– in a Public Bill Committee on 26th February 2013.
[Mr Gary Streeter in the Chair]
Written evidence to be reported to the House
MB 25 Liberty
MB 26 General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches
MB 27 Trevor Sidnell
MB 28 Professor Julian Rivers
MB 29 Gender Identity Research and Education Society (GIRES)
MB 30 Rt Rev. Dr Alan Wilson Bishop of Buckingham
MB 31 Emeritus Professor James H. Grayson
MB 32 Rev. Canon Rosie Harper
MB 33 CARE
MB 34 Quakers
MB 35 Mr and Mrs R. Whitehead
MB 36 Equality Network/Scottish Transgender Alliance
MB 37 Adrian Smith
MB 38 Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales
MB 39 Elder Dr P. M. Woodley on behalf of Hyde Heath Chapel
MB 40 Peter Henderson
MB 41 W. R. Mohon
MB 42 Ronnie Devine
MB 43 Mothers Union
MB 44 Robert Williams
MB 45 John Etherton
MB 46 Emeritus Professor James Grayson—supplementary evidence
MB 47 Lisa Fairman-Brown
MB 48 John Hudson
MB 49 John Peters
MB 50 Jodie Mearns
MB 51 Rev. Chris Casey
MB 52 Rev. Dick Wolf
MB 53 Ryan Burton King
MB 54 Professor Davina Cooper
MB 55 Christie Elan-Cane
MB 56 Rev. C. B. Ross
MB 57 Michael Graham
MB 58 Dr James B. Waddell
MB 59 O. B. Hepworth—supplementary evidence
MB 60 Right Rev. Frank White
MB 61 Steve Bow
MB 62 Keith Dilliway
MB 63 Emeritus Professor James Grayson—supplementary evidence
MB 64 Canon Nicholas Anthony Turner
MB 65 Peter Bowen
Before we begin, it may be useful to those Members new to Public Bill Committees if I explain how the proceedings work. The selection list for today’s sittings is available in the room. It shows the amendments selected for debate and those that have been grouped together for debate. Amendments grouped together are generally on the same or a similar issue. The Member who tabled the lead amendment makes an opening speech and moves the amendment. Any other Member is then able to speak on the amendments in the group. Once all Members—including the Minister, if appropriate —have replied, I will call the Member who moved the amendment again. It will be useful if that Member will indicate if he wishes to withdraw the amendment before the Committee or to seek a decision on it. The same applies to any other amendments in the group. Amendments are voted upon in the order that they come in the Bill, although they may have been debated in an earlier group. I hope that provides some clarity for proceedings.
On a point of order, Mr Streeter. I welcome you to the formal proceedings of the Bill Committee, as we get down to business. I also welcome all other Members present, and, indeed, the Minister, whom I know from many occasions on which we have shared innings for the parliamentary cricket team and have gone in to bat together. I look forward to opening the innings on behalf of the dissenters to the Bill.
I have two points to make. First, I am not sure whether we are hacking down forests or not—the paper may be from sustainable sources—but nevertheless we have received a large number of written submissions. Unfortunately, with regard to the later submissions that have come in, colleagues received an e-mail yesterday afternoon with over 40 written submissions as attachments, and I am not sure whether Committee members have had the opportunity to go through every one line by line. I know from speaking to one member of the Committee that the submission from Liberty alone was over 40 pages long. That gives some indication of the criticism expressed throughout the passage of the Bill that the measure is being rushed and we are not allowed to give due weight to the concerns that have been raised. I would ask that when we receive written submissions they are put on the letter board, as is the normal way. I was in the House until 10 o’clock last night, and looked in vain on the letter board for a hard copy of the submissions. I would hope that the order will be that, if we receive submissions so close to the next sitting of the Committee, they are put on the letter board.
It is also important that we ensure that we are able to deal with all manner of opinion that is coming forward, and are able to consider submissions. The Bill is unique and is being dealt with in a unique way. In many ways we are breaking with precedent by dealing with a Bill on a conscience issue, which is subject to a free vote, away from the Floor of the House. Such a Bill would normally be dealt with by a Committee of the whole House. It is important that we recognise that we have dealt with this differently so that we could hold proper evidence sessions, which we have done. The Minister said on the Floor of the House when discussing the programme motion that a key purpose of dealing with the Bill in Committee was to allow evidence to be heard, not least from religious groups. It was good that we heard from some of those marginal religious groups. Liberal Judaism, Unitarians and Quakers were represented alongside the Church of England, Catholics and others.
Order. I am reluctant to interrupt a point of order, but some of these points are points of debate. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can make his point of order, so we can deal with it and move on.
I will do so, Mr Streeter. We did not hear from any representatives of the black and minority ethnic community, for example—Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims, the millions of evangelicals and others—so the sessions were partial. The point I was making is that we are very much relying on written evidence, so it is important that we receive submissions as early as possible so that we can give due weight to them.
My other point is on the issue of the free vote. I want to clarify that we are in free vote territory in this Committee. Two Whips are present, but I anticipate their taking very little action in the proceedings. I just want to make a further point—
We have four dissenters in Committee who have voted against the Bill. If one looks at the batting order, one can see that the majority of the amendments, the scrutiny and the opposition is coming from the dissenters. I am not sure if it is in the Standing Orders that we should sit on the Government side. Given the fact that the Opposition do not necessarily offer the main opposition to this Bill or the main scrutiny, perhaps we could reconfigure and allow the dissenters to move to the Opposition Benches, not least to allow the hon. Member for Strangford not to be lonely.
Two points of order have been raised. On the second point, it is not a matter for the Chair to decide whether or not it is free vote territory in Committee. Colleagues are free to sit wherever they wish and I invite them to do so.
On the more substantive point about evidence being presented to the Committee in good time, a good point has been made and we will make sure, of course, that all those who are responsible for producing evidence have listened to the hon. Gentleman’s very important point.