On a point of order, Mr. Bercow. A letter from the Secretary of State dated 13 July about the proceedings on the Bill has been received. I thought that I might give the Minister the opportunity to read out that letter. It is pertinent to our proceedings. If the Minister does not care to do so, I am happy to do so myself.
Further to that point of order,Mr. Bercow. The Secretary of State sent a letter to the shadow Secretary of State. It was not sent to me. I do not know why it did not come from the Minister for Industry and the Regions. It was not even copied to me. Ten minutes ago the Minister’s office called my office and demanded a response to a letter that I had not received. The Minister may wish to put on record, through a point of order, her position on the matter.
The right hon. Lady had the opportunity to respond to the hon. Gentleman’s observations via a point of order of her own, but the Committee will have noted that she declined to do so.
Further to that point of order,Mr. Bercow. I thank you for your forbearance, but there is a point to be made. Basically, the Secretary of State said that if we did not accede to his request simply to agree to all 350 new clauses, the Government would withdraw them. Having asked for consolidation for four years, to receive a petulant, three-day deadline to the Government’s consolidation proposals from a ministerial team parachuted in two months ago is, frankly, pathetic.
Although we wish for consolidation and we hold to our agreement not to request material changes to consolidation clauses unless outside parties find key issues, I wish to place on record once again, in response to the Secretary of State’s letter, my concern that after eight years’ consultation the Government saw fit to provide us with some 300 additional clauses to be debated in one day on Report, which is inadequate for the existing Bill let alone the new clauses.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Bercow. We had a discussion on this issue last Thursday. There was an informal agreement outside the Committee that we would table the clauses, that we would submit them to the Law Society for its expert advice, and that the clauses were basically consolidation of other legislation, with adjustments only to make them compatible with other parts of the Bill. I invited both Opposition parties to have discussions with me during the recess if matters of substance arose and undertook to return to such matters on Report. That is perfectly proper. We need reassurance from the Opposition parties—we have had it from the Liberal Democrats; I am sorry if the Tories do not talk to each other—that the procedure thatwe had agreed informally would be adhered to appropriately. Otherwise, we cannot go ahead with consolidation. If I may say so, Mr. Bercow, we are wasting time that should be spent discussing the other clauses.
Order. I suggest that given the amount of business that we have to conduct today and, very likely, also on Thursday, it would make sense to draw these exchanges to a halt. The hon. Gentleman’s views have been placed very firmly on the record. The right hon. Lady has had and has taken the opportunity to reply. It now makes sense to get on with the business of the Bill. I do not disregard the significance of what has been said, but it has been said and there is little purpose in continuing repetition.