Civil Partnership Bill [Lords]

Part of the debate – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:15 am on 21st October 2004.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Minister of State (Industry and the Regions and Deputy Minister for Women), Department of Trade and Industry 9:15 am, 21st October 2004

I am glad that the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) recognises that the Sub-Committee has proposed an additional sitting for the consideration of the Bill. Given that, in the original Programming Sub-Committee, Members—and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland in particular—made it clear that it would be possible to reconsider the timing if we did not make the progress that we wanted to achieve, I think that it is a reasonable compromise to have extra time on Tuesday afternoon in which to ensure that the Bill gets the scrutiny that it deserves.

However, it is also fair to say that we need to balance the extra time that has been given to the Committee with an assurance that there will be proper scrutiny of all aspects of the Bill. In the first two and half hours or so of consideration, we got through only one set of amendments to the first clause. Despite the fact that those amendments were significant, and that it was a very important debate, that suggests that we were potentially in danger of not getting on to the other clauses.

I wish to highlight for Committee members the fact that we have the opportunity this morning and this afternoon to give considerable attention to the heart of the Bill's principles, which are included in parts 1 and 2. It is also important—we were in danger of not achieving this—that we can also consider the parts of the Bill dealing with the Scottish and Northern Irish provisions. Although the principles might be the same, some hon. Members might want to explore how we have ensured throughout the Bill recognition of the particular legislative history and structure in Scotland and Northern Ireland. In allocating a sitting for that debate, the Programming Sub-Committee has recognised that that is the case. We will be able on Tuesday afternoon to consider the remaining clauses, including some of the issues that hon. Members will want to consider on benefits and pension provision.

We and the Programming Sub-Committee have come up with a solution that extends the time available for the Committee to consider the Bill, focuses attention on ensuring that we cover all the issues and, I hope, focuses hon. Members' attention on speaking to the amendments when they arise. I am not completely sure that that happened in our first sitting on Tuesday. We can now ensure that everyone gives proper consideration to all the issues, and we can also bring the Committee stage to a conclusion at a reasonable time.

It is also worth while to record that the Bill has already been scrutinised in the House of Lords. What was interesting there was that the original proposal for some nine Committee sittings was reduced considerably. We have some reassurance from the House of Lords that when people started to get into the detail of the Bill, they recognised that although it contained some significant principles, there was adequate time to scrutinise them. The motion from the Programming Sub-Committee will ensure not only that we give necessary consideration, but that we reach a conclusion at a reasonable point, so that the Bill can, quite rightly, move on to its next stages in the House and beyond.