European Parliamentary and Local Elections (Pilots) Bill

Part of the debate – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:30 am on 30th October 2003.

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Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath 9:30 am, 30th October 2003

Yes, it was a free vote. However, as the hon. Gentleman has openly admitted, and has said publicly in the House—I respect him for it, as he knows—he has changed his mind. I opposed the changes all the way through. I have looked carefully at which of my hon. Friends, in that free vote, supported the new hours. I am pretty sure that, of all those who voted for the new hours on the Tuesday and the Wednesday, which was the proposal carried by the narrowest majority, only six of my colleagues—out of 169—voted for it. It was carried by the votes of a huge number of Labour Members, including the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Harris). He has had the great courage to admit that he was wrong, as have many of his hon. Friends.

The issue came up again at business questions last Thursday. The hon. Gentleman may have been in the Chamber then, as I was. The new Leader of the House said that despite his personal reservations, expressed in September, on the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East, we have to stick with the hours for the rest of this Parliament. When he said that, the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) intervened and put her views firmly on the record. Like me, she has always opposed the new hours. She said that it was absolutely crazy for the House to carry on with an experiment that clearly is not working. I urge the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart—he knows how powerful a personality the hon. Lady is and how much a focus for leadership she could be—to join her in organising a campaign. They could lead a huge movement from the Government Back Benches and put pressure on the Leader of the House to get back to common sense.

Those comments are relevant to today's programme motion because of the point of my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East. We must get away from all these clashes between Committees and the Chamber. Unfortunately, the Government are in control of the situation at present. They have a majority on the Programming Sub-Committee and on the Committee, although they did not have their expected majority on Tuesday morning. We will have to wait to find out how late we go on this afternoon. I know that you, Mr. Cook, have a personal interest in the matter, as does my hon. Friend. As for the other Conservative spokesmen and me, we would be happy to go on all night.