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Mr. Colin Pickthall (West Lancashire): Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Conservatives' reactions to his statementwith the notable exception of the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe)are reassuring to many of us, because they make us think that he is closer to getting it right than we had feared? Does he agree that the crucial issue is the timing? Other hon. Friends have made the point, but can he state categorically that six months from today the consultation will have ended and the Bill will be drafted? Is he worried that any slippage in the timetable that lengthens the process will create more cynicism outside the House, especially among those who support what he is trying to do, and that the Government could end up pleasing no one?
Alun Michael: I certainly accept what my hon. Friend says about the need to stick to a timetable once it has been given as an indication of the period within which we intend to complete the job. I shall do everything I can to ensure that there will be no such damage to the reputation of Government, and no delay.
The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Robin Cook): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Following today's business statement, I consulted further on the Second Reading of the Enterprise Bill. I remain convinced that two weeks from publication of the Bill to its debate is an adequate period for preparation, but I accept the force of the point made by the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) about the desirability of allowing time for the tabling of a reasoned amendment. I therefore wish to announce the following re-ordering of business for the week after the Easter recess.
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I thank the Leader of the House for listening carefully to what my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) said during business questions, and for coming back to the House so promptly with a change in the order of business, which will at least allow for the possibility of the tabling of a reasoned amendment, for example.
I do not want to sound churlish, but I hope that the Leader of the House will reflect further, perhaps over the recess, on whether this is a proper way to conduct what is a very substantial Bill. I thank him for what he has done, but I ask him to give further, perhaps long-term, thought to whether a Bill of this magnitude should be conducted in this way. However, I am grateful for what he said just now.
Mr. Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Are you aware that as a Back Bencher I am greatly troubled by the fact that my constituents, who stand to lose their jobs and livelihoods as a result of the potentially momentous legislation on hunting, which will have a devastating impact, have been denied a voice through their Member of Parliament? Despite sitting through the debate on Monday and through the statement and questions today, I have been unable to speak. I feel that my constituents have been denied a voice.
David Winnick (Walsall, North): Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Should it not also be borne in mind that some of those who are in favour of ending this barbaric practice once and for all were not called because of the number of people who were trying to catch your eye? The hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Mr. Barker) and some of his colleagues are disappointed, but I have argued for a ban for a long time and am no less disappointed.
Mr. Cameron: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I, too, raise this point of order as someone who sat for five hours during the debate and was not called, but the purpose of my point of order is to ask whether the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs asked, before the statement it made this afternoon, whether it could withdraw its White Paper entitled "Working for the Essentials of Life", as it says that its key objective is to tackle social exclusion. As someone who represents a constituency with five hunts and many people employed in hunting, I cannot understand how throwing them out of work will aid social exclusion.
Mr. Forth: On a different point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. You may be aware that, in business questions, all those on the Government side who were seeking to catch Mr. Speaker's eye were called, but that Mr. Speaker then finished business questions while a number of colleagues on the Opposition Benches were still standing and seeking to catch his eye. May I ask you to have a very quiet and gentle word with Mr. Speaker and satisfy yourself that that will not be a precedent? If it were, obviously, the number of Labour Members standing would be a mechanism to curtail participation by my right hon. and hon. Friends. I am sure that that was not the intention, but I ask you to draw Mr. Speaker's attention to that and express to him the hope that, whatever the reason was today, it will not be repeated.
Madam Deputy Speaker: The right hon. Gentleman is quite right. Mr. Speaker is normally very generous, but he too has a responsibility to protect the business of the House, as the right hon. Gentleman will I am sure agree.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Mr. Ivan Lewis): I am delighted to have this opportunity to speak about the proposals in the Green Paper entitled, "14-19: extending opportunities, raising standards", which the Government published on 12 February. Unfortunately, due to a prior long-standing engagement in my constituency, I will not be able to stay for the whole of the debate, and I offer the House my apologies for that. I will, of course, read the report of the debate with great interest.
It is also appropriate to say at this stage that I am aware that the spokesperson leading for Her Majesty's official Opposition is the hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), which strengthens the Bury connection. This is probably the only kind thing I will say about the Opposition during my speech; the hon. Gentleman is still spoken of very highly in the Bury, North constituency that he used to represent. I am sure that he will agree that the priority for us all at the moment is to save Bury football club from extinction.
I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will use this opportunity to make constructive contributions. The Green Paper offers all those with a genuine commitment to education the opportunity to contribute their ideas, experience and to express their concerns. It poses as many questions as it prescribes solutions. Political knockabout and serious scrutiny have their place in the proceedings of the House but we are sincere in our desire to achieve maximum consensus as we seek to transfer an exciting vision into effective reforms which transform the life choices and life chances of all our young people.
I am proud of the fact that last week we published probably the first ever young people's version of a Green Paper, demonstrating our commitment across government to consult young people on policy developments that impact on their lives. For too long we have treated young people as passive recipients of reform. As the Minister with responsibility for young people and learning, I am determined that their status as users and consumers of the education system should be recognised and acted upon.
I want to put our 14 to 19 proposals in the context of our overall vision for high-quality education and training. As hon. Members will know, the past five years have seen dramatic improvements in education. Spending on education has risen from 4.7 per cent. to 5 per cent. of gross domestic productan increase of £13.6 billion. The exam results of those aged between 14 and 19 continue to improve, and Ofsted recently confirmed that the quality of teaching found to be "good or better" has never been higher.