On a point of order, Sir Roger. Having changed the Bill’s long title, we have now reached the conclusion of our proceedings. It is probably good that the Bill already contained provision for invasive non-native species, because we have seen quite a few of them added to the Bill, and it is good that the long title was able to accommodate that. We have had some good discussions in Committee, and I have certainly learned many new things. I was previously unaware of the existence of killer shrimps, which caused a lot of mirth until we were brought up rather sharpish with the explanation that it is an important issue—at which point we all quickly adopted a more serious pose. If I were to pick out a debate in Committee that attracted a lot of attention, it would not be the one about the Highways Agency or about shale gas, but the one about invasive non-native species.
We will be reporting the Bill to the House in a while and, on a serious point, there are still things that need to be discussed. There is the electronic communications code, which we talked about today, and we already know that there is a need for further scrutiny on issues relating to shale gas extraction, Highways Agency reform and other things. Through you, Sir Roger, I put to the Minister some of the things that were raised in Committee. Two days on Report is not too much to ask.
This has been a good-natured Committee. At some stages I wondered where the safari would go next in political philosophy and literature. We have heard about Yeats and, today, St Augustine. We have heard numerous references to Burke, and Disraeli has been here, too. Opposition Members have been able to manage C.S. Lewis—
Gladstone was mentioned. Sorry, I forgot the Liberals—we do that quite often. We were able to mention Shakespeare and C.S. Lewis. Throughout this Committee I have been working out where I could work in references to Tom Paine and Gramsci. I did not manage it, but I have it on the record in these closing remarks.
The Committee has been conducted with good humour, for which I particularly thank the Minister. He has approached the debates both inside and outside this room with good humour and a genuine desire to involve Opposition Members. A number of commitments have been given that will strengthen the Bill. We still have reservations that will no doubt lead to Divisions on Report, but I think a number of our discussions will be taken away by the Minister, whom I thank for the courtesy that he has shown, even when being dumped upon by Ministers from other Departments into moving things that I suspect he would rather not have moved. Other Government Front Benchers have also shown great courtesy.
I thank my colleagues on the Opposition Front Bench for taking on board those aspects of the role that do not fall within my areas of responsibility. They have exercised great scrutiny of the Government’s proposals. I thank the Whips for keeping us in order. There was a frisson about the programme motion at the start, but we got there in the end. I thank all Members on both sides of the Committee. Their contributions have added wisdom to the Committee.
I thank the staff. The staff from the Departments never say anything, but they have to keep alert at all times to pass notes. Legislative debates could not happen without them. I also thank the staff on the Opposition side. They are not civil servants, but we rely on them to give us the briefings that enable us to exercise our responsibilities. I want to say thank you to them. I also thank the staff involved in recording and clerking proceedings. They deserve acknowledgment, and I gladly do so.
Finally, I thank the people who kept us in order throughout—you, Sir Roger, and Mr Hood. You have conducted the proceedings in an efficient and friendly way, and I would like to say thank you to you as well.
Further to that point of order, Sir Roger. Unusually, I rise on this occasion to add to the tributes from my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield, with whom I first served on a Committee in 1992. This is the last Bill Committee that I will serve on, as I am leaving the House at the general election. I volunteered to make this my valedictory Bill on the basis of my interest in hydraulic fracturing, but it became even more interesting when the Minister was slightly dumped on with the subject of mobile phone codes, which is also something I am really interested in. It has therefore been an appropriate Bill on which to finish my career in the House.
You and I have known each other all of that time, Sir Roger, and we have even gone through the Lobby together on a number of occasions. You may not care to admit that too frequently in the Conservative ranks, but I thank you, because I count you among my friends in this place, and I thank Mr Hood as well.
In particular, this has been a great Bill Committee to finish on because of the spirit in which it has been conducted. It is a great pity that only a handful of people are watching here and that we are not going to get a huge amount of television coverage, because some incredibly serious issues have been discussed, but in the spirit of true debate, rather than simply the slanging matches that occur on the Floor of the House. With those remarks, I say a fond farewell to all my friends here.
Further to that point of order, Sir Roger. It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Gentleman. I want to say some things about substance and some things about style—as Gramsci said, by the way, those two things are inseparable.
On substance, it is right to say that this Committee has been serious but good humoured. Is it not odd how often people outside the House—constituents and friends—ask how legislation is formed? It is surprising that people ask that question, given that these Committees, after all, are held in public; none the less, they do. They will know if they watch the proceedings of the Committee or if they read the record of it in Hansard that legislation is formed on the basis of a proper discourse—a discourse that helps Government to hone their thinking through the argument that originates in these Committees. That is precisely what has happened on this occasion. There are matters to take further, and I have committed to do so, before and on Report. That is thanks to the contribution of Members across the Committee, and I am grateful to them for that.
On style, that has been defined by many people—by you, Sir Roger, and Mr Hood. You have exercised your immense power over us with a delicacy and generosity for which you are well known. The civil servants, the staff of the House and the staff of Members have provided and equipped us with the good arguments that we have imperfectly articulated. The members of the Committee have come here diligently, often to listen to me for immense lengths of time, which I regard as a pleasure, although they may not, and I am big enough to know that. There was a moment when my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry described me as precious, but, disappointingly—as I had hoped he would describe me as a shining and smooth pearl—he said that I was a rough gem. I had always thought I was so smooth, but now I know that I am really just rough.
I know the shadow Ministers well and offer them thanks, because they have been immensely diligent in their scrutiny of the Bill—as, by the way, I anticipated they would be, as I have known them all for a number of years. I offer thanks to my colleagues on the Government Benches, particularly my hon. Friends the Members for Bristol West and for Hastings and Rye, who shared the burden of representing the Government’s interests with immense style. I thank the Whips, to whom, rather like God, we are in the end all answerable, for their smooth and sophisticated—[Interruption.] What people forget is that when I was a Whip I used to pass these notes. Let me just tear it up. [Laughter.] There.
And finally, I want to draw on three literary sources, or one political and two literary. I spend a good deal of my life late at night either listening to Miles Davies, as I did last night, or reading Proust, as I did afterwards. Proust said:
“We must never be afraid to go too far, for truth lies beyond.”
The Government’s job is to push forward, and to bring to the House legislation that makes a difference. That is what we have tried to do with this Bill.
Members will not be surprised that next I am going to quote Disraeli, who said that
“all power is a trust; that we are accountable for its exercise; that from the people and for the people all springs, and all must exist.”
Challenged to do so by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield, I end with the bard himself—I offer thanks for this to my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon, who provided it to me just a few moments ago. Let us go from this place in this spirit. See me, but imagine, if you will, Olivier:
“God, if thy will be so.
Enrich the time to come with…smiling plenty and fair prosperous days!”
On the issue of further discussion, the right hon. Gentleman will understand that that is entirely a matter for the usual channels, not for the Chair—indeed, neither was anything that has been said, all of which has been completely out of order. Nevertheless, as we are all completely out of order, it strikes me that one day someone will make a movie called “The Scourge of the Killer Shrimps”. I am sorry that the red squirrel did not appear to make it into Hansard on this occasion, but I am delighted that St Augustine found a proper place in the Committee, because he landed in the beautiful Isle of Thanet.
I say, wholly genuinely, to my friend the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston that I am sure everyone on the Committee will wish him a long, active and happy retirement. It has been a pleasure to enjoy his friendship for a very long time.
An observation was made about the good humour of the Committee. I am sure that Mr Hood would join me in congratulating both sides of the Committee on the conduct and spirit in which its discussions have taken place. The right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich will recall a transport Bill in the dim and distant past that he and I had the joy of sharing together, and it was in a similar spirit. I do not think there has been a Bill Committee since that I have felt was quite as good humoured as this one. I congratulate all Members on that conduct. I only wish that people outside this place saw rather more of what happens on a consensual basis in Committee.
With all that, I add my thanks to you all, particularly the Officers of the House, without whom we simply could not do our job. We appreciate them and the work that they do hugely, and that, in this difficult time and climate, the fact that they do their best to keep us safe.
Written evidence reported to the House
IB 40 Centrica
IB 41 Central Association of Agricultural Valuers
IB 42 Gravesham Borough Council
IB 43 Claire Robertson
IB 44 Which?
IB 45 National Farmers’ Union
IB 46 Chiltern District Council
IB 47 The Open Spaces Society
IB 48 Sam Miller
IB 49 National Grid Plc
IB 50 The Carbon Catalysts Group
IB 51 South Bucks District Council