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The concept of the needs of Ministers is already clearly accepted in that amendment.

The Minister places great stress on the fact that the statutory instrument will be subject to a full consultative process. I am sure that she means exactly what she says and I am sure that the consultation will be good, but she knows perfectly well that there is a fundamental defect with the statutory instrument process. If it comes before the House in a defective form and fails to reflect some of the key points of the consultation outside the House, it is unamendable. We simply will not have access at that stage to the iterative process that we have had on the main Bill. That is why we are resisting the idea of simply trusting in that process. I acknowledge that a great deal of progress has been made, even on that very vexed issue, but it is important to return the matter to the other place. If the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge is inclined to move against the Government’s proposals, we will support the Conservatives in a Division.

Mr. Michael Fallon (Sevenoaks) (Con): In common with the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) and my hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond), I believe that we should
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support the Lords amendment. There are two main issues. One is the time period and the other is who should in the end decide.

On the time period, it is quite obvious from the changes of the past few months that the Government’s proposal is completely arbitrary. There was no basis to 40.5 hours and there is no basis for 24 hours. There is no better illustration of how arbitrary the whole issue is than the position of the Minister. Last summer, when she signed the Treasury Committee’s report, she was in favour of three hours. A couple of weeks ago, she told the House that she was in favour of 40 hours and spoke to proposals on that basis. Now she is put up to defend 24 hours. She is all over the place and the Government are all over the place. This is a completely arbitrary period being bandied around.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge has already said, the proposed period is wholly out of line with international practice. Even 24 hours is much longer than the period allowed by statistical services of other developed economies. That is why, when the Treasury Committee came to look into this matter, we looked hard at it and settled on a figure of three hours. A case can be made for four hours, six hours or whatever, but even 24 hours is far too long. More important than that, the figure is completely arbitrary. It is simply a guessing game.

Then there is the issue of who should actually decide. I certainly welcome the Government’s proposal to seek parliamentary approval for what is decided. I welcome the 12-month review of how the arrangements work. I welcome the fact that there will be a degree of consultation before those arrangements are set in stone, but what is the point of consulting everyone when it has already been announced that the period will be reduced from 40 hours to 24 hours? What is there then to consult on? The Prime Minister has said that the Government changed their mind and that the maximum period will now be 24 hours. What is the point of beginning a process of consultation on something when an announcement about it has already been made?

The Minister has said from the Dispatch Box this afternoon that she wants a meaningful role for the board. Let me remind the House that we are setting up an independent statutory body to deal with statistics, to take them out of the hands of politicians and to put them on an independent footing. Now she tells us that on the key issue of pre-release—the privilege given to Ministers so that they can spin material in advance of the announcement of a particular statistical series—the board will not determine what happens and will not, in fact, be meaningfully involved.

Angela Eagle: The hon. Gentleman was once a Minister. Did he spin figures to which he had privileged access as a Minister?

Mr. Fallon: I was never senior enough a Minister to be entrusted with figures even to try to spin. What is interesting is that the Treasury Committee report was signed by no fewer than six former Ministers who were all quite content for the advance period to be reduced from more than 40 hours to just three. The issue is not simply the spinning of statistics, but the notice involved when Ministers know that a bad series is just about to
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be published. It is perfectly possible—sadly, we have seen it from this Government—for Ministers to arrange other statistics and other news to be announced to cover that particular negative line of statistics on that particular day. As we well know, the Government are fully capable of burying bad news when they feel like it.

We need to take all that out of the hands of Ministers and have it determined by a statutory board. What is the point of setting up a statutory board if the one key political issue of pre-release is the one issue that the board is unable to decide on in the end? We should support the Lords amendment.

Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab): I disagree on what is the central issue of the Bill. For me, the central issue is the independence of the statistics board. That is not a new issue. I recall raising the concerns of the statisticians working in my constituency with the then Prime Minister in 1989. They were concerned about moving control of statistics from the Cabinet Office to the Treasury. They were right to be concerned about the independence of the figures and right to fear that they might be manipulated. Their argument then was that the Treasury had the greatest vested interest in manipulation of the figures. I received a letter from Margaret Thatcher, who was Prime Minister at the time, stating that it was terribly unworthy to make such a suggestion and reassuring me that the director, Jack Hibbert, had assured her that if there were any ministerial interference in the figures, he would resign.

I am afraid that we have now clearly reached a position—based partly on fact, but mostly on fable—of great cynicism about the objectivity of Government statistics. There is a conception of spin, and the Government to their great credit have introduced the Bill, which has been hailed as one of the most important of the whole Parliament and on a par with the decision to grant independence to the Bank of England in deciding interest rates. That is absolutely right.

I regret that we are in a position of disagreement over the question of pre-release. It is unfortunate that the Bill may well be marred as a result of it. The Government have been extremely generous in accepting many of the proposed amendments. Furthermore, the 1,300 of my constituents who work in the statistics office hail this Bill as a measure that will give new authority and new value to their work. There is doubt about the notion of spin, but it is exaggerated, and I am sure that the Government fully intend to have a period in which no excessive use of spin is made. The days of spin are gone. No Government in their right mind would use spin, because it is so counter-productive, but the Government must have some advance notice so that they can prepare their case.

I will support my party and Government if this matter is pressed to a vote. However, I say to the Minister that it will be regrettable if the Bill goes from this House with this apparent, but not indelible, stain on it. Otherwise, it could have gone forward with the unanimous support of the other place, the Treasury Committee and other experts in the field, including my constituents who are professional statisticians.

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3 pm

Angela Eagle: The debate has resembled others on the matter, both those in which I have participated and those that took place before my appointment.

During the passage of the Bill, the Government have moved to meet the views of all sides. As a result, we have made real changes. I welcome the generous acknowledgement of that by the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable). The hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond) also acknowledged that we have made considerable changes to the Bill during its passage.

We have amended clause 25, on the board’s duty to produce and publish reports, to clarify that all reports must be laid before the devolved Parliaments. In clause 7, we have changed the board’s objective, to underscore its role in promoting and safeguarding statistics that “serve the public good”. In clause 10, we have changed the name of the code of practice, to emphasise its applicability to all statistics. We have granted the board a duty to comment on those statistics that it felt should be subject to the assessment process, which is an important aspect of this afternoon’s debate, and we have clarified that when such statistics are produced by a Minister of the Crown, the Minister must state publicly when the board’s request will be complied with; and if not, why not.

We have imposed a duty to comply with the code of practice. We have passed amendments to clarify the separation of functions between assessment and production of statistics, and to clarify the role, responsibilities and functions of the national statistician and executive office. We have passed the residual responsibilities for the board from the Treasury to the Cabinet Office. We have made a commitment, which will be enshrined in the Bill if the motion is passed, to consult the board on the content of the pre-release secondary legislation prior to its being laid before the House, and we have committed ourselves to consult publicly. We have announced that pre-release access will be tightened to 24 hours. We have made a commitment in principle to create a central publication hub through which all national statistics will be released in the new system, separating statistical releases from policy commentary. We have committed ourselves to review the pre-release arrangements after 12 months, including to assess whether they hinder the broader objective of increasing trust in statistics.

That is a good structure to give the newly independent statistics board, as it provides a firm foundation and basis on which to begin and continue its work. It should be recognised that the Government have been very responsive. We will not put the figure of 24 hours in the Bill, because the system may evolve further. It has been 60 years since we last had a piece of primary legislation on statistics. I would not want to put such a provision on the face of the Bill when it might take another 60 years before another piece of primary legislation is introduced, as that might get in the way of further progress. It is therefore only sensible, and justified by experience of primary and secondary legislation, to put the 24-hour figure in a statutory instrument, rather than in the Bill.

Mr. Hammond: What is being suggested is that the 24-hour maximum that the Prime Minister has proposed should be included in the Bill. The Minister is resisting
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that on the ground that she needs flexibility for legislation to evolve. Is she seriously suggesting that it might evolve in the direction of the maximum pre-release time increasing?

Angela Eagle: Is the hon. Gentleman also seriously suggesting that when the Prime Minister makes a statement on the Floor of the House his word is not to be trusted?

Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): The hon. Lady should recognise that Prime Ministers come and go and, as she said, the legislation must last a long time. The promise made by the current Prime Minister does not necessarily bind the next Prime Minister. The House, however, can pass legislation that will put that promise into law. The flexibility is there, because the 24-hour figure would be only a maximum. If she is seriously suggesting that a longer period than 24 hours is necessary, and that is why she cannot put the figure in the Bill, she does not trust the Prime Minister’s promise either.

Angela Eagle: The hon. Gentleman should listen more carefully to what I say. I made no suggestion that the Government were somehow intending to have a pre-release time that was longer than 24 hours. It is clear that 24 hours is a maximum.

I have set out the long list of changes that the Government have made to the Bill during its passage. It is an impressive and substantial list, and the Government should be given credit for their willingness to listen and for the changes that they have made. The time is now right for the Government to get their Bill, and for the other place to realise that they should allow the Bill to complete its passage without further changes.

All sides agrees that this is a desirable Bill, which enshrines in statute for the first time the independence of the Office for National Statistics and the UK statistical system. It makes huge improvements in the system and structure in place for the delivery of a trusted statistical system in the UK. The Bill is much too important to be put in jeopardy by the unelected Chamber continuing to send it back with demands for more changes, when we all now agree with 99 per cent. of what it contains. Moreover, the Government will wish to proceed quickly to appoint the new chair of the statistics board, with a parliamentary hearing and vote before the recess—the Treasury Committee is interviewing the gentleman in question this afternoon. That cannot seriously proceed without the Bill making progress. Nor can the establishment of a shadow board and the necessary preparatory work to achieve the independence of the Office for National Statistics by next April proceed quickly if the Bill’s passage is further delayed.

I hope that the Opposition will not press for a Division on the motion. Given the amendments that the other place has achieved, I further hope that it will realise that the time is now right for the Bill to proceed. I commend the motion to the House.

Question put:—

The House divided: Ayes 303, Noes 190.
Division No. 191]
[3.7 pm


Abbott, Ms Diane
Ainger, Nick
Allen, Mr. Graham
Anderson, Mr. David
Anderson, Janet
Atkins, Charlotte
Austin, Mr. Ian
Austin, John
Bailey, Mr. Adrian
Baird, Vera
Banks, Gordon
Barlow, Ms Celia
Battle, rh John
Bayley, Hugh
Beckett, rh Margaret
Begg, Miss Anne
Bell, Sir Stuart
Benn, rh Hilary
Benton, Mr. Joe
Berry, Roger
Betts, Mr. Clive
Blackman, Liz
Blears, rh Hazel
Blizzard, Mr. Bob
Blunkett, rh Mr. David
Borrow, Mr. David S.
Bradshaw, Mr. Ben
Brennan, Kevin
Brown, Lyn
Brown, rh Mr. Nicholas
Brown, Mr. Russell
Browne, rh Des
Bryant, Chris
Buck, Ms Karen
Burden, Richard
Burnham, rh Andy
Butler, Ms Dawn
Byers, rh Mr. Stephen
Byrne, Mr. Liam
Caborn, rh Mr. Richard
Cairns, David
Campbell, Mr. Alan
Campbell, Mr. Ronnie
Caton, Mr. Martin
Cawsey, Mr. Ian
Challen, Colin
Chapman, Ben
Chaytor, Mr. David
Clapham, Mr. Michael
Clark, Ms Katy
Clark, Paul
Clarke, rh Mr. Charles
Clarke, rh Mr. Tom
Clelland, Mr. David
Clwyd, rh Ann
Coaker, Mr. Vernon
Coffey, Ann
Connarty, Michael
Cook, Frank
Cooper, Yvette
Corbyn, Jeremy
Crausby, Mr. David
Creagh, Mary
Cruddas, Jon
Cryer, Mrs. Ann
Cummings, John
Cunningham, Mr. Jim
Cunningham, Tony
Darling, rh Mr. Alistair
Davidson, Mr. Ian
Davies, Mr. Quentin
Dean, Mrs. Janet
Denham, rh Mr. John
Devine, Mr. Jim
Dismore, Mr. Andrew
Dobbin, Jim
Dobson, rh Frank
Donohoe, Mr. Brian H.
Doran, Mr. Frank
Dowd, Jim
Drew, Mr. David
Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth
Eagle, Angela
Eagle, Maria
Efford, Clive
Ellman, Mrs. Louise
Engel, Natascha
Ennis, Jeff
Farrelly, Paul
Field, rh Mr. Frank
Fisher, Mark
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Flello, Mr. Robert
Flint, Caroline
Flynn, Paul
Follett, Barbara
Foster, Mr. Michael (Worcester)
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings and Rye)
Francis, Dr. Hywel
Gapes, Mike
Gardiner, Barry
George, rh Mr. Bruce
Gerrard, Mr. Neil
Gibson, Dr. Ian
Godsiff, Mr. Roger
Goggins, Paul
Goodman, Helen
Griffith, Nia
Griffiths, Nigel
Grogan, Mr. John
Gwynne, Andrew
Hain, rh Mr. Peter
Hall, Mr. Mike
Hall, Patrick
Hamilton, Mr. Fabian
Hanson, rh Mr. David
Harman, rh Ms Harriet
Harris, Mr. Tom
Havard, Mr. Dai
Healey, John
Henderson, Mr. Doug
Hendrick, Mr. Mark
Hepburn, Mr. Stephen
Heppell, Mr. John
Hesford, Stephen
Hewitt, rh Ms Patricia
Heyes, David
Hill, rh Keith
Hillier, Meg
Hodge, rh Margaret
Hodgson, Mrs. Sharon
Hood, Mr. Jim
Hoon, rh Mr. Geoffrey
Hope, Phil
Hopkins, Kelvin
Howarth, rh Mr. George

Howells, Dr. Kim
Hoyle, Mr. Lindsay
Hughes, rh Beverley
Humble, Mrs. Joan
Iddon, Dr. Brian
Illsley, Mr. Eric
Ingram, rh Mr. Adam
Irranca-Davies, Huw
Jackson, Glenda
James, Mrs. Siân C.
Jenkins, Mr. Brian
Johnson, rh Alan
Johnson, Ms Diana R.
Jones, Helen
Jones, Mr. Kevan
Jones, Lynne
Jones, Mr. Martyn
Jowell, rh Tessa
Joyce, Mr. Eric
Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald
Keeble, Ms Sally
Keeley, Barbara
Keen, Alan
Keen, Ann
Kelly, rh Ruth
Kemp, Mr. Fraser
Kennedy, rh Jane
Khan, Mr. Sadiq
Kidney, Mr. David
Kilfoyle, Mr. Peter
Kumar, Dr. Ashok
Ladyman, Dr. Stephen
Lammy, Mr. David
Laxton, Mr. Bob
Lazarowicz, Mark
Lepper, David
Levitt, Tom
Lewis, Mr. Ivan
Linton, Martin
Lloyd, Tony
Love, Mr. Andrew
Lucas, Ian
Mackinlay, Andrew
Malik, Mr. Shahid
Mallaber, Judy
Mann, John
Marris, Rob
Marsden, Mr. Gordon
Marshall-Andrews, Mr. Robert
Martlew, Mr. Eric
McAvoy, rh Mr. Thomas
McCafferty, Chris
McCarthy, Kerry
McCarthy-Fry, Sarah
McCartney, rh Mr. Ian
McDonagh, Siobhain
McDonnell, Dr. Alasdair
McFadden, Mr. Pat
McFall, rh John
McGovern, Mr. Jim
McGuire, Mrs. Anne
McIsaac, Shona
McKechin, Ann
McNulty, Mr. Tony
Meacher, rh Mr. Michael
Merron, Gillian
Michael, rh Alun
Miliband, rh Edward
Miller, Andrew
Moffatt, Laura
Mole, Chris
Moon, Mrs. Madeleine
Moran, Margaret
Morden, Jessica
Morgan, Julie
Morley, rh Mr. Elliot
Mudie, Mr. George
Mullin, Mr. Chris
Munn, Meg
Murphy, Mr. Denis
Murphy, Mr. Jim
Murphy, rh Mr. Paul
Naysmith, Dr. Doug
Norris, Dan
O'Brien, Mr. Mike
Osborne, Sandra
Owen, Albert
Palmer, Dr. Nick
Pearson, Ian
Plaskitt, Mr. James
Pound, Stephen
Prentice, Bridget
Prentice, Mr. Gordon
Prescott, rh Mr. John
Primarolo, rh Dawn
Prosser, Gwyn
Purchase, Mr. Ken
Purnell, rh James
Rammell, Bill
Raynsford, rh Mr. Nick
Reed, Mr. Andy
Reid, rh John
Riordan, Mrs. Linda
Robertson, John
Rooney, Mr. Terry
Roy, Mr. Frank
Ruane, Chris
Ruddock, Joan
Russell, Christine
Salter, Martin
Seabeck, Alison
Shaw, Jonathan
Sheerman, Mr. Barry
Sheridan, Jim
Simpson, Alan
Singh, Mr. Marsha
Skinner, Mr. Dennis
Slaughter, Mr. Andy
Smith, rh Mr. Andrew
Smith, Ms Angela C. (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
Smith, Angela E. (Basildon)
Smith, Geraldine
Smith, rh Jacqui
Smith, John
Snelgrove, Anne
Soulsby, Sir Peter
Southworth, Helen
Starkey, Dr. Phyllis
Stewart, Ian
Stoate, Dr. Howard
Strang, rh Dr. Gavin
Straw, rh Mr. Jack
Stringer, Graham
Sutcliffe, Mr. Gerry
Taylor, Ms Dari
Taylor, David
Thomas, Mr. Gareth
Thornberry, Emily
Timms, rh Mr. Stephen
Tipping, Paddy
Todd, Mr. Mark
Touhig, rh Mr. Don
Trickett, Jon

Truswell, Mr. Paul
Turner, Dr. Desmond
Turner, Mr. Neil
Twigg, Derek
Ussher, Kitty
Vaz, rh Keith
Waltho, Lynda
Ward, Claire
Wareing, Mr. Robert N.
Watts, Mr. Dave
Whitehead, Dr. Alan
Wicks, Malcolm
Williams, Mrs. Betty
Wills, Mr. Michael
Winnick, Mr. David
Winterton, rh Ms Rosie
Wood, Mike
Woodward, rh Mr. Shaun
Woolas, Mr. Phil
Wright, Mr. Anthony
Wright, David
Wright, Mr. Iain
Wright, Dr. Tony
Wyatt, Derek
Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr. Wayne David and
Mark Tami

Afriyie, Adam
Alexander, Danny
Amess, Mr. David
Bacon, Mr. Richard
Baker, Norman
Baldry, Tony
Barker, Gregory
Baron, Mr. John
Barrett, John
Bellingham, Mr. Henry
Bercow, John
Beresford, Sir Paul
Binley, Mr. Brian
Boswell, Mr. Tim
Brady, Mr. Graham
Brazier, Mr. Julian
Brokenshire, James
Brooke, Annette
Browne, Mr. Jeremy
Browning, Angela
Bruce, rh Malcolm
Burns, Mr. Simon
Burrowes, Mr. David
Cable, Dr. Vincent
Cameron, rh Mr. David
Campbell, Mr. Gregory
Carswell, Mr. Douglas
Cash, Mr. William
Chope, Mr. Christopher
Clappison, Mr. James
Clark, Greg
Clarke, rh Mr. Kenneth
Clifton-Brown, Mr. Geoffrey
Cormack, Sir Patrick
Crabb, Mr. Stephen
Curry, rh Mr. David
Davey, Mr. Edward
Davies, Mr. Dai
Davies, Philip
Davis, rh David (Haltemprice and Howden)
Djanogly, Mr. Jonathan
Dorrell, rh Mr. Stephen
Dorries, Mrs. Nadine
Duddridge, James
Duncan Smith, rh Mr. Iain
Dunne, Mr. Philip
Evennett, Mr. David
Fallon, Mr. Michael
Farron, Tim
Featherstone, Lynne
Field, Mr. Mark
Foster, Mr. Don
Fox, Dr. Liam
Francois, Mr. Mark
Fraser, Mr. Christopher
Garnier, Mr. Edward
Gauke, Mr. David
Gibb, Mr. Nick
Goldsworthy, Julia
Goodman, Mr. Paul
Goodwill, Mr. Robert
Gove, Michael
Gray, Mr. James
Green, Damian
Greenway, Mr. John
Grieve, Mr. Dominic
Gummer, rh Mr. John
Hague, rh Mr. William
Hammond, Mr. Philip
Hammond, Stephen
Hancock, Mr. Mike
Hands, Mr. Greg
Harvey, Nick
Hayes, Mr. John
Heald, Mr. Oliver
Heathcoat-Amory, rh Mr. David
Herbert, Nick
Hoban, Mr. Mark
Hogg, rh Mr. Douglas
Hollobone, Mr. Philip
Holloway, Mr. Adam
Holmes, Paul
Horam, Mr. John
Horwood, Martin
Howarth, David
Howarth, Mr. Gerald
Hughes, Simon
Hunt, Mr. Jeremy
Hunter, Mark
Hurd, Mr. Nick
Jack, rh Mr. Michael
Jenkin, Mr. Bernard
Johnson, Mr. Boris
Jones, Mr. David
Kawczynski, Daniel
Key, Robert
Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Knight, rh Mr. Greg
Kramer, Susan
Laing, Mrs. Eleanor
Lait, Mrs. Jacqui
Lamb, Norman
Lancaster, Mr. Mark
Lansley, Mr. Andrew
Leech, Mr. John
Leigh, Mr. Edward
Letwin, rh Mr. Oliver
Lewis, Dr. Julian

Liddell-Grainger, Mr. Ian
Lidington, Mr. David
Lilley, rh Mr. Peter
Llwyd, Mr. Elfyn
Loughton, Tim
Luff, Peter
Mackay, rh Mr. Andrew
Main, Anne
Malins, Mr. Humfrey
Maples, Mr. John
Maude, rh Mr. Francis
McIntosh, Miss Anne
McLoughlin, rh Mr. Patrick
Miller, Mrs. Maria
Moss, Mr. Malcolm
Murrison, Dr. Andrew
O'Brien, Mr. Stephen
Öpik, Lembit
Osborne, Mr. George
Ottaway, Richard
Paterson, Mr. Owen
Penning, Mike
Penrose, John
Pickles, Mr. Eric
Prisk, Mr. Mark
Pugh, Dr. John
Redwood, rh Mr. John
Reid, Mr. Alan
Rifkind, rh Sir Malcolm
Robathan, Mr. Andrew
Robertson, Angus
Robertson, Hugh
Robertson, Mr. Laurence
Rogerson, Dan
Rowen, Paul
Ruffley, Mr. David
Russell, Bob
Sanders, Mr. Adrian
Scott, Mr. Lee
Shepherd, Mr. Richard
Simmonds, Mark
Smith, Sir Robert
Soames, Mr. Nicholas
Spicer, Sir Michael
Spink, Bob
Spring, Mr. Richard
Steen, Mr. Anthony
Stuart, Mr. Graham
Swayne, Mr. Desmond
Swire, Mr. Hugo
Syms, Mr. Robert
Tapsell, Sir Peter
Taylor, Mr. Ian
Taylor, Dr. Richard
Thurso, John
Turner, Mr. Andrew
Vaizey, Mr. Edward
Vara, Mr. Shailesh
Villiers, Mrs. Theresa
Walker, Mr. Charles
Wallace, Mr. Ben
Walter, Mr. Robert
Waterson, Mr. Nigel
Watkinson, Angela
Weir, Mr. Mike
Whittingdale, Mr. John
Widdecombe, rh Miss Ann
Wiggin, Bill
Willetts, Mr. David
Williams, Hywel
Williams, Mr. Roger
Williams, Stephen
Willis, Mr. Phil
Wilshire, Mr. David
Wilson, Mr. Rob
Wilson, Sammy
Winterton, Ann
Winterton, Sir Nicholas
Wishart, Pete
Yeo, Mr. Tim
Young, rh Sir George
Younger-Ross, Richard
Tellers for the Noes:

Mr. Crispin Blunt and
Mr. Richard Bacon
Question accordingly agreed to.
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