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.
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 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Question under discussion at the moment is that the programme motion on the amendment paper be agreed to. Since then, I have received a manuscript amendment. In view of the fact that the amendment paper was available to Members only first thing this morning, I am minded to accept for discussion that manuscript amendment to the timetable motion. The amendment is debatable within the same half hour, which means that this debate will have to be curtailed at 9.40.
Manuscript amendment proposed: in line 1 of the table, leave out ''5.00 pm'' and insert ''6.30 pm''.—[Mr. Chope.]
When I spoke in the Committee about the programme motion on Tuesday, I observed that, given the size of the Bill, although it would be possible to examine it in the time allowed, there would not be much spare time, and that in order to complete a proper examination it would be incumbent on all hon. Members to be responsible in their remarks and not to delay the Committee unnecessarily.
It is now apparent that certain hon. Members were not minded to proceed in that way. The amount of business that we got through on Tuesday made it inevitable that the Programming Sub-Committee should reconvene, as it did last night. It seems to me that the Government, in making available extra time in an extra sitting on Tuesday, have quite properly recognised that the necessary progress was not made. We need to scrutinise all parts of the Bill, and I am particularly concerned about the parts relating to Scotland, as I am sure other hon. Members are. It is inevitable from the progress that we made on Tuesday that that scrutiny could not be carried out without the insertion of the knives. Accordingly, we should agree to the programme motion without the manuscript amendment of the hon. Member for Christchurch.
I hoped that in tabling the amendment I would have the support of the Committee. It seems reasonable that if the House is going to sit until 6.30 pm, this Committee should do so too. As it stands, the motion means that by 5 pm there will be no time for any further consideration of the Bill relating to England and Wales. I do not dispute that it is important to be able to discuss issues relating to Scotland and Northern Ireland, and I look forward to joining in those discussions, notwithstanding that I represent an English constituency, but it would be reasonable to extend today's sitting to 6.30 pm.
In the good old days, Committees quite often sat until the early hours of the morning, because Members of Parliament thought that their first obligation and responsibility was to scrutinise legislation, whether it was the Finance Bill or any other important measure affecting millions of people. In those days, proper scrutiny was given to legislation, and today we have the opportunity to scrutinise this legislation and send out a signal to the wider public that at least some Members of Parliament are serious about the business and responsibility that they have had imposed upon them by the electorate and want to discuss the Bill in detail and hold this Government to account.
Will my hon. Friend assure me that, in the event of the Committee voting for his amendment to extend consideration today by 90 minutes, he in turn will undertake to absorb of that 90 minutes only the proportion of time that his membership of the Committee represents?
My hon. Friend has had the opportunity to table a lot of amendments, and I do not think that he has tabled any. [Interruption.]
Perhaps he has tabled one or two, and if so, he will have the opportunity to debate them.
In the context of what the Minister said, no serious consideration was given in the other place to applying the same principles to opposite-sex cohabitation as apply to same-sex cohabitation. That principle was not debated seriously in the other place, which was more preoccupied with the idea of extending the provisions to people who are partners in an asexual relationship, such as siblings.
I have tabled a series of amendments relating to that part of the Bill, and I would have thought that it was reasonable to consider them, because more than 4 million people in England and Wales live in cohabiting relationships, representing about 8 per cent. of the population. Half those cohabiting couples are in the 20 to 34 age group. I make that point with my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) very much in mind, as he is as keen as I am to ensure that Conservative Members propose arguments that are relevant to the interests of that group. By contrast with that statistic, there are only 78,522 cohabiting same-sex couples. If one considers the comparison between the numbers in one group and the numbers in the other—
I certainly do not want to go into the wider debate, because I am sure that there will be plenty of opportunity to do that later, particularly if my amendment is accepted.
Question put, That the manuscript amendment be made:—
The Committee divided: Ayes 5, Noes 13.
Division number 3 - 5 yes, 13 no
We will shortly resume consideration of the Bill. Before we do so, I should like to offer the Committee a thought and a little guidance. It was suggested to me during the sitting of the Programming Sub-Committee that it might be possible to move a motion that the motion be put, because at the moment there is no motion before the Committee that can be closed. There is a procedure called the Golding closure, named after the late John Golding, which allows for that motion to be put, and it is up to the Chairman to determine whether there has been sufficient debate to require that it be put. That is not closure, but simply the putting of the question, after which substantive debate could commence.
As the Committee would expect, I have studied Hansard very carefully. I have noted that the hon. Member for Christchurch, who is speaking to the lead amendment, has given way to a significant number of Members on a significant number of occasions and that his own contribution to the debate so far has been relatively limited. On that basis, I would not be minded to accept a Golding closure at this point. I shall therefore invite the hon. Gentleman to resume his speech. If at some point further into the debate any hon. Member wishes to consider moving the Golding closure, I will shall be prepared to consider the matter at the appropriate time.