Civil Partnership Bill [Lords]

Part of the debate – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:10 am on 21st October 2004.

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Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 9:10 am, 21st October 2004

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.