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Standing Committee D
Thursday 21 October 2004
[Mr. Roger Gale in the Chair]
The Chairman: Before we start, I wish to say that I can have no interference whatever in this Committee from the Public Gallery. If there is any communication with those in the Gallery in this Room, rather than outside, I shall have no alternative but to clear the Gallery. I am sorry to start on such a fierce note, but it is necessary that we get the ground rules right.
Hon. Members may remove their jackets if they wish. The other housekeeping matter is that Officers of the House are looking for the key to open the window to bring down the blinds. That may happen during the course of our proceedings, so that Members on one side of the Room are not blinded. There might be a slight degree of disruption, but I am sure that hon. Members can live with that.
The Programming Sub-Committee met last night, and I propose to deal with the outcome of its deliberations first, as is set out in the order of business in any event. I shall then make a couple of what I hope will be relevant comments to assist Members in the governance of the further business when it resumes.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
1. during the remaining proceedings on the Civil Partnership Bill [Lords] the Standing Committee shall meet—
(a) on Thursday 21st October at 9.10 am and 2.30 pm;
(b) on Tuesday 26th October at 9.10 am and 2.30 pm;
2. remaining proceedings shall be taken in the order shown in the Table below and shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the time specified in the second column of the Table.
Time for conclusion of proceedings
Clauses 1 and 2, Schedule 1, Clauses 3 to 36, Schedules 2 to 4, Clauses 37 to 70, Schedule 5, Clause 71, Schedules 6 to 8, Clauses 72 to 80, Schedule 9, Clause 81, Schedule 10, Clause 82.
6.30 pm on Thursday 21st October.
Clauses 83 and 84, Schedule 11, Clauses 85 to 122, Schedule 12, Clauses 123 and 134, Schedule 13, Clauses 135 to 141, Schedule 14, Clauses 142 to 189, Schedule 15, Clause 190, Schedules 16 to 18, Clauses 191 to 199, Schedule 19, Clause 200, Schedule 20, Clauses 201 to 205, Schedule 21, Clauses 206 to 237.
11.25 am on Tuesday 26th October.
Clauses 238 and 239, Schedule 22, Clause 240, Schedule 23, Clauses 241 to 244, Schedule 24, Clauses 245 and 246, Schedule 25, Clause 247, Schedule 26, Clauses 248 to 251, Schedules 27 to 29, Clauses 252 to 254, new Clauses, new Schedules, remaining proceedings on the Bill.—[Jacqui Smith]
5.00 pm on Tuesday 26th October.
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Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): I have not seen a copy of the motion. I am sure I am at fault for that, but it seems to me that members of the Committee who are not privileged enough to be members of the Programming Sub-Committee were not notified that that Committee was meeting and were not notified of the outcome.
I have all the material that was before me at the end of the previous sitting, when I was in the middle of speaking to some amendments. The Minister has moved the motion formally without telling anyone on the record or otherwise what its contents are. I am therefore in no position to address it, but I suspect that it will contain things that those of us who are concerned about some of the contents of the Bill will find objectionable. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) has a copy of the motion that I can look at.
The Chairman: The Programming Sub-Committee is open to Members as observers, even if they are not members of that Committee. I am not privy to what notice was given to whom concerning a sitting of the Sub-Committee, but the fact is that the deliberations of that Committee are open to all Members. I should also point out that the resolution of the Programming Sub-Committee is the first item on today's amendment paper, which has been available on the Table in this Room for a number of minutes.
Mr. Chope: I now have a copy of the resolution in front of me. You say quite rightly, Mr. Gale, that it is possible for members of this Committee to attend the Programming Sub-Committee, but how are they expected to attend it if they do not know that it is sitting? That is the nonsense that we have got. Normally, the rules of natural justice ensure that people who have an interest in something are notified of its taking place and are given the opportunity to find out what is happening. However, since the Minister has declined to speak to the resolution, perhaps I should tell hon. Members exactly what it has resolved.
The Programming Sub-Committee has resolved that, during the remaining proceedings on the Civil Partnership Bill, the Standing Committee shall meet today at 9.10 am and 2.30 pm, and on Tuesday 26 October at 9.10 am and 2.30 pm, and that the remaining proceedings shall be taken in the order shown in the table. A series of knives have been imposed by the Government to prevent discussion from taking its natural course, which means that by 5 pm today, the proceedings on clauses 1 and 2, schedule 1, clauses 3 to 36, schedules 2 to 4, clauses 37 to 70, schedule 5, clause 71, schedules 6 to 8, clauses 72 to 80, schedule 9, clause 81, schedule 10 and clause 82 shall all have been determined.
Several points arise from that. Why should the cut-off point be 5 o'clock? The House sits until 6.30 pm on a Thursday, so why should we cut off debate on the Bill so early on a Thursday afternoon? All this is taking place on a day on which the conduct of Members of Parliament and the value for money that they provide are on the public record and in the public eye. I would have thought that if hon. Members on this Committee supported a motion effectively
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curtailing the opportunity for debate on this important Bill, which affects so many millions of people, it would send out the wrong message to the general public about the value for money that they obtain from Members of Parliament.
There is a subsidiary part of the motion that says that a series of clauses should have been disposed of by 11.25 on Tuesday 26 October. The only part of the motion that I support is that which extends the number of sittings to include one on Tuesday 26 October in the afternoon, until 5 o'clock. I raised that point on the last occasion when this matter was discussed. The Government gave no ground then, but I am glad that they have done so now. It is wholly unreasonable of them, however, to seek to impose these knives in the programme motion. I do not know whether it is open to me to move an amendment to the motion, but if it were, I would want to amend it to remove the knives from the individual days, while agreeing to the sitting until 5 o'clock on Tuesday 26 October, on the basis that a little extension is better than nothing.
I find the Government's whole approach perplexing. I thought that we were talking about issues that are not party political, but which will fundamentally alter the nature of marriage and relationships. I have some serious amendments for discussion, and so have other hon. Members. The Government have also tabled a series of amendments. Why are we not being allowed to debate them in the way that we wish? I would like to move an amendment along the lines that I mentioned, if that is in order, Mr. Gale.
The Chairman: I have taken on board the point that the hon. Gentleman makes about notice being given to Members of the sittings of the Programming Sub-Committee. There is no procedure for that to happen, but he makes a fair point and I will report it faithfully to the Chairman of Ways and Means to see whether notice can be given to members of the Committee on the understanding that they would be able to attend only as observers, and not to speak or vote.
The hon. Gentleman is entitled to move a manuscript amendment to the motion, but I must have it on the Table, in writing. I cannot accept a verbal manuscript amendment. The two things are not compatible.
The Minister for Industry and the Regions (Jacqui Smith): I am glad that the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) recognises that the Sub-Committee has proposed an additional sitting for the consideration of the Bill. Given that, in the original Programming Sub-Committee, Members—and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland in particular—made it clear that it would be possible to reconsider the timing if we did not make the progress that we wanted to achieve, I think that it is a reasonable compromise to have extra time on Tuesday afternoon in which to ensure that the Bill gets the scrutiny that it deserves.
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However, it is also fair to say that we need to balance the extra time that has been given to the Committee with an assurance that there will be proper scrutiny of all aspects of the Bill. In the first two and half hours or so of consideration, we got through only one set of amendments to the first clause. Despite the fact that those amendments were significant, and that it was a very important debate, that suggests that we were potentially in danger of not getting on to the other clauses.
I wish to highlight for Committee members the fact that we have the opportunity this morning and this afternoon to give considerable attention to the heart of the Bill's principles, which are included in parts 1 and 2. It is also important—we were in danger of not achieving this—that we can also consider the parts of the Bill dealing with the Scottish and Northern Irish provisions. Although the principles might be the same, some hon. Members might want to explore how we have ensured throughout the Bill recognition of the particular legislative history and structure in Scotland and Northern Ireland. In allocating a sitting for that debate, the Programming Sub-Committee has recognised that that is the case. We will be able on Tuesday afternoon to consider the remaining clauses, including some of the issues that hon. Members will want to consider on benefits and pension provision.
We and the Programming Sub-Committee have come up with a solution that extends the time available for the Committee to consider the Bill, focuses attention on ensuring that we cover all the issues and, I hope, focuses hon. Members' attention on speaking to the amendments when they arise. I am not completely sure that that happened in our first sitting on Tuesday. We can now ensure that everyone gives proper consideration to all the issues, and we can also bring the Committee stage to a conclusion at a reasonable time.
It is also worth while to record that the Bill has already been scrutinised in the House of Lords. What was interesting there was that the original proposal for some nine Committee sittings was reduced considerably. We have some reassurance from the House of Lords that when people started to get into the detail of the Bill, they recognised that although it contained some significant principles, there was adequate time to scrutinise them. The motion from the Programming Sub-Committee will ensure not only that we give necessary consideration, but that we reach a conclusion at a reasonable point, so that the Bill can, quite rightly, move on to its next stages in the House and beyond.