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2.31 pm

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire): I am keen to move on, so that we can debate the major items, but I wish to make a brief point. I could not possibly claim that there has been insufficient time to debate the Bill, having served on the Standing Committee and felt rather as though we were ploughing through the desert on certain occasions. We now have two days in which to deal with the remaining stages, so all that seems perfectly adequate. However, have we not made an error in the division of time between the two days? Is the balance right?

Time has been taken up with two very important statements today, so the time that we have left compares very differently with the second day. We have to deal with 270 amendments today, but only 86 on the second day. Such things are not decided by mathematics, since some amendments and clauses will be more significant

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than others, but 202 clauses have to be covered today and only 72 on the second day. We have to deal with 11 different batches of amendments, but only eight on the second day.

Many of the amendments deal with the earlier clauses. That is perhaps natural because they tend to help to define what comes later and the major principles involved. So if the division between the days were to come at about clause 40 or 41, it might represent a much more serious attempt to spread out the different matters that need dealing with.

Something similar worked in Committee. As the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) said, there was an occasion on which the timetable bar came down and certain things were lost, after which changes took place. On the second occasion the bar was due to drop, it was removed altogether. During the 16th sitting, we were ploughing into the desert with a host of amendments that seemed to come from the CBI and the debate looked as though it would go on and on so that we would not make the 7 o'clock cut off.

Suddenly, when the bar was lifted, everything miraculously progressed and we finished at four minutes to 7, and we did everything that needed to be done up to that point. Indeed, our final sitting—the 18th—lasted just over an hour, and the arrangement was similar to the one that exists now: we are likely to finish more quickly on the second day than on the first.

It would be convenient for the House—it would certainly be convenient for me, given the amendments that I have tabled—if the arrangements were adjusted more sensibly. If that cannot be done, I hope that the Opposition are listening, as they may have a curious interest in the amendments that I have tabled, even though they could not possibly support them, and they may wish to find out where those amendments lead us.

2.35 pm

Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland): May I apologise to the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) for not having been present throughout the entirety of his speech? I think that I picked up the gist of it—certainly towards the end.

May I tell the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes) that I dearly wish we lived in a world where the business was ordered for the convenience of such a gentle and thoughtful hon. Member, but unfortunately, my experience of the past year leads me to think otherwise?

I wish briefly to place on record the fact that Liberal Democrat Members share the concerns expressed by the hon. Member for Eastbourne. Good progress was made in Committee, but sufficient time has not been allocated to debate the Bill on Report. A substantial number of Government amendments have been tabled, not necessarily exclusively because of undertakings given as a result of debates in Committee.

I accept—I may as well place this on record now because we shall never be able to debate the issue later—that the Minister has tabled very welcome amendments in relation to the cartel offence and, in particular, to obtaining warrants in Scotland, for which I take this opportunity to thank her publicly. However, one inevitably has to wonder about the efficacy of a system that involves our sitting in Committee, week after week,

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getting assurances from Ministers that the parliamentary draftsmen have got it right, only to find that such a large number of amendments need to be tabled on Report.

2.37 pm

Dr. John Pugh (Southport): In rising to speak, I am mindful of something that the Minister said in Committee. During one particularly dreadful moment in a long sitting, she said that brevity was a mark of intelligence.

I accept all that the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) has said about the undue haste that the Government have shown at times, about the fact that important issues need to be debated, and about how the law of unintended consequences can easily kick in. However, in relation to his comments in Committee, there was almost a failure of prioritisation.

It is true that we may not have had enough time, but I looked through Hansard and found that we had discussed the Oxford philosopher, G. D. H. Cole, and the uncle of the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes). A lot of that was very amusing, and I certainly enjoyed listening to the hon. Member for Eastbourne—I think that he enjoyed listening to himself, too. However, not only did I feel that we were losing the wood for the trees, but that we were sometimes losing the trees for the leaves. The Hansard record will show that an inordinate amount of time was consumed in saying very little, so I shall not take up any more of the House's time.

2.38 pm

Miss Melanie Johnson: I shall be brief. I can assure the House that I will be extremely brief in speaking to groups of Government amendments that are entirely trivial and consequential, about which the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) need not concern himself.

On the question of time wasting, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not pursue that path too vigorously, because I am sure that scrutiny of the record will show that time was not entirely well spent during debates in Committee, as the hon. Member for Southport (Dr. Pugh) has just suggested. I could add some other instances to those that he gave.

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I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes) is not directly included in the processes of the usual channels in discussing programme motions. However, I understand that this programme motion has been introduced on the basis that it has been agreed through the usual channels. That was certainly the case with the programme motion in Committee—it, too, was agreed.

I appreciate that the hon. Member for Eastbourne may not have got to grips with the contents of the Bill when it was published before Easter, but by the time we discussed the programme motion for the Committee, he must have been able to get to grips with the Bill and therefore to raise any concerns that he had about that programme motion. He did not raise such concerns about the division of time for those sittings.

Mr. Waterson: I would not want the Under-Secretary to be in danger of misleading the House. First, I made a different point, which was about all the outside bodies and organisations that were totally taken by surprise, first by the Bill's publication just before the Easter break, and then by the change in the order of consideration.

Secondly, I can only place it firmly on record—I do not think that anyone can contest it—that we were never consulted on the length of time allotted in the original programme motion for proceedings in Committee. Indeed, partly over the Easter break, I prepared a draft of how I thought we could allocate time. That, although proffered to the usual channels, was not thought to be helpful to the discussion. Let us be clear on those points.

Miss Johnson: A large number of outside bodies were very well aware of the Enterprise Bill and its general contents—and, indeed, some of its specific contents—well ahead of its publication.

I reiterate that the vast majority of the Government amendments are technical and consequential. They are attempts by parliamentary draftsmen to get the Bill exactly right. There is nothing wrong with that; it is part of the normal passage of a Bill. We have two days for Report, and I hope that the House will rapidly agree the programme motion and make progress on the substance of proceedings.

Question put and agreed to.

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13 Jun 2002 : Column 1039

Orders of the Day

Enterprise Bill

[1st Allotted Day]

As amended in the Standing Committee, considered.

New Clause 4

Excisions from reports: Part 3

'(1) Subsection (2) applies where the Secretary of State is under a duty to publish—

(a) a report of the OFT under section 43 or 60; or

(b) a report of the Commission under section 49 or 64.

(2) The Secretary of State may exclude a matter from the report concerned if he considers that publication of the matter would be inappropriate.

(3) In deciding what is inappropriate for the purposes of subsection (2) the Secretary of State shall have regard to the considerations mentioned in section 238.

(4) The body which has prepared the report shall advise the Secretary of State as to the matters (if any) which it considers should be excluded by him under subsection (2).

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