On a point of order, Mr. Gale. I crave the Committee's indulgence. I have not had time to prepare, and the Whip said that if I were in that position, I could make a request.
Order. I apologise to the hon. Lady. I should have clarified the position earlier. With what I understood was the agreement of the usual channels, I agreed that the Committee would sit until 5.25 pm, in view of the time lost during a Division in the House. The hon. Lady just said that this was likely to be a substantial debate, so I must inform the Committee that, although I will, of course, honour the agreement to sit until 5.25, at that time the motion to adjourn will be moved, or I shall suspend the Committee for an hour and a half.
Order. I am answering the point of order.
It is a normal courtesy that the usual channels discuss the decision, but having given an undertaking as to what I would do, I will stand by it. That is my ruling, and I do not wish to have any further debate on it. I propose to suspend the Committee at 5.25 unless it is adjourned.
I am treading new waters here. I have served on Bill Committees before, but not from my current position on the Front Bench. My understanding was that, to enable the official Opposition to prepare and given that we do not have the same resources to hand as Government Members, it was a customary courtesy for the usual channels to consult the official Opposition on such matters. I regret the fact that that has not been done, as it places me in great difficulty.
My hon. Friend will know that I have concerns about clause 3 and that I believe that
amendments could be tabled. I understood that the clause was not to be discussed until next week, so I have not yet tabled any amendments and therefore they cannot be debated. Is my hon. Friend aware that the Chairman—I think that it was Mr. Gale; it may have been Miss Widdecombe—stated that he or she would not accept any manuscript amendments? That is right and proper, but because no amendments are listed, clause 3 will not be fully debated if we continue this debate now, especially if we have to finish debating clause 3 and move on to clause 4.
Miss McIntosh rose—
Order. The position is abundantly plain. We have reached the moment in the debate when it is necessary to debate clause 3 stand part. That is the motion before the Committee. The Chairman will not accept manuscript amendments, and no amendments to clause 3 have been tabled for debate this afternoon. Opposition Front Benchers have the opportunity to oppose clause 3 stand part if they wish to do so.
I seek your indulgence, Mr. Gale. I am in great difficulty. At no stage did anyone approach my hon. Friends or me with any request to sit until 5.25 pm. At no stage was it put to us that there might be an evening sitting. The Clerk knows, but the Government may not, that amendments to clause 3 have been tabled. I ask that we adjourn, so that we have time to discuss the amendments. That is part of the democratic process. I am sure, Mr. Gale, that you and Miss Widdecombe will recall that I requested a debate on clause 2 stand part.
On a point of order, Mr. Gale. I want to put it on record that at no time have I had any communication from the Opposition Whip or the Opposition chief spokesperson that they had any difficulty with reaching clause 3 at this stage of the proceedings. They spent more than five hours debating clause 2, and it is not unreasonable for me to suspect that they could have been well briefed to get at least as far as clause 3.
Order. None of these are matters for the Chairman. As far as the Chairman is concerned, negotiations between the usual channels do not exist. What exists is what is on the Order Paper, and what is available for debate is therefore on the Order Paper. There has clearly been some misunderstanding—on whose part I do not seek to judge. The only additional advice that I can give to the Committee is that it is open to any member of the Committee to move that further consideration of the Bill be adjourned. If that motion is put, I will, as the Chairman, put it to the Committee. I cannot predict the outcome.
Further consideration adjourned.—[Mr. Pearson.]
Adjourned accordingly at eighteen minutes past Five o'clock till Tuesday 5 February at half-past Ten o'clock.