§ The Minister for School Standards (Mr. Stephen Timms)
I beg to move,That, notwithstanding the Order of 23rd January (Education Bill (Programme)(No. 2)), at this day's sitting proceedings on consideration of the Education Bill as amended in the Standing Committee (so far as not previously concluded) shall be brought to a conclusion at Eleven o'clock and proceedings on Third Reading (so far as not previously concluded) shall be brought to a conclusion at midnight.
I am moving this new programme motion with the simple intention of ensuring that there can be an additional two hours of debate on the Education Bill. The Government have consistently offered additional time to debate the Bill, and I am sure that the House will now want to consider the substantial issues raised in the amendments that have been tabled. I hope that we can now move swiftly to debate the Bill, with the benefit of the additional two hours for which the motion provides.
§ Mr. Damian Green (Ashford)
I have no wish to detain the House. We have substantive matters to debate this afternoon and evening. I congratulate the Minister on managing to get the motion on to the Order Paper: that is a refreshing improvement on yesterday's performance.
I also take this opportunity to withdraw something that I said in the heat of the moment last night, when the Government appeared to be in complete chaos. I said that I could not believe that the Government's problems last night were due to monumental incompetence, and that they were in fact due to some forces of malice. Having received further explanation from Ministers, I now wish to withdraw unreservedly the allegation of competence that I made about the Government, as I now understand that the affair was a complete cock-up.
It is refreshing that we have got the two extra hours, not least from the perspective of the Bill's progress through the House, in Committee as well as during yesterday's shambles. It may interest the House to know that, in Committee, consideration of clause 11 was not completed. Clause 12 was not debated at all, and neither were clauses 19 to 24, 28 to 38, 41 to 43, 45 to 48 or 63 to 71. There was no debate on schedules 2 to 4 and 7 to 9.
It is clear that the 44 hours that the Government allowed for consideration in Committee was woefully inadequate for such a serious Bill. Those hon. Members who do not know how serious, important and long lasting the Bill is should read clause 2. That clause gives the 866 Secretary of State—not just this Secretary of State, but her successors as well—the power to suspend clauses from every Education Bill ever passed by the House, including this one. Clause 2 therefore allows the Secretary of State to ignore many of the provisions before us.
The Bill deserves the full consideration that it has not received. The programme motion is welcome in at least a small way. It is plain from what happened yesterday that the Government wanted to move the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) out of prime time, so that what he had to say could be hidden in the dark recesses of the night. We should be grateful to all those who contributed to yesterday's important debate on the matter for the fact that the Government have signally failed in that intention. We should be grateful to them also for the fact that we are about to have today's important debate—a debate, I should point out again, in which I am on the Government's side. In that context, the Government's actions yesterday to try and suspend debate seem especially perverse.
Thanks to the efforts through the usual channels and those who contributed to yesterday's debate, we have managed to obtain a small amount of extra time for consideration of the Bill. For that, the House should be grateful.
§ Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)
I endorse everything that the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) has said, and in the interests of brevity I shall not repeat it. However, perhaps we should point out to the Government's mismanagers of the House's business that their efforts yesterday were entirely counterproductive.
I believe that hon. Members from all parties think that this important debate should be in prime time. More attention has been drawn to the matter than would have been the case if the debate had been allowed to proceed last night.
However, Liberal Democrat Members accept that it was mistake rather than mischief that got us into yesterday's ridiculous position. We are grateful to the Government for listening to our plea last night that additional time should be made available to reinstate the two hours that we lost. I hope that we can now proceed with the debate.
Question put and agreed to.
Ordered,That, notwithstanding the Order of 23rd January (Education Bill (Programme)(No. 2)), at this day's sitting proceedings on consideration of the Education Bill as amended in the Standing Committee (so far as not previously concluded) shall be brought to a conclusion at Eleven o'clock and proceedings on Third Reading (so far as not previously concluded) shall be brought to a conclusion at midnight.