European Communities (Amendment) Bill (Programme) (No. 2)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:36 pm on 11th July 2001.

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Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst 3:36 pm, 11th July 2001

I am slightly surprised that my hon. Friend Mr. Spring seems to know as well as the Minister how long the Bill will take in Committee. The difficulty that we confront is the apparent ability of hon. Members on both Front Benches to foretell with great accuracy and precision how long it will take a Committee properly to scrutinise a Bill, without necessarily knowing the totality of amendments and new clauses that will be tabled, as that process can continue during the Committee stage. Perhaps the Government, and even my hon. Friend, expect the Committee to take not a dynamic approach, but a rather static approach, whereby we freeze the item at the beginning, take a view of it, or a snapshot, and say, "Well, that's your lot."

That is not good enough. It is the ultimate absurdity that, in relation to a Bill of such magnitude and importance, the Government say that they not only know exactly how long deliberations will take in totality, but, with their huge majority, are laying down the detailed timetable for the consideration of the Bill in Committee, regardless of the magnitude of the matters under consideration and without any knowledge—by definition—of the number and nature of the amendments that may be tabled. There may, however, be partial knowledge of the amendments at this stage. My hon. Friend Mr. Cash has already tabled a number of extremely important amendments, which merit substantial debate and consideration.

Of course, the Government are not interested in that. They see it as their task to get rid of legislation as quickly and as conveniently as possible—not for the Government or their Members any delay or prolongation of deliberation. That is apparently unacceptable to people who—I concede this even about Government Members—dedicated considerable time and effort to being elected as Members of Parliament, but who, as soon as they arrive here, cannot wait to get out of the building as quickly as possible. They do not want to be delayed by the inconvenience and superfluity of consideration of the details of Bills.

Oh no, such matters are not for the Government or their Members. They regard what they choose to call "the mandate" as sufficient. If the mandate given to them by the electorate at the time of an election states that they are entitled to certain legislation, the Government seem ready to override the deliberative processes developed in the House over many centuries, which may, I concede, occasionally cause inconvenience to the Government and their Members. Yes, they may be delayed in this place a little longer than they would have chosen. Perhaps they want more time out of the building to dispose of the increase in pay that they all voted themselves just last week.