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Points of Order

3.31 pm

Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You have just made—perhaps the Prime Minister would listen to this.

Hon. Members: He's off.

Mr. Speaker: Order. There is a point of order before us.

Sir Peter Tapsell: Not for the first time, I wish the Prime Minister bon voyage.

You have just made the interesting and almost theological ruling, Mr. Speaker, that we must in future draw a distinction between the right hon. Gentleman who is now on his way to west Africa in his role as Prime Minister and the right hon. Gentleman in his role as leader of the Labour party. Are we to understand, then, that in future we may no longer question him when the Government's policies, as so often happens now, diverge from those of the Labour party that was elected to support them?

Mr. Speaker: The hon. Gentleman can always ask questions about the Government's policies. The Prime Minister is here at Prime Minister's Question Time to answer questions regarding his role as Prime Minister, not as leader of the Labour party.

Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Can we also take it that in future you will use your sound judgment and prevent

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the Prime Minister from misrepresenting Conservative party policy when in fact he is being questioned about his Government's policies?

Mr. Speaker: I think that I demonstrated that I was able to tell both the Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister when they were out of order, and I will continue to do so when necessary.

Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker: I hope that it is not another extension of Prime Minister's Question Time.

Chris Grayling: No, it is not, Mr. Speaker. You will have heard me asking the Prime Minister at Question Time about his comments before Christmas. Since—

Mr. Speaker: Order. That sounds like an extension of Prime Minister's Question Time to me.

Chris Grayling: I assure you that it is not, Mr. Speaker. I am really asking this question knowing the importance that hon. Members attach to your judgment as a guardian of the interests of the House. When I have asked the Prime Minister, on two separate occasions, through written questions, to substantiate a comment of his that has been contradicted by someone outside the House, and he refuses to do so, what advice can you give me about how to pursue the matter?

Mr. Speaker: As I have said before, keep persevering.

Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In questioning the Prime Minister about the discharge of his duties as Prime Minister, is it proper for the House to question him about what influences may have been brought to bear?

Mr. Speaker: I say to the right hon. Lady what I said to the Leader of the Opposition: let us see how the questions are framed, and then I will make a ruling on them.

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Education Bill (Programme)(No. 3)

3.34 pm

The Minister for School Standards (Mr. Stephen Timms): I beg to move,

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.

3.35 pm

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

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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.

3.39 pm

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.


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Orders of the Day

Education Bill

[2nd Allotted Day]

As amended in the Standing Committee, further considered.

New Clause 1

No requirements of attendance at a place of religious worship

'(1) It shall not be required, as a condition of a pupil being admitted to a maintained school, that:
(a) he must attend or abstain from attending a place of religious worship;
(b) his parents or guardians must attend or abstain from attending a place of religious worship.
(c) the pupil, his parent(s) or guardian(s) belong to any particular faith or denomination.
(2) The local education authority after consultation with the admission forum may by regulation authorise that, notwithstanding (1) a maintained school may admit between 20 per cent. and 75 per cent. of pupils who have a particular faith or denomination.
(3) Where the local education authority is informed that there are insufficient applications to a particular maintained school to fill the available places, the local education authority may after consultation with the admission forum authorise an increase up to 100 per cent. in the numbers of pupils admitted who are of the particular faith or denomination of the maintained school in question.'.—[Mr. Dobson.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

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