Civil Partnership Bill [Lords]

Part of the debate – in a Public Bill Committee am 9:10 am ar 19 Hydref 2004.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 9:10, 19 Hydref 2004

I am sorry to introduce the first note of dissent. However, before I explain why I dissent from the programming motion, I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Cook. I can see that this is going to be a very important Committee and one in which the experience that you bring to the post will be valuable. I speak as one of the members of the Committee who is not in tune with the expressions of my Front-Bench team, or the Liberal Democrat or the Government Front-Bench teams. You will know, Mr. Cook, as a Chairman of a Standing Committee, how important it is that other voices can be heard, particularly in a case such as this, where I suspect that I speak for a large majority of the population, who are concerned about the Bill and who are keen to ensure that there is proper scrutiny of it. Sometimes a Committee can have a slightly intimidating atmosphere and one feels that one is almost a pariah. I hope that the atmosphere in this Committee will not be like that.

I found it rather disappointing that when I sought to intervene on the Minister for a second time to ask her to explain and justify why we could not sit next Tuesday afternoon, should that prove necessary, she sat down and sat on her hands. I hope that that is not going to be the attitude during the rest of the Committee's proceedings, because if it is, I can see that we will not make the constructive progress that I hope for.

It is all very well for the Government to say that this matter is straightforward, important and fundamental, and that we should just get on and deal with it in four sittings. One of the problems with the programming motion is that it involves sittings on three mornings—Tuesday, Thursday and the following Tuesday—and morning sittings are curtailed: they cannot go on beyond 11.25 am. In the past, it has been possible for afternoon sittings to be extended, should that be necessary. Unfortunately, under the terms of the Programming Sub-Committee motion, there is no scope for extending to a late hour on any day other than Thursday 21 October, which is a matter of regret. Although reference has been made to the Programming Sub-Committee by all three people who have spoken so far, you will know, Mr. Cook, that I and other Back Benchers are not party to that Sub-Committee and so had no chance to participate in it.

There are many Government amendments, which the Government refuse to bring forward in the other place out of pique and which now dominate the

amendment paper. Why should the Government be able to have it both ways? Why should they be able to dominate the amendment paper and then deprive us of the opportunity of scrutinising their amendments and putting forward our own? I hope that that will not be the impact of the programming motion. I have some concerns and severe reservations about the way in which the motion is being forced through.

If the Minister had been prepared to take my second intervention, I would have asked her what the great hurry was. The Bill could be carried over to the next Session. The Government have said that in any event they have no intention of getting it on the statute book before the autumn of next year. Why deprive the House of Commons of a day or two of proper scrutiny of a Bill so that it can be got through in this Session when we know that the Government often allow Bills to be carried over from one Session to the next? Next week, the School Transport Bill will have its Second Reading in this House and will definitely be carried over, as will the Mental Capacity Bill. Why can we not allow the Bill under consideration today to be carried over?

It is not our fault that the Bill is being considered in Committee for the first time on 19 October, right at the very end of this Session; it is the fault of the Government. They are in charge of timetabling. They chose not to publish the Bill until the spring, allowed the matter to drag on in the other place, got themselves in a complete mess with a voting reverse—not for the first time—in the other place and then took away their playthings and deprived the other place of the chance to scrutinise the Bill further.

I do not wish to take up any extra time but, as somebody who is not a party to my Front Bench's potential agreement—I will not call it collusion, because that is putting it too strongly—with the principles of the Bill, which fly in the face of the expressed opinion of the other place as revealed in its vote at the end of July, I wish to put it on record that the present proposals for the Committee not to sit on the afternoon of Tuesday 26 October are unnecessarily draconian and that there should be some flexibility. I hope that in response to the motion the Minister will take that into account and indicate some flexibility in this matter.

We started off in slightly bad odour. I received a postcard—as I suppose did other members of the Committee—saying that the Committee would meet this morning, tomorrow morning and in the morning and afternoon of Thursday. That postcard came out of the blue—I imagine, on the Government's instructions. The Minister is smiling. If the Government thought they could ride roughshod over the basic conventions that Committees normally meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I do not know what they were thinking. Fortunately, wiser counsels have prevailed, but that little episode demonstrates an arrogance that I and many millions of people outside the House find increasingly intolerable. If the opportunity arises, I will vote against the programme motion.

Question put:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 10, Noes 1.