Clause 43 - Short title, interpretation, commencement and extent

Part of Special Educational Needs and Disability Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 6:45 pm on 3rd April 2001.

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Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Education and Employment) 6:45 pm, 3rd April 2001

Oh dear, Sir David. Normally, as the Minister suggested, the amendment would pose no problem for me. Hon. Members on both sides of the Committee are most jealous of the privileges of this House and should not want to cavil at all. Indeed, I would not have wanted to say a single word about it had not the Minister unfortunately said, when she moved the programme motion on 20 March:

``I can say that the Government do not intend to table further amendments to the Bill.''—[Official Report, 20 March 2001; Vol. 365, c. 290.]

I have been debating how this situation might have arisen, and I see four possibilities. The first scenario, which I hope is the least plausible, is that some person unknown, perhaps even an Opposition member of the Committee, donned drag, went into the Public Bill Office at dead of night, and tabled the amendment in the name of the Minister without her knowledge or consent.

The second possibility is that Ministers did not intend to table an amendment—I will accept their bona fides on that—but were so used to doing so that they could not help themselves. The third possibility—this is a little more plausible, especially at a time when our minds may be moving to other things, and given that we have used a variety of classical analogies in the Committee—is to cite a Biblical reference to the situation in Babylon, and to say that the Assyrian words ``Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin'' must have spontaneously appeared as the writing on the wall behind the Chairman. That really meant, ``Nasty things are going to happen to the present Government,'' and, believe it or not, they did.

However, given the circumstances, the most plausible interpretation of events is that the Government knew all along that they were going to have to do this. Within an hour of the Minister's assertion—I shall not embarrass her by repeating it—the other Minister moved a money resolution that would be incompatible with the continuation of the saving provision in the clause, so they had to remove it by tabling the amendment. That is the most likely scenario.

The only advice that I can give the Minister in the circumstances is that she should watch her language. She is a Minister who has been in the Commons for a year or two, and if she does not know how to put material saving and qualifying adjectives into her assertions, she should learn.