Finance Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 8:55 am on 5th June 2003.
I beg to move,
That the Order of the Committee of 15th May 2003 shall be amended by the insertion at the end of paragraph (1) of the words ''and on Thursday 5th June when it shall meet only at 8.55 am''
We intend to amend further the Committee's sittings by agreement. I am happy that negotiations with my opposite number, the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire), have been fruitful and that we are moving towards a smooth running of the Committee and its business.
I am grateful to my opposite number, the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe), for ensuring that the discussions are friendly and helpful. We are seeking to co-operate as best we can.
However, I must again take a moment or two of the Committee's time to remind hon. Members that Her Majesty's Opposition are implacably opposed in principle to this method of doing business. We have objected to the practice of guillotining everything, but I shall not waste the Committee's time by rehearsing the arguments. I simply place on record the fact that the arguments are still valid.
I again place on the record the fact that we also object to the detailed and rushed way of considering a Finance Bill with knives. If the Committee so wishes I shall elaborate on that. However, the motion that is before us is to allow the Chief Secretary to vote against the euro this afternoon in the Cabinet. Provided that he votes in the correct fashion, we are happy to make it possible for him to attend the Cabinet meeting.
I want to mention another issue, so that I can put on the record our thanks to the Government. The programme motion that was changed last night on the Floor of the House not only took account of the sitting that we are losing this afternoon, but gave effect to the agreement that we reached to have a further sitting. Two extra sittings were agreed last night, and we appreciate that. We still need to discuss when we use those extra sittings. Do they come before or after a knife? Discussions are still taking place on that, and I have no doubt that we shall reach agreement.
Finally, I take this opportunity to make it clear that Her Majesty's Opposition are more than willing to co-operate as far as they can with the consideration of the Bill. To that end, I hope that we have shown thus far that we are not wasting time for the sake of it. We shall do justice to every clause. We are trying not to waste
time, but we are not prepared to rush just to meet an artificially imposed timetable.
While we also welcome the net gain in sittings, anyone who has sat in the Committee for even one sitting will realise that there is a phenomenal amount of work to do and, regrettably, a phenomenal amount yet to do that has not been published. There is an enormous amount of work on the Bill, and there has been insufficient time in which to do it. That is to be regretted. Although there is a net gain and we are slightly better off, that does not alter our objections to the way in which the Bill has been handled and the fact that sufficient time has not been allowed for the scrutiny of this complex, difficult and what should be a time-consuming Bill.
I shall respond briefly to what has been said. I do not want to undo our fruitful and friendly negotiations, but I must refer to the fact that we are not trying to rush things. Anyone who witnessed the Committee's proceedings the other day saw two and a half hours being spent on three clauses, although I admit they were important clauses. However, we do not want to argue about that. We are trying to be as accommodating as possible, given the seriousness of the Bill. My right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary and his team are doing their level best to ensure that every clause is given due scrutiny. I have no doubt that the Committee will be able to meet its timetable with good speed.
Question put and agreed to.