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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 January, 2004, 15:03 GMT
Parliamentary progress: HE Bill
Photo of a graduate with certificate
The House of Commons was packed to the rafters to discuss the most contentious piece of legislation this session.

The government clinched the crucial vote on the Higher Education Bill, by 316 to 311 votes. BBC Parliament presents the order of proceedings:-

The debate

  • Opened by Education Secretary Charles Clarke, to reinforce the positive effects of the policy. He also outlined the latest concessions offered to persuade politicians to keep the bill alive.

  • Conservative shadow education secretary Tim Yeo presented the basis of the opposition to the bill.

  • Recently converted rebel Nick Brown, MP for Newcastle upon Tyne East and Wallsend, identified the major arguments from within Labour's ranks.

  • Liberal Democrat Education Spokesman Phil Willis put forward his party's views on the bill.

  • Other MPs put their views on the bill, including William Hague for the Conservatives and the Education Select Committee Chair Barry Sheerman, the Labour MP for Huddersfield.

  • When the debate is over a representative from each party made winding up speeches to summarise their positions.

    The vote

  • At 1900 GMT MPs cleared the Commons and cast their votes in the lobby.

  • If there had been a tie the Speaker - who does not normally participate in ballots - gets the casting vote.

    Governments have been defeated at second reading only three times in the last century:-
    Shops Bill (14 April 1986): concerning Sunday trading
    Redundancy Rebates Bill (7 February 1977): lost because the PM absent and not paired
    Rent Restriction Bill (7 April 1924))

  • The Speaker must explain his reasons to the House, according to the following principles:
    -The Speaker votes for further discussion - generally the status quo - so the House eventually decides the outcome.
    - It is preferable decisions are made by a majority of the House and should not be carried by the Speaker's vote.
    - The Speaker's casting vote on an amendment to a bill should leave the bill in its existing form. If there is no majority for amending a bill, the speaker votes to maintain the original and against the amendment.

    The ayes have it

  • A standing committee representing the spread of votes in the ballot discusses the detail of the bill.

  • The standing committee must sit twice on the first day it meets, usually for administrative reasons.

  • The standing committee stage must be completed by 26 February 2004.

  • The report stage follows when the standing committee's amendents will be presented to the House for further debate.

  • Before the bill passes to the House of Lords there is a third and final reading in the Commons, which is normally just a formality.

    The nos have it

    Confidence motions
    There were only two confidence motions against the government between 1900 and 1945 - both in 1924.
    Since 1945 there have been 23 votes of no confidence and 3 of confidence.
    The only vote of no confidence carried against the government was on 28 March 1979, triggering the general election which Callahan lost.

  • If the bill had been rejected at second reading there could have been a be a vote of no-confidence.

  • There are two mechanisms for a vote of no-confidence:-
    -A member of the government, such as the Leader of the House, could call for the vote to be rescheduled, this time as a matter of confidence.
    -The opposition could call for a confidence vote which would be a 'vote of no confidence' or a 'vote of censure'.

    House of Commons Business
    26 Jan 04  |  BBC Parliament
    House of Lords Business
    26 Jan 04  |  BBC Parliament
    Public bills in Parliament 2003/2004 session
    07 Jan 04  |  BBC Parliament
    03 Dec 03  |  Politics


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