With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 33, in page 3, line 44, at end insert—
'(3)(c) In the event of an interruption in the availability of the items set out in subsection (2), the relevant 12 month period is the most recent 12 month period during which there was no interruption to such supply.'.
Amendment No. 32 is designed to probe the Government on the meaning of the clause and amendment No. 33 deals with a matter of greater substance. We may wish to press that amendment, although that will depend on the progress of the debate.
First, on amendment No. 32, subsection (3) states:
''The sales referred to in subsection (2) are to be measured by sale price''.
The Bill does not contain a definition of ''sale price'', which could have several meanings. The hon. Member for Luton, North mentioned spelling out principles; we should spell out definitions.
I think that I know what the Government mean, but I suspect that if we are not careful we could easily create a loophole for the tobacco companies, which the hon. Member for Luton, North does not much care for. Inserting the word ''actual'' would at least quantify the concept of the sales price. That word may not be right or what the Government mean. However, ''sale price'' has many possible meanings. The meaning could be the recommended price of a product or the discounted price. It could be the price before or after duty is charged, or the price before or after the addition of value added tax. It could be a price subject to a deal whereby the product is added to other items before an overall discount is applied.
If a prosecution were brought that was based on the ''sale price'', has any lawyer given thought to the following? If the clause says only ''sale price'', a defence could be offered that the recommended sale price is so and so and, when calculating sales figures, the recommended list price of the product rather than the actual or discounted price should be used because the discount that is given is based on the value of the customer and the overall business that he brings. Such business need not come only from tobacco products
because it could come from many other items. One could argue that the discount applied was that granted to the customer, not the product. A good lawyer could have quite a bit of fun with that defence and I imagine that it would be difficult to return to this Act—as it will be—and point out that the clause says ''sale price''.
Has any thought been given to that problem and does a definition of ''sale price'' apply generally in law? The hon. Member for Luton, North mentioned principles. However, we are returning to previous debates. I promise you, Mr. Winterton, that we will not have those debates again in general terms but, in your absence, we have had several discussions on the need for definitions to avoid doubt. This is a further case. What is the ''sale price''?
We tabled the amendment to stimulate discussion and to allow us to get our minds around the subject. My colleagues and I are not wedded to the word ''actual'', but that word would define ''sale price''. If the Minister does not like the word, I would be happy to hear an alternative. I stress that amendment No. 32 is a probing amendment and we do not necessarily wish to press it to the vote.
Amendment No. 33 raises a different issue. I am the first to admit—given that I drafted the amendment—that when a layman drafts an amendment, it is perfectly possible for it to be a load of nonsense in legal terms. Therefore, I am not deeply wedded to the wording. If the Minister says that the wording is useless and offers me a different form of words that has been researched by Parliamentary draftsmen, I will be delighted.
I have chosen those words because I am trying to tackle an important issue. Clause 6 says that specialist tobacconists can have exemptions or dispensations with regard to the provisions of the Bill. The Government have decided that that should be the case and that is fine with me—although the hon. Member for Luton, North would claim that the tobacco companies might be able to take advantage of that.
The clause seeks to define a specialist tobacconist by reference to sales. It states that if a business has been established for less than 12 months, the available information should be examined, and that if a business has been established for longer than a year, the previous 12 months' figures should be studied. If those figures show that the turnover of the business does not divide in such a way that it can be classified as a specialist tobacconist, I assume that that business will no longer be a specialist tobacconist and that, therefore, it will no longer be able to take advantage of this dispensation. The Government are saying that a business will be classified as a specialist tobacconist if more than 50 per cent. of its turnover is in tobacco products. That is fine—although we could argue whether that is the correct percentage, and that could be discussed in a stand part debate.
The Government have said that that is how they will measure whether a business is a specialist tobacconist, but it is possible for a business that has been a specialist tobacconist for many years to have a different year in trading terms. The trading patterns of that business
might change because the owner does things that alter the nature of the turnover. If those things are done voluntarily, that is fair enough; the owner might know what they are doing because they are aware of the need to stay within the Government's rules but choose not to do so—or not to take remedial action during the course of the year to ensure that the business does stay within the rules. If proprietors of such businesses choose to be in that situation, or are so silly that they do not bother to address it, they richly deserve their fate, because matters are within their control.
However, as Committee members who have run businesses know, circumstances can arise over which one does not have any control. I ran a retail business during the miners' strike; we lost our electricity supply and our sales plummeted. How much they fell depended on the time of day when our electricity was cut, because there is a pattern to when people buy things within the day as well as within the seasons. I had no control over the loss of the electricity supply. My turnover figures for that year were very different than those for many previous and subsequent years.
A specialist tobacconist might be unable to get specialist tobacco products because of a strike of some sort—such as a distribution, a manufacturing, or a shipping strike. It appears that we are returning to an era of industrial unrest, so any of those strikes could happen and they could last for a protracted period. Therefore, a business might find that its turnover of tobacco plummets and that there is nothing that it can do about that. The Government are stoking up the industrial unrest and it would be grossly unfair if they caused a strike and then penalised entirely innocent businesses.
This amendment is intended to address that problem. As I have said, its wording might be unacceptable to the lawyers, but it seeks to say that if a business is caught up in a strike that it cannot control and that affects its previous 12 months' figures, the figures for the 12 months before that—when there was no interruption of supply—must be used. The amendment would take out of a financial calculation a year in which unusual trading was not a result of the business's action or inaction.
The provision gives rise to another issue. Given crop failures and climate variation, it is possible that the availability of tobacco in its usual quantities from particular places may vary. As a non-smoker, I must rely on what other people tell me, but I gather that there are distinct differences in tobacco and that if someone smokes tobacco that comes from Africa, it does not automatically follow that he will want to smoke tobacco that is grown in America.
A specialist tobacco business may be based on a particular brand and be popular among certain customers because the tobacconist is obtaining the product from a particular area. If that crop fails or the change of climate restricts its availability and the tobacconist switches to another product that his customers do not like or with which they are not familiar, the turnover of the business could plummet in
the short term. It would take that business a while to build up a new clientele who would appreciate the new product.
Again, the interaction of supply in such a situation will be out of the control of the retailer. It is unreasonable to expect the business to be closed down and to run foul of the Bill because, in the short term, it had to change its product. I should be grateful for the Minister's response to such matters. I do not want her to comment on the wording of the amendment, other than to say how she could improve it. What are her views about an uncontrollable interruption of supply? Does she believe that it should be excluded from the financial calculations under the Bill?
I add my words of welcome to you, Mr. Winterton, to those that have already been expressed. I shall not detain the Committee because my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne has rehearsed in some detail the arguments in favour of the amendments. I regard them as serious and I hope that the Minister does, too. It is clear from my hon. Friend's argument that the words ''sale price'' are insufficient because they lack clarity and definition.
I support what my hon. Friend said about the possible interruption of tobacco supplies. As a smoker, I have experienced it. In the past two or three years, it has not always been possible to obtain certain types of Zimbabwean tobacco. That illustrates the broad theme of my hon. Friend's argument. It is a matter of regret that the Government have pursued the sales threshold with which amendment No. 32 deals. An alternative route was suggested in an amendment tabled in the other place, which was to change the threshold from ''sale price'' to the number of brands of tobacco products stocked in a particular shop.
Interestingly, that is the measurement used in comparable Dutch legislation. The argument for it is that it is far simpler to operate a system based on the number of brands than on sales, which are variable. Will the Minister kindly explain why the Government did not follow the example set by Dutch legislation?
I do not think that the amendment adds anything to the Bill; it is therefore unnecessary and the Government oppose it. It is straightforward that ''sale price'' means the price at which the goods were sold—the amount that the customer pays the tobacconist, the coins that cross the counter, the number on the switch card stub.
Under amendment No. 33, a complicated assessment would have to be made of interruption to supply. That would introduce all sorts of difficulties and complications about how such an interruption would be measured. The Bill allows a 12-month period—not three, one or six months—in which sales are to be measured. That is a considerable time and I think that the provision is fair. It would not be right for the Bill to try to anticipate every problem that might arise in the life of a specialist tobacconist, whether it be a change in local demand, an interruption in supply or any other hiccup. Those problems are in the nature of business, and tobacconists must respond to them.
If specialist sales fall below 50 per cent. in the 12 months in which sales are assessed, retailers will not, under the terms of the Bill, be counted as specialist tobacconists. Therefore, they will not get the allowances to which the clause refers. The hon. Gentleman asked why the Government chose to focus on sales rather than numbers of brands. It is easier to get round the number of brands, and so if the Bill concentrated on that, it would be easier for the provision to become a loophole. The Netherlands's legislation has not yet been implemented or enforced, so we do not have any experience of that system to draw upon. It is right to focus on sales rather than the number of brands on offer.
The Minister referred to the 50 per cent. threshold, which I had intended to deal with in the stand part debate. I should like to ask her a question about it. We should challenge why that 50 per cent. threshold has been chosen. No health factor is involved in the choice of that figure. It does not make any difference to the purchaser—the smoker—what percentage of the tobacconist's stocks sold is from the allowed products. By insisting on a 50 per cent. threshold, we are not decreasing the health risk for the purchaser.
I am conscious of the burden of bureaucracy that the provision will put on the small retailer and I should like the Minister to deal with that matter. The other day, I asked the specialist tobacconist from whom I buy my cigars how a 50 per cent. threshold would work in practice. He said that it would be a considerable demand. He also sells non-tobacco products. He tells me that the percentage of his takings that comes from tobacco products for which tobacco advertisements would be allowed varies from month to month. Some months, it would be more than 50 per cent., but in others it would be less than that. He regards it as an unnecessary burden that, under the Bill, he would have to put up and take down advertisements almost on a monthly basis and would see that as an unreasonable requirement from the Government.
For the life of me, I cannot see any logical reason for a 50 per cent. threshold because, whether it is 50 per cent., 30 per cent., or 10 per cent., it will not affect the health of the smoker. He will buy the tobacco products that he wants, regardless of the proportion of retail sales that his purchase constitutes. Will the Minister explain the purpose of the 50 per cent. threshold?
In view of the intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter), I want to query the status of the stand part debate. We have moved away from the two amendments and there are other issues to be discussed that would be better dealt with in a stand part debate. I seek an assurance about your views, Mr. Winterton, so that we may decide whether to debate further issues on the amendments or leave them until the stand part debate.
The Chairman: Heavy weather is being made of the debate this morning. If there are matters that Opposition Members wish to discuss that are not dealt with on the amendments, I will, of course, allow a clause stand part debate.
Thank you, Mr. Winterton. I will avoid roaming over territory that is not covered by this morning's debate. With regard to amendment No. 32, it is interesting that the hon. Member for Luton, North did not leap to his feet and shout, ''Loophole'', because it would be easy for specialist tobacconists—not for the tobacco companies this time—to slip through the legislation. When the Minister spoke about the price at which the goods would be sold, I immediately saw a loophole—a very big loophole—looming.
Let us suppose that I am on the borderline of qualifying as a specialist tobacconist and I know that sales are measured by the price at which the goods are sold. I have good and regular customers, on whom I can rely to keep me in business, and they rely on me to supply them with the specialist products that they want. I might be tempted to say, ''Unless my turnover is 'adjusted', I cannot supply you with the specialist products that you want, so for the next few weeks I shall double the price of my hon. Friend's cigars and halve the price of other products.'' The figures on the counterfoil of the Visa card—the money that is passed over the counter—have been cooked. They have been made to fit. I had expected a response from the Minister to show that the Government mean the money that changes hands, providing that the price charged is not artificial.
There is a loophole and the Minister has just opened it up. I wonder if she might like to close it down again by agreeing that, if she is to rely upon the sale price being the amount of money that changes hands, an amendment needs to be introduced. An amendment is needed that would show that the price charged, or the price that changes hands, is not greater than the recommended retail price of the product. I am sure that a lawyer could find a way of wording it. I am not wedded to the word ''actual'' in amendment No. 32, and I will seek the leave of the Committee to withdraw it, so that we can move on to amendment No. 33, which I wish to move formally.
From the way in which the Minister responded to my questions, I suspect that she has never run a retail business. Otherwise, she would not have offered the view that 12 months is a nice long time in which it is perfectly possible to sort things out. That is not true. Two things occur to me about the tobacco business. Tobacco is an annual crop, and if someone misses this season, they must wait a full 12 months before the next one. It is not something that can be sorted out three months later because there has been a crop failure. If ever there were an industry that needed to work on at least annual cycles, it is one that depends for its raw materials on an annual cycle about which nothing can be done.
The other thing that was clear from the Minister's reply that 12 months is a long time was that she has never examined the sales figures of retail businesses. In my retail business, like many, more than half the
turnover was obtained in November or December, because of Christmas. I assume that the same is true of tobacco products, as many people seem to give and receive them at Christmas. A strike, for example, or interruption in supply, in late November or early December, could seriously hit the part of the trade that matters most in arriving at that calculation.
I therefore do not believe that the Government have taken the matter seriously. They merely say that 12 months is a long time and believe that tobacconists should simply sort themselves out. They would if they could, because their livelihood is at stake, but in some circumstances, specialist tobacconists cannot sort themselves out. I cannot believe that even this Government want to penalise people for matters that are entirely beyond their control. On that basis—unless the Minister wants to respond—I shall withdraw the amendment.
I am happy to respond briefly to the points that have been made. The hon. Member for Basingstoke asked about the purpose of the threshold. Cigars, snuff and pipe tobacco are addictive and harm health. The clause allows specialist tobacconists some specialist treatment, because we recognise the concerns of small businesses that appeal to a narrow adult market. However, we must place clear restrictions on that treatment.
Removing the threshold as the hon. Member for Basingstoke suggests would create a massive loophole. He seems to be arguing that anyone who sells cigars, snuff or pipe tobacco should be able to advertise them. We do not believe that that is right, and to do so would constitute an abuse under the Bill. Businesses fiddling figures would involve issues relating to falsifying figures and legal restrictions.
Subsection (1)(c) refers to compliance
''with any requirements specified by the appropriate Minister in regulations in relation to tobacco advertisements on the premises of specialist tobacconists.''
A reference to regulations is included in case a loophole is created in future that is exploited in a particular way by aspects of the tobacco industry. It is therefore right to reject both amendments.
I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment proposed: No. 33, in page 3, line 44, at end insert—
'(3)(c) In the event of an interruption in the availability of the items set out in subsection (2), the relevant 12 month period is the most recent 12 month period during which there was no interruption to such supply.'.—[Mr. Wilshire.]
Question put, That the amendment be made:—
The Committee divided: Ayes 3, Noes 12.
Several issues need to be addressed because, the longer the debate on the amendments moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne continued, the more apparent it became that the clause is a pig's ear. It was clear from the outset—the Minister admitted it—that the use of the 50 per cent. sales figure is arbitrary. My hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke mentioned other systems, in particular the system in Holland, that could be equally open to abuse if tobacconists were so minded. My hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne mentioned that ''sale price'' lacks any definition.
I gather that we are considering 380 specialist tobacconist businesses, which is a very small number of establishments out of the total of 22,000 retail outlets that sell tobacco products. The Minister told us that they are singled out and given special treatment in the Government's clause because the Government recognise the concerns of small businesses. If there are 22,000 retail outlets that sell tobacco products, which are commonly dominated by cigarettes, I guess that a substantial proportion of the remaining 21,620 outlets are also small businesses. It is not the case that every outlet that sells cigarettes is a big business—some are, especially supermarkets, most of which have tobacco counters—compared with outlets that sell specialist tobacco products, such as cigars, snuff and specialist tobaccos, although such businesses are usually small. I do not understand how the Government's preferential treatment of specialist tobacconists stacks up if their prime concern is to ensure that they do not act disproportionately toward small businesses. The Government are doing that because of what is written in the rest of the Bill.
The Minister almost gave credence to the fact that, for the first time, the Bill admits that different tobacco products cause differential harm—she may wish to justify her comments. The Bill's wording recognises that certain tobacco products are less harmful and that other products, especially cigars, are sold to people who are less susceptible to advertising hype or gimmick. For instance, I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke hardly regards—if he notices at all—the advertisements that might be displayed in his specialist tobacco shop, and that advertisements in glossy magazines do not encourage him to visit it more frequently. His buying patterns are unlikely to be influenced by advertisements in the vicinity of the shop, behind the counter, attached to the till—or wherever.
There is an admission that some tobacco products might do less damage, and are less effective in influencing the smoking habits of certain people. I think that the clause admits that that is the case. Therefore, I hark back to clause 4, with regard to which the Minister refused to give retailers who sell cigars and specialist tobacco in particular—or exclusively, as in one of our amendments that addresses that—rather than cigarettes, any dispensation to carry on their business on a mail order basis, so that they can send price information to their mail order customers, without those customers having to request that information on each occasion. Therefore, there is a considerable anomaly between the way that the Government are treating the 380-odd specialist tobacco suppliers in this clause, and the treatment that they were not prepared to give them elsewhere in the Bill—in earlier clauses, and in amendments proposed by us that would have been consistent with what the Government are trying to do in this instance.
There is also a greater reason why the clause is a mess, which my hon. Friends began to touch on in their references to earlier amendments, and that is the issue of fluctuating sales. With regard to subsections (2) and (3)(a), there is a glaring anomaly. Subsection (2) defines a specialist tobacconist, and if a retailer is able to comply with that definition, he or she will be exempted from some of the advertising restrictions set out in subsection (1). It states that if more than half of a retailer's sales ''derive'' from cigars, snuff, pipe tobacco and smoking accessories, he or she will benefit from those exemptions. However, that figure will be quantified on the basis of the 12-month accounting period that is set out in subsection (3)(a)—or, if figures for an entire year are not available, of the period for which accounts are available—and that must, necessarily, refer to a time in the past, because accounts are produced historically. Typically, accounts for a financial year—such as the normal financial year that starts on 5 April, or a calendar financial year for which some retailers might take accounts—will be produced about three months after that year has finished. Therefore, we are talking about a definition that might be 15 months out of date, yet subsection (2) refers to the present tense. Which period will be taken into consideration when the decision is taken about whether an advertisement should be removed?
It is conceivable that a situation will arise where for the last 12-month period for which accounts are available the tobacconist was selling more than 50 per cent. of his goods in the form of cigars and permitted tobacco products, but he got rid of all such cigars and specialist tobacco products, or they were subject to fluctuations in supply, such as difficulties with regard to the crop from Zimbabwe, or because of customers who buy Havana cigars on their way back to the United States.
I cite that example because although one is not allowed to import for retail purposes Havana cigars from Cuba into the United States, there has been a
thaw in the relationship between those nations. We have seen evidence of that in the past few days, with the former President's visit. That being so, Havana cigars are readily available in the United States and American buyers will not have to use suppliers in the United Kingdom. The anomaly that an inordinate amount of our money subsidises tobacco producers in Greece and Italy may also change.
My hon. Friend is right. That is another anomaly in the definition of accounts. I assume that the clause refers to the conventional sense of accounts in which accounts for a 12-month period are produced a few months after the end of that period. That would be most people's understanding. Most businesses do not run on a rolling accounts period, although some could. There is no definition of how the accounting period should be interpreted or of what makes up the sale price.
The more I read the clause, the more I see that it is full of flaws. A tobacconist could trade in full knowledge that his sales of specialist cigar and non-cigarette products fall well below the 50 per cent. threshold, yet the accounts for the past 12-month period, that have not yet been produced, perfectly justify taking advantage of the exemptions, because at that stage he was selling more than 50 per cent. The following year, the reverse may be true. The clause is nonsensical.
The Government have not made a proper case for treating specialist tobacconists in a particular way. Although there are grounds for giving them special treatment, there are also grounds for protecting the many thousands of other small retailers who do not fall within the definitions of a specialist tobacconist, but are open to all of the vagaries of the small retailer that the Minister suggests she wishes to protect. She is patently not doing so because of what happens in the rest of the Bill. The clause is a mess. I welcome clarification from the Minister because the more one examines the detail of the clause, the more one sees that it could be open to all sorts of abuse.
The clause was inserted because we recognise the concerns of small businesses that appeal to a narrow, adult market with products such as cigars and snuff. Ours is a proportionate response that reflects the fact that the industry is long and established and primarily concerns small businesses. It is not about giving an exemption to all small businesses. That would be wrong.
The clause reflects that the market is predominantly adult and that advertising will be permitted in particular circumstances, within or outside the shop, for cigars, snuff and pipe tobacco. Although cigars and pipe tobacco may be less harmful than cigarettes and hand rolling tobacco, they pose considerable health risks. A European study found that the risk of lung cancer was five times higher for cigar smokers than for
non-smokers. It is important that although allowance has been made for specialist tobacconists, we should be clear that that is not an exemption from a comprehensive ban, and that clause 6 (1)(c) has the power to deal with any abuse that may arise as a result of the exemption.
The accounting period is clear; it is
''the most recent period of twelve months for which accounts are available''.
I think that a 12-month period is right, and will provide the correct level of allowance. It would be wrong to make further provision for specialist tobacconists. The exemption is clearly restricted to a particular set of businesses, and we should be clear that the overall aim of the Bill is to ban tobacco advertising for very good health reasons.
There were a couple of issues that the Minister did not address, and I would be grateful if she could give us some information about them. She rightly says that she is concerned about the anxieties of small businesses. I welcome converts to the cause of capitalism wherever I can find them. Welcome to the club, I say to her.
Why 51 per cent.? There must be a reason for that figure, and I expected the Minister to give us an explanation. The figure cannot have been plucked out of the air. Were there consultations, and if so, with whom? Did others suggest 51 per cent., or say that it sounded reasonable? I should like to know because it helps to define the sort of small business that the Minister has in mind.
Another subject on which I expected guidance is subsection (1)(c), which reads:
''complied with any requirements specified by the appropriate Minister in regulations in relation to tobacco advertisements on the premises''.
It would be nice to know to what we are being asked to agree, and what the Government have in mind by way of acceptable and unacceptable advertisements. I would not put it beyond the Government, if they could get away with it, to say, ''Look, we are making a concession, aren't we great people? We've converted to capitalism and we're going to support small businesses'', and then come up with a regulation saying that any advert larger than a postage stamp will not be allowed. That is how they might defeat this so-called good concession. It would be helpful to have some reassurance about the type of advertisements that the Government might include under regulations.
May I seek your guidance, Mr. Winterton? Obviously, I am happy to respond to as many points as hon. Members make, but in the interests of speeding up our progress it would be helpful if hon. Members could raise as many of their points as possible in their first contributions on a subject, rather than raising new points as soon as I have sat down.
We had discussions with specialist tobacconists on the 51 per cent. before last year's Bill was published. They had no strong objection to that figure. If Opposition Members want to propose a different figure, we could discuss it, but 51 per cent. seems
sensible to me. As for regulation-making powers, we have said that at this stage we have no intention of introducing any particular regulations. The power is included in the Bill in case the provisions in clause 6 are abused and used as a loophole to introduce forms of tobacco advertising other than those normally used by specialist tobacconists.
I fear that I am going against the Minister's request for us to group all our points together.
Perhaps I could reply to the Minister's response to my initiation of a clause stand part debate. As my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne said, we have identified yet another undefined ''in case'' subsection, the most far-reaching and abusive example of which we shall consider under clause 7. The Minister said that the clause was a proportionate response, but she went on completely to ignore all the practical points that I made about when the accounting period starts and fluctuation in the mix of sales, for example. That shows that the provisions in the clause are tokenism, and that no regard has been taken of the mechanics of bringing the clause into effect and the effect that it will have on practitioners.
The clause does not provide any clarity. If I were a specialist tobacconist as defined under the clause, I would not know whether I was coming or going, which my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke said was the response of his specialist tobacconist. The clause will cause much confusion.
The Minister said that special dispensation is being made for specialist tobaccos because the market for those is predominately adult. The market for any product under the Bill should be adult because a person must be aged over 16 if he or she is to smoke.
The amendments that related to specialist tobacconists and mail order lists were concerned with only specialist tobacco products, and particularly cigars, and specifically stated that people must be aged over 18 and that they should be treated as adults for the purpose of retailers' mail order prices and lists. Retailers derive much of their income from mail order because they are specialist, few in number and often difficult to reach. It was inconsistent for the Minister not to accept amendments that related to what she admitted to be an adult market, but to give special dispensation under the clause. The Government are being entirely inconsistent, which will result in a mess, and the Minister was unable to give us any reassurances.
I shall not force a vote on the clause so that we may move speedily on to consider other clauses. However, the more we debate the clause and the more the Minister takes us round in circles with her inadequate responses, the greater the confusion among retailers and the potential number of challenges in the courts. That is exactly the chaos and confusion that it is the
job of members of the Committee and other hon. Members to avoid by making the Bill clear and fair, which I fear is not true of this clause.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 6 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
I make a further plea to the Committee for faster progress. I am trying to help the Committee and, ultimately, the House of Commons. I am deeply worried that clauses of this important Bill might not be discussed. It is helpful if a Committee highlights the problems of a Bill before it returns to the Chamber for further consideration. That allows debates to be more meaningful and enables the Government to prepare answers that address difficulties and problems highlighted by the Opposition.
I ask again for further progress, and I hope that after the completion of this afternoon's sitting, which is our last and must finish at 7 pm, the majority of, if not all, the Bill will have been debated.
On a point of order, Mr. Winterton. I understand your concern but I must put on the record again that the guillotine at 7 pm is not fixed for eternity. The Government could allow adequate time to debate the Bill rather than insisting that five sittings are adequate and imposing a guillotine. The Opposition should do their job properly and to the best of their ability. We are not party to the lack of time.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Winterton. It is in order for the Government to approach you, as Chairman of the Programming Sub-Committee, to ask for a revision of the programme order that could allow debate to continue beyond 7 pm this evening and on other days. Have you received such an approach?
The hon. Gentleman is correct. The Government could do that, and the usual channels of both sides of the Committee could have approached me. However, they have not done that and it is a little late to do so today. I now wish to make progress.Clause 7 Developments in technology