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

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:06 pm on 11th July 2001.

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Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Minister of State (Europe) 4:06 pm, 11th July 2001

It is tempting to reply in detail to Mr. Bercow and others. He spoke with his usual eloquence and parliamentary skill. It is tempting because those listening to the debate may think that some horrendous crime is being committed by the Government, given the gusto with which he spoke.

The fact is that the House agreed overwhelmingly to the procedure to have timetables and programme motions for Bills such as this, so that there is sensible and serious debate on all the issues. I want that debate to take place and I want the amendments of Mr. Cash to be discussed. He shows considerable diligence and expertise in tabling the amendments, and he is entitled to have them debated. Virtually the whole of the second day will be devoted to his amendments, and quite right too.

At yesterday's meeting of the Programming Committee there was a great deal of consensus. The Conservative Opposition—rightly, from their point of view, but wrongly in principle—said that they wanted an extra day for consideration. That point was registered and Mr. Spring has repeated it. However, I remind him that the Amsterdam treaty—a much more complex, far-reaching and fundamental treaty—took four days in Committee. It is appropriate and proportionate that this treaty, which is much less significant, should take three days in Committee. I did not say that it was an insignificant treaty; it is very important.

Mr. Forth implied that there was a detailed timetable; there is not. There is plenty of scope and few end times for the debates. If it were seen that time was running out, obviously it could be in the power of the Chairman of Ways and Means to reconvene the Programming Committee. That facility is within the rules, as decided by the House.

I say to the hon. Member for Stone that the Opposition leadership could have put him on the Programming Committee. It was not my decision, but theirs. I would have loved to see him there.