Child Benefit Bill

– in a Public Bill Committee at on 18 January 2005.

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[Miss Anne Begg in the Chair]

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That—

(1) during proceedings on the Child Benefit Bill the Standing Committee (in addition to its first meeting on Tuesday 18th January at 2.30 p.m.) shall meet on Thursday 20th January at 9.25 a.m.;

(2) the proceedings shall be taken in the following order, namely, Clause 1, Clause 2, Schedule 1, Clause 3, Schedule 2, Clauses 4 to 7, new Clauses, new Schedules and any remaining proceedings on the Bill;

(3) the proceedings on the Bill shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at 11.25 a.m. on Thursday 20th January.—[Dawn Primarolo.]

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Shadow Economic Secretary (Treasury)

May I begin our proceedings this afternoon by welcoming you to the Chair, Miss Begg? We look forward to serving under your chairmanship this afternoon.

There is a gentle irony in the fact that we are dealing with essentially a very small Bill in a very large Room. Nevertheless, what we are considering has the potential to become an Act of Parliament, and I want to raise two points in public that were raised privately in the Programming Sub-Committee last night. I told the Minister that I intended to do so.

The first point about the timetabling of the measure is that the Government gave an undertaking, when the Bill was published, that they would attempt to have the attendant draft regulations, which form the meat of the provisions, published in advance of Second Reading. To be fair, they complied with that by a margin of two days. However, because the Government have chosen to move the Bill into Committee so rapidly, there has not been much time to consult outside bodies on the draft regulations. Perhaps our proceedings would have benefited from extra time in which to do that.

I want to take this opportunity to request the Government, in any similar situation that may arise when regulations relevant to Second Reading are published close to that time and the Bill goes into Committee shortly afterwards, to make allowance for that. They should either publish the regulations earlier or leave a slightly longer time for consultation before beginning the Committee sittings. I do not think that that is an unreasonable request.

My second point relates to Third Reading. When the programme motion that governs our proceedings was passed on the Floor of the House, the Government allowed only half an hour for the Third Reading. I appreciate that it is not a long Bill. We do not try to pretend that it is. Nevertheless, there is a point of principle involved in allowing only half an hour for the Third Reading of what will become an Act of   Parliament. I deprecate that. It would be nice if an hour were available, even if it were not to be fully used. Perhaps that can be taken up through the usual channels, so that we do not end up in the same unfortunate situation again.

Photo of Dawn Primarolo Dawn Primarolo Paymaster General (HM Treasury)

I welcome you to the Chair this afternoon, Miss Begg. As the hon. Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) said, the Bill is a short one. Nearly all of the business in Committee will be under clause 1, which the subsequent six clauses support.

The hon. Gentleman has previously made the point to me about the regulations. The Government have made a particular effort to make regulations available prior to their discussion, something that we did not have the benefit of in opposition, because the previous Government did not cede the point. I note the hon. Gentleman's point, although on Second Reading the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) charitably described the regulations as

''a model of clarity and of brevity''—[Official Report, 12 January 2005; Vol. 429, c. 335.] and of directness. A considerable amount of advance consultation, with responses, was published a good deal in advance, when all the organisations who had the benefit of seeing the drafts had commented. However, I take the general point.

Timetabling on Third Reading is a matter for discussion through the usual channels, and I understand that that has happened. It is normal for Government Bills to have an hour on Third Reading. Given the size of the Bill before the Committee, it is not unreasonable, therefore, that less than an hour has been allowed. I know that the hon. Member for Rayleigh is inventive enough to ensure that he makes all the comments that he wants to make on the Bill and that he need not worry. His comments have been heard by the Government Whip and I am sure that any further necessary discussions will take place.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

Welcome to the Chair, Miss Begg. As has already been said, the Bill is fairly small and its overall substance is not particularly contentious. However, there are a couple of issues that we debated on the Floor of the House and that it will be useful to return to in Committee, particularly in relation to clause 1.

I agree with some of the comments of the hon. Member for Rayleigh on the time that will be allowed for the Third Reading debate. There are wider issues about the way in which the Government's strategy will develop in this area over the next few years, and it would be useful to be able to explore some of them in the context of a Third Reading debate.

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Shadow Economic Secretary (Treasury)

The Paymaster General has made her case. Without wishing to prolong the debate unnecessarily, I simply suggest that sometimes issues requiring considerable discussion crop up on Report and that part of the point of Third Reading is that there should be enough time to follow up whatever has cropped up on Report.

Question put and agreed to.

Photo of Anne Begg Anne Begg Labour, Aberdeen South

I remind the Committee that there is a money resolution in connection with the Bill, copies of which are available in the Room. I also remind hon. Members that adequate notice should be given of amendments. We shall not call starred amendments. Well, it depends on how many sittings of the Committee there are. There might not be another afternoon sitting. New clause 1 will now be taken after clause 7, rather than as part of the clause 1 stand part debate. I have been assured that the debate on new clause 1 will be a different debate from that on clause 1.