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Points Of Order

Volume 404: debated on Thursday 8 May 2003

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1.32pm

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Following the question raised by the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) about Monday's business, you will be aware that the only guidance that we have at this stage to the shape and form of Monday's business on the important and potentially controversial Bill on Northern Ireland is the item on page 1800 of today's Order Paper, which simply makes a reference to the business being concluded at 10 o'clock. So all we know at this stage is that the House will have the opportunity only from 2.30 until 10 o'clock on Monday to complete all the parliamentary stages of a complex and potentially controversial Bill. It would help the House to know whether it will be in order to table amendments to the motion on page 1800 of the Order Paper—for example, to extend the business beyond 10 o'clock.

Would it not be a courtesy to hon. Members if the Leader of the House could answer the not unreasonable question put to him by the hon. Member for Thurrock, and tell us how much time he envisages being allocated to Second Reading, the Committee stage, Report and Third Reading on Monday—all of which must take place between 2.30 and 10—so that hon. Members can have some idea of what the Government are proposing and of how to deal with this controversial matter? On the face of it, it seems entirely inadequate to allow only from 2.30 until 10 for all the parliamentary stages of a Bill that we have not yet seen to be completed, never mind the fact that we only have tomorrow, when the House is not sitting, to table amendments.

I make this appeal to the Leader of the House: it would be very helpful if he could tell us more of what is in the Government's mind at this stage. It would also be helpful, Mr. Speaker, if you could use your authority to confirm that amendments can be tabled to the motion, which is the only information that we have at the moment, so that we can give serious thought to whether the House as a whole might want to give itself more time than the Government now envisage.

Let me answer the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth). Perhaps I can assist him and the House by saying that amendments to this motion will be accepted and can be tabled.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Can you confirm that there is nothing in Standing Orders, despite the recent changes to our hours, to prevent the House from sitting until it completes the process on that Bill in a proper way, and that it can sit until any hour? Can you confirm that there is nothing in either the modernisation proposals that were put to the House or in the decision made on them that could prevent that from happening? Could you use your good offices, in the interests of proper scrutiny of this very important measure, to make representations to the Leader of the House on that point?

At the moment, the guillotine motion is set for 10 o'clock, but that can be changed. The hon. Gentleman will perhaps have more influence than I on that matter.