Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill

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The Chairman: We have now been sitting for over eight hours since we reassembled after the one-hour break for dinner and we have been sitting continuously for over three hours since the last refreshment break. I have been reflecting on the comments which were made following the short break which concluded at 3 am and was designed for discussion through the usual channels. Taking into account the number of amendments and clauses left to the Committee to consider; the time available to complete consideration under the decisions of the House on the programme motion and of the Committee’s programming sub-committee; the imperative that the Chairman, members and staff involved in supporting the Committee’s work are entitled to reasonable rest and refreshment to enable them to operate effectively; and the lack of notice of this prolonged sitting, which has meant that my co-Chairman is absent, that the Hansard reporters and the Refreshment Department have been unable to bring in substitutes, that no staff were given notice of this, including the Clerks who have been valiantly supporting the Committee since 9 o’clock on Thursday and considering the powers that I have as Chairman to suspend the sitting, I judge that, given all the circumstances that I have outlined and other circumstances, we should suspend the sitting now and reassemble at 8.15 am. I point out to right hon. and hon. Members that the Refreshment Department reopens at 7.30 am for breakfast, which members may wish to take before embarking on what may be another long day’s deliberations.
Mr. Simon: On a point of order, Mr. Chope. I am grateful for that clarification. I could not help noting that you did not mention taking into account the desires expressed by Labour Front and Back Benchers to make progress with the Bill——progress that was not aided by Opposition Members taking more than an hour on the last group of amendments. Nor was it expedited by your decision not to allow the Question to be put some time into that hour. In the light of this very unusual suspension for a very long period of time, which effectively denies us the opportunity to sit through the night, and adjourning the sitting until the morning, can you clarify the precedents for the decision, which is not in line with the advice we received from the Clerk earlier in the evening?
The Chairman: The hon. Gentleman raises a point of order of which I can assure him I have taken account. I have also taken into account all the comments of hon. Members, the amount of time that is left for consideration of the items that have yet to be discussed on our agenda and the desire expressed by some Members to carry on sitting indefinitely. I have to take all those issues into account, including precedents and the fact that we are in a completely new situation without precedent, where it is possible——I do not know——that the Committee will not take advantage of the possibility of sitting on Tuesday so that proceedings will be concertinaed into one very long sitting.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington may wish to reflect on the fact that there was no need for people to be taken by surprise on this issue. When I speak to my co-Chairman about it, I expect that she will be as surprised as I am, and continue to be, that the fact that this was a possibility was not shared with the Chair. If it had been shared, then many of the problems that I addressed in my remarks, and the conclusions I have reached, could have been avoided. The hon. Gentleman said that we were not going to sit through the night. I am not going to get into semantics, but many people would think that a virtually continuous sitting from 8 pm after the one-hour break until 4.30 am is sitting into the night, although it may not be going right through the night. I will not get involved in issues relating to working time, because the Palace of Westminster is exempt from all that, but I must take into account the sort of factors that lie behind that type of legislation. I think we owe it, even if not to ourselves, to the staff to have some reasonable consideration. Lots of short breaks would not be sufficient if we face the prospect of another eight or 10 hours of deliberation.
Jim Knight: On a point of order, Mr. Chope. I do not wish to delay things very much further. I understand what you are saying and I appreciate the work the Clerks have done. I would appreciate your advice as to whether the time of four hours is your judgment or the advice of the Clerk.
The Chairman: Ultimately, whether it is the Speaker, Deputy Speaker or member of the Chairmen’s Panel, the judgment is a judgment of that person——
Mr. Simon: On a point of order, Mr Chope.
The Chairman: Order. I am answering one point of order. The hon. Gentleman, who is a Minister, should know better than to interrupt the Chair when he is responding to another point of order. That is the sort of behaviour that should not be tolerated. I put it down to the fact that people are suffering from fatigue.
We are in an unprecedented situation and I am making my judgment. If people disagree with it, they are free to do so, but what they cannot do is challenge the ruling of the Chair. Without further ado, I am going to suspend the sitting until 8.15 am.
4.30 am
Sitting Suspended.
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Prepared 30 March 2009