or at least there is an argument for a delay—in that Committee's sitting. Can you give us guidance on whether that would be in order?

Mr. Speaker: All members of my Chairmen's Panel are experienced. That is why they are Chairmen of Committees. It would be a matter for the Chairman of that Committee as to whether such a motion was acceptable.


Second Chamber of Parliament

Mr. Paul Tyler, supported by Mr. Kenneth Clarke, Mr. Robin Cook, Tony Wright and Sir George Young, presented a Bill to make provision for and in connection with membership of the Second Chamber of Parliament: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 8 April, and to be printed [Bill 60].

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Identity Cards Bill (Programme) (No. 2)

1.30 pm

The Minister for Citizenship and Immigration (Mr. Desmond Browne): I beg to move,


ProceedingsTime for conclusion of proceedings
New Clauses relating to the purposes and scope of registration and identity cards. 2.45 p.m. on the day on which proceedings on consideration are commenced.
New Clauses relating to the National Identity Scheme Commissioner, Amendments relating to Clauses 24 and 25 3.45 p.m. on that day.
Remaining new Clauses, Amendments relating to Clauses 1 to 23, Amendments relating to Clause 26, Amendments relating to Clauses 33 to 45, new Schedules, Amendments relating to Schedules 1 and 24.30 p.m. on that day.
Amendments relating to Clauses 27 to 32 and any remaining proceedings on consideration5.00 p.m. on that day.

The motion is intended to assist the House in using the time that we have available—[Interruption.] Perhaps Opposition Members might wait for the punch line before they laugh. It is intended to assist the House in using the time that we have available this afternoon for consideration on Report to the best possible effect.

We have made good progress with the Bill so far. Indeed, it was clear from the pace with which we dealt with many parts of the Bill in Committee that, in huge part, this is not highly contentious legislation. I will put before the House the evidence of that.

The Bill has been given proper scrutiny. Indeed, in preparation for it we had a six-month public consultation exercise, starting in 2002. There was an inquiry by the Home Affairs Select Committee, starting in 2003. There was further consultation on a draft Bill in 2004. The Government responded to all those consultations in the way in which the Bill was presented to the House.

On the last sitting of the Standing Committee, on the afternoon of 27 January, we dealt with amendments and agreed to 20 clauses and one schedule—clauses 26 to 45 and schedule 2. That indicates how quickly progress could have been made in large parts of the Bill.

After the first two sittings of the Committee, the Government proposed a timetable motion for the remaining consideration of the Bill in Committee. That was at the beginning of the fourth day on the morning of 25 January. The motion was agreed to only after we had spent an inordinate time debating a group of two amendments to clause 8—one hour and 10 minutes on the afternoon of 20 January followed by a further one
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hour and 35 minutes on the morning of 25 January. Two and three quarter hours was spent on the same group of amendments.

A group of amendments could have justified two hours and 45 minutes, but I do not rest my case only on the time. The Chairman of the Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Mr.   Beard), had to intervene nine times to remind Opposition members of the Committee of the need to keep in order on the morning of the second of those two sittings alone. The debate was brought to a close when, unusually, the Chairman agreed to a motion that the Question be now put. I do not have extensive experience in the House, but I have served on a number of Standing Committees. I have never before known a Chairman of a Standing Committee to accept a motion that the Question be now put. It is clear to me that the Chairman, having intervened of his own volition on nine occasions, had no alternative but to do that.

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