European Union (Referendum) Bill

– in a Public Bill Committee at on 17 July 2013.

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[Mr Joe Benton in the Chair]

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Labour, Bootle 2:00, 17 July 2013

I welcome everyone to the Committee. Before we begin consideration of the Bill, we must first deal with the sittings motion, which stands on the amendment paper in the name of the Member in charge.

Photo of Jim Dowd Jim Dowd Labour, Lewisham West and Penge

On a point of order, Mr Benton. I realise that the conventions of this establishment wither by the day, but it is normal for the Chair to authorise Members to remove their jackets should they so wish. Although some have already done so, may I clarify that you, Mr Benton, would not object to my doing so?

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Labour, Bootle

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that point of order. I meant to announce that jackets may be removed. I call James Wharton.

Photo of James Wharton James Wharton Conservative, Stockton South

Thank you, Mr Benton. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for this important Committee. I look forward to constructive and helpful debate from both sides of the Committee on the issues before us. I hope the Committee will conclude in good time.

I beg to move,

That the European Union (Referendum) Bill Committee do meet on Tuesdays at 2.00 pm and Wednesdays at 8.55 pm and 2.00 pm on days when the House is sitting.

I hope the sittings motion will receive the support of the Committee and we can move forward with a like mind.

Photo of Emma Reynolds Emma Reynolds Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Benton.

It is extremely important that we should debate the procedure and arrangements for the Bill Committee, as well as, at a later stage, the substance of the Bill. This is a private Member’s Bill, and all Bills, whether Government Bills or private Members’ Bills, need to be effectively and fully scrutinised by a Bill Committee of the House. That is a vital stage in any Bill’s passage through a Parliament and will give hon. Members on both sides the opportunity to scrutinise and consider it thoroughly.

The hon. Member for Stockton South, the sponsor of the Bill, has moved a motion that the Committee meet on Tuesdays at 2.00 pm and Wednesdays at 8.55 pm—I assume that it must mean 8.55 am, unless we are going to meet in the evening as well—and 2.00 pm on days when the House is sitting. Spending a day and a half on the Bill throughout the autumn is not proportionate, appropriate or relevant to the priorities of my constituents or those of other hon. Members. It would be much more appropriate to sit on a Wednesday, which is when, by convention, private Members’ Bill Committees sit.

The hon. Gentleman said in the House yesterday:

“I hope that we can do that”— he means scrutiny—

“in the spirit of finding mutual ground, co-operation and agreement on an extremely important issue, rather than trying to make it a difficult and arduous process for all involved.”—[Official Report, 16 July 2013; Vol. 566, c. 1020.]

It seems to me that he wants to reach out to Members on both sides of the House, so that we can have a friendly and collegiate, as well as full and proper, debate on his Bill. I would support such an approach, but I do not know whether it is possible, given that I am not sure we are off to a good start.

Photo of William Bain William Bain Shadow Minister (Scotland)

As my hon. Friend rightly points out, this is a private Member’s Bill; if it became law, however, it would have a significant impact on Government policy. Given that we have a Minister—[ Interruption. ] In fact, two Ministers are present. Is it not in order for us to have a statement about the effect the Bill would have on our status in the single market, or even outwith the single market, before scrutiny proceeds further?

Photo of Emma Reynolds Emma Reynolds Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

My hon. Friend makes a valid point, because many Bill Committees have evidence sessions, although, as I understand it, that is not the intention of the hon. Member for Stockton South. As my hon. Friend points out, this Bill, should it become law, would have significant implications for Government policy and for our membership of the EU and the single market.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour, Huddersfield

We should get this clear from the start. There used to be a convention—I have been in the House for quite a long time—that private Members’ Bills were not used for constitutional matters. Of course, many people would see the Bill as being about a most significant constitutional matter.

I am not saying that I oppose the Bill or that I will not give it a fair wind. I will, but I would be very disturbed if something this important to our Parliament and country were rushed through because the proposer of the Bill wanted to conclude it in good time. Good time for one person is not fair time for another. I want to ensure that the Bill has a fair hearing; it is a Bill of immense importance to the whole population of the UK, so I really want to make sure that we note that at the very beginning.

Photo of Emma Reynolds Emma Reynolds Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

My hon. Friend makes an important point and he has put it on the record that the Bill is of a constitutional nature. It is highly irregular and highly unusual for a private Member’s Bill to deal with a subject of such enormous importance to the House and to the wider country.

Photo of Pauline Latham Pauline Latham Conservative, Mid Derbyshire

Will the hon. Lady care to withdraw the words “highly irregular”? If the Bill was irregular, I cannot think that the Government or Mr Speaker would allow it.

Photo of Emma Reynolds Emma Reynolds Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

Such a thing does not happen regularly, so I will not withdraw my remark. My interpretation of “highly irregular” or “highly unusual” is that something does not happen regularly. In fact, I have never known a constitutional Bill to be taken forward by a private  Member. If the hon. Lady wants to argue the point, perhaps she can give me an example of a private Member’s Bill that is of a constitutional nature. I assume that she cannot, otherwise she might well be telling me right now.

Photo of Jim Dowd Jim Dowd Labour, Lewisham West and Penge

The hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire may have misled herself. My hon. Friend never said that the Bill was “improper”, just “irregular”. They are entirely different words. If it were improper, I am sure that Mr Speaker would not have permitted it.

Is this not a supreme example of a Bill that really should have been introduced as a draft Bill? I speak as someone who, many years ago, served on what became the draft Mental Incapacity Bill, which was one of the earliest uses of that procedure. The issue under discussion needs the most careful scrutiny, the most detailed evaluation and the broadest range of input and evidence, to advise both the members of the Committee and the House on the implications of such a step.

Photo of Emma Reynolds Emma Reynolds Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. The Bill is of such importance that there could have been some pre-legislative scrutiny, a draft Bill that could have been commented on in the House and a consultation with the public. We are debating an extremely important question of great constitutional significance.

Photo of Martin Horwood Martin Horwood Liberal Democrat, Cheltenham

Our handling of the Bill is another constitutional innovation. It is not simply that it is a private Member’s Bill but that the Committee stage is taking place in a Committee rather than on the Floor of the House, which is the normal place for major constitutional issues to be debated. I seem to remember what felt like hundreds of hours of my life being devoted to debating the Lisbon treaty on the Floor of the House. In many ways, what we are discussing in the context of the Bill has even greater constitutional importance.

Photo of Emma Reynolds Emma Reynolds Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. Only two years ago, the referendum lock legislation, proposed by the Government, was debated on the Floor of the House because it was of a constitutional nature. The hon. Gentleman also pre-empts a section of my speech where I argue—as the shadow Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Mr Alexander), said on Second Reading—that the Bill is of a constitutional nature and therefore there is a strong case for its being considered on the Floor of the House.

When we had referendums on Scottish devolution, on whether there should be a north-east assembly and on the alternative vote—a key matter for the hon. Member for Cheltenham, given that his party requested the referendum—the enabling legislation was considered on the Floor of the House by all right hon. and hon. Members who wanted to debate those important issues.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour, Huddersfield

My hon. Friend is being a bit unfair. I want to be totally fair to the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire. She is probably confused. I do not know  how many Bills she has sat on, but it is always a learning process. I have not been on a Bill Committee for so long that I cannot remember how one works.

However, I looked at the guide for Members on preparing private Members’ Bills. Under the title “Assistance for Members” it talks about hand-out Bills. Is this a Government hand-out Bill? There is nothing saying the sort of Bill this is. I know the hon. Lady will have done her homework and will have looked at this. If she is worried about it, is the information in here? What sort of Bill is this? It is not a Government hand-out Bill. It is something unique and special.

Photo of Emma Reynolds Emma Reynolds Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

I think it is a hand-out Bill. We saw the text of the Bill back in May when the Prime Minister was visiting President Obama and the vote on the Queen’s Speech was taking place in the House. As a result of pressure from his Back Benchers, he came forward with his own draft Bill, which looks remarkably similar to the one that we are considering today.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Chair, Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Home Affairs Committee

I am listening carefully to my hon. Friend. Rather like my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, I have not been on a Bill Committee for some time so she will have to help me with the process. She is normally a fair person, but she is being a little unfair to the hon. Member for Stockton South. He has been lucky enough to come top of the ballot for private Members’ Bills. Some of us have waited 26 years and will wait much, much longer to get that chance. He is not responsible for parliamentary procedure. This is his Bill. He has sponsored it and we have come along to try to scrutinise it. Surely he should be given the sittings that he wants.

Photo of Emma Reynolds Emma Reynolds Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

I join my right hon. Friend in congratulating the hon. Member for Stockton South. I have been in this House for only three years, not the 26 that my right hon. Friend has been here. I have not been lucky either. Many right hon. and hon. Members through the years have not been lucky enough to be in the position that the hon. Member for Stockton South has found himself in. He is to be congratulated for being so lucky.

Photo of William Bain William Bain Shadow Minister (Scotland)

Is not the point that my hon. Friend is making, about how much we would deprecate the fact that the Floor of the House is not to be the location for the Committee stage of this Bill, further emphasised when we look at previous legislation on other referendums that have taken place or may still take place?

Does my hon. Friend recall that the order under section 30 of the Scotland Act 1998, which simply gives the Scottish Parliament the power to legislate for a referendum on independence for Scotland, was considered not in a Committee but on the Floor of the House? If a statutory instrument of constitutional importance is to be considered on the Floor of the House, surely a Bill of this importance should be, too?

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Labour, Bootle

Order. Before the hon. Lady responds, I should say that I have tried to be as flexible as possible in terms of the proceedings so far. However, I have to remind the Committee that we are debating the sittings  motion; it is not our business to argue about whether it was right that this should be heard on the Floor of the House.

As a previous speaker pointed out, this is a private Member’s Bill. It is legitimately here and this is not the forum for arguing about where it should have been debated. Nor is it the forum to pre-empt the decision of the Committee. The Committee is considering the sittings motion, after which we will go on to consider the Bill, line by line. That is our function. This is not a criticism; I try to conduct these sittings openly and give people as much opportunity for expression as possible, but it is very important that we keep that in mind.

Photo of Martin Horwood Martin Horwood Liberal Democrat, Cheltenham 2:15, 17 July 2013

On a point of order, Mr Benton. If we are to be precise, the motion before us, if passed, commits the Committee to meeting on Wednesdays at 8.55 pm. In my experience, we do not draft amendments in the course of Committee sittings. Will you give a ruling on the effect of the motion if passed: will the Committee have to meet at five to 9 on Wednesday evenings, which does not seem likely to maximise attendance and good debate? Otherwise, should we adjourn while a constitutional fix is arranged?

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Labour, Bootle

That is obviously a misprint; it should say 8.55 am. There is a facility for that to be amended accordingly by the Bill’s promoter.

Photo of Martin Horwood Martin Horwood Liberal Democrat, Cheltenham

Further to that point of order, Mr Benton. I admit that I am not experienced in this kind of procedure. What is the facility for amending a programme motion during a Committee sitting?

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Labour, Bootle

Members are quite able to move any amendments to the sittings motion if they want to, and those will be considered on their merits. It is as simple as that.

Photo of Jim Dowd Jim Dowd Labour, Lewisham West and Penge

Further to that point of order, Mr Benton. Whether this sittings motion is defective or not, will you confirm that it is possible to move an amendment to it at any time during the Committee? Have you received an indication of any other errata or mistakes in the drafting of the Bill itself?

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Labour, Bootle

The simple answer to that is no.

Photo of Martin Horwood Martin Horwood Liberal Democrat, Cheltenham

Further to that point of order, Mr Benton. I am aware that it is possible for hon. Members to produce amendments as the Committee proceeds, but there is a deadline for tabling such amendments and there does not appear to be an amendment to the programme motion on the amendment paper. I presume that we would need to adjourn to allow an amendment to the procedural motion to be tabled. Can you explain the process for that?

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Labour, Bootle

To take the first point first, amendments tabled to the Bill have a deadline, but amendments to the sittings motion can be moved from the floor if Members want to amend it, and that is what we are  dealing with at the moment. Then, the normal processes will take place. However, there is obviously a deadline for amendments to the meat of the Bill.

Photo of Martin Horwood Martin Horwood Liberal Democrat, Cheltenham

Further to that point of order, Mr Benton. If, for instance, I were to propose an amendment to the sittings motion in the course of this sitting and suggest that the Committee adjourn, pending a referral to the Backbench Business Committee, to see whether time could be found for consideration of the Bill on the Floor of the House, would that be in order?

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Labour, Bootle

That would be ruled out of order, because that is not an amendment to the sittings motion. We are dealing with the sittings motion as printed. You cannot move an amendment to move the Committee stage on to the Floor of the House, but you can move an amendment on the times—and the days, for that matter.

Photo of Martin Horwood Martin Horwood Liberal Democrat, Cheltenham

Further to that point of order, Mr Benton. I am sorry, I did not suggest that we amend the motion to move the Committee stage to the Floor of the House—I know that we do not have that power. I suggested moving an amendment to adjourn the Committee. I do not know whether we would have to specify it in the motion, but, if that were possible, it would state that it would be adjourned, pending an application to the Backbench Business Committee for Back-Bench time to allow consideration of the Bill on the Floor of the House. We do not have to specify in the amendment to the sittings motion that that is what we want; it could simply state that, for the moment, “the Committee stands adjourned”, or whatever accurate and appropriate wording the Clerk might suggest.

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Labour, Bootle

In answer to the hon. Gentleman, it would be out of order to move an Adjournment motion. In other words, it would be a wrecking amendment. We are discussing the sittings motion and it is not within my power, as I understand it, to facilitate the moving of an adjournment to discussions. We are discussing the sittings motion and if an amendment is made to the times, dates and so on, that can be done. That is my ruling.

Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Labour, Luton North

Further to that point of order, Mr Benton. I do not want to make life difficult for you, but I have never heard of an amendment being moved during the debate on a motion. A manuscript amendment can be tabled beforehand if a mistake has been spotted—that is normal—but I am slightly puzzled by the procedure.

Setting aside adjourning and moving our discussions to the Floor of the House, having an amendment moved when a motion is live—because it has been moved and is being debated—is rather strange. Might there be further consultation to sort the matter out? I must say that 8.55 pm would suit me very well.

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Labour, Bootle

I am absolutely assured that such things happen quite frequently. There is no problem with moving an amendment when discussing a sittings motion. My previous ruling still pertains.

I suggest that we continue to discuss the sittings motion. Let us get on with any amendments to it.

Photo of Martin Horwood Martin Horwood Liberal Democrat, Cheltenham

Further to that point of order, Mr Benton. In that case, I propose that the words “commencing on 15 October 2013” are added at the end of the sittings motion to allow us the possibility of discussing with the Backbench Business Committee and with the usual channels whether Back-Bench time could be used for the substantial Committee stage to be debated on the Floor of the House.

The Bill raises important constitutional issues. As the hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East said, a constitutional measure of this magnitude has never been discussed in an ordinary Bill Committee in this way. It is completely normal and absolutely accepted that such things should be debated on the Floor of the House. All hon. and right hon. Members ought to have the opportunity to contribute to that debate. We should not rush into programming the Bill in a way that makes that impossible, until we have had the chance at least to discuss with the Backbench Business Committee whether it would make time available for a Committee stage on the Floor of the House.

On the basis of your guidance, Chair, my amendment seems to be completely in order and I move, therefore, that we add “commencing on 15 October 2013” to the motion. I am sure that the promoter and the sponsors of the Bill will not consider that an undue delay. We are, after all, talking about a referendum by 2017, so in theory we have four years in which to get it right. A delay of just a few months to allow us time to ensure that we get this right in constitutional terms seems perfectly reasonable and justified.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour, Huddersfield

I wish to second the amendment. It would give us time for consideration. As I have said, when I read the material provided by the House about the Bill, I realised that it was not an ordinary private Member’s Bill, and we would be kidding the public and our constituents if we told them that it was. It uses the private Member’s structure, but it is really a Government-inspired Bill. I am not saying that that is wrong, but we must be clear that it has happened. We are in a strange and unique situation and, regardless of whether we are pro or anti a referendum, we have that responsibility.

I have been in the House for 34 years and I have never seen anything like this. I would, therefore, like time to contemplate the Bill further. If we are going to do our job thoroughly and scrupulously, what is wrong with a bit of delay? We have two years until the next election, and then two years until it is suggested the referendum take place.

Photo of Jim Dowd Jim Dowd Labour, Lewisham West and Penge

Mr Benton, I am not sure whether you are going to accept the amendment, but I want to get the procedure right, or at least to understand it. As I understand it, the hon. Member for Cheltenham raised a point of order in the middle of the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton North East. He has now gone on to move an amendment, which has been seconded by what is, effectively, an intervention on my hon. Friend. Do I have that right?

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Labour, Bootle

You have certainly got that right. The point is that the amendment is in order, in accordance with the ruling I made earlier, and I will accept it. Despite the fact that the Opposition Front-Bench  spokesman was halfway through her speech, for good order’s sake we ought to reconcile the position here and now.

The amendment has been duly moved and seconded. It is now open for debate, so we will move on to that, and we will have to continue the hon. Lady’s remarks later.

Does anyone want to speak on the amendment?

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Chair, Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Home Affairs Committee

Is it possible to move to a vote on the amendment, so we can get this bit over and move on?

Photo of Emma Reynolds Emma Reynolds Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

On a point of order, Mr Benton. Am I not allowed to comment on the amendment?

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington The Minister for Europe

On a point of order, Mr Benton. I ask for your guidance for the Committee. I understand that you have accepted an amendment to the sittings motion, but I would be grateful for clarity on whether you now intend to hold a separate debate and a decision by the Committee on the amendment and then resume the debate on the main motion, or you intend for us to deal with the amendment at the time the question is put on the sittings motion.

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Labour, Bootle

We have to deal with the amendment first. If we get that out of the way, we can return to the sittings motion.

Photo of Emma Reynolds Emma Reynolds Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

The hon. Member for Cheltenham is right that this is such an important constitutional Bill that all members of the Committee, whatever their view of its substance, should have time to consider its nature, the questions involved and the unintended consequences. If we were to start our deliberations on 15 October, we would, for example, have the opportunity to speak to the Electoral Commission. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Stockton South has had the chance to do that, but in the short time that I have known that I am on this Bill—that is, the last 48 hours—I have not had a chance to speak to the Electoral Commission. It is our duty as Members of this House to give due consideration to the Electoral Commission’s advice and guidance, and to have the opportunity to consult other relevant bodies about the implications of the Bill.

Mr Benton, regarding this amendment, if it is in order—I seek your guidance on this—it is also important that, if we are to consider the amendment, which proposes the sitting on 15 October as the start of proceedings, we should not proceed on the substance of this Bill today.

I was told in no uncertain terms by the hon. Member for Stockton South last night—albeit informally and not on the Floor of the House—that he wants to get on to the substance of the Bill today. In the spirit of the amendment that has been tabled by the hon. Member for Cheltenham, it would be appropriate for us to have the summer recess and September to look in great detail  at the implications of the Bill, not least what the question should be. As I mentioned, that is why all hon. Members should have the opportunity to speak to the Electoral Commission. However, there are the other implications of the Bill, such as how large the franchise should be; we had a brief discussion about that on the Floor of the House on the money resolution last night.

Photo of William Bain William Bain Shadow Minister (Scotland) 2:30, 17 July 2013

Is not my hon. Friend’s point further endorsed when we look at the process for the referendum in 1975, for which Labour Members legislated? That is because in 1975, before the Bill was published for consideration by Parliament, there were two White Papers. Would not simply postponing substantive consideration of the Bill until October provide exactly the opportunity for the Government to set out for the House and the country the Bill’s implications for Government policy?

Photo of Emma Reynolds Emma Reynolds Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. If we were to accept, and I am minded to do so, the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Cheltenham, it may be that the hon. Member for Stockton South could have the opportunity over the next couple of months to produce his own White Paper. In February 1975 there was indeed a White Paper on the referendum of the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union—I have the document here—that set out to consult widely on what was a very important constitutional matter then and what remains an important constitutional matter today. In a way, that has precedent. My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham West and Penge said in our earlier debate that, on other Bills he has been involved with, there had been pre-legislative scrutiny.

Having the period between now and 15 October could allow for a similar White Paper to the one in 1975, which was about the organisation of the national referendum on the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Community. In that White Paper in 1975, the Government said that they would give careful attention to reaction to it both in Parliament and outside. It strikes me that if we had the opportunity of the intervening period between today’s sitting and 15 October, we could have a consultation of that nature. That would be appropriate to consider a Bill that is so constitutionally significant.

It is not clear to me why we are being bounced into considering the substance of the Bill—that is what I understand was the intention of the hon. Member for Stockton South—today, this afternoon, or maybe this evening, or maybe at 8.55 p.m. Maybe that is for the other part of the debate. As I am sure the Europe Minister knows, the Bill may seem short but it involves some pretty complicated matters.

Referendums are not easy things to organise. There are all sorts of questions about which day a referendum should be held, or what the costs are, which we had a brief debate on last night. If we had an intervening period between now and 15 October, we would have time to consider all those issues. As it is, the Committee has only had since Monday afternoon to get to grips with the Bill. I therefore think that the Committee should consider the reasonable amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Cheltenham, which strikes me as an appropriate and helpful suggestion.

Photo of Jim Dowd Jim Dowd Labour, Lewisham West and Penge

My hon. Friend mentioned earlier the role of the Electoral Commission. Of course, its view of the Bill will be significant. Its briefing on Second Reading said:

“With regard to the intelligibility of any referendum question included in a Private Member’s Bill, the Commission’s approach is that our assessment process would only begin after the Second Reading stage of the Bill’s consideration by Parliament. This is to ensure the effective use of public resources given the significant cost associated with question assessment.”

Does my hon. Friend agree that we cannot deal with the Bill until we know, under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, what the Electoral Commission’s assessment is of the question? That is why I think the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Cheltenham is both timely and appropriate.

Photo of Emma Reynolds Emma Reynolds Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

I could not agree more. I will vote in favour of that amendment. If we have that period, we will have ample time to talk to the Electoral Commission, perhaps as a Committee, a group—I do not mind; I am happy to do that on a cross-party basis—or individually as Members of Parliament. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East, Chair of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, may have restricted time because he chairs an important Committee of this House. He may want to meet the commission individually. The amendment would give all Members, on both sides of the House, the time to consider the Bill in more detail and to meet the Electoral Commission.

I have been doing a little bit of research on previous private Members’ Bills. I think that there is a precedent for having an intervening period between debating such Bills on Second Reading and in Committee. For example, in the last Parliament, the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan) promoted a private Member’s Bill—the Autism Bill—which was successful. [Laughter.] The hon. Member for Stockton South might laugh, but he wants his Bill to be successful, so perhaps he should pay heed to what I am saying. The Autism Bill, which was successful, was debated on Second Reading on 27 February 2009, but it was not debated in Committee until 29 April 2009.

Government Members might be amused, but I would suggest that the amendment would be helpful to everyone, regardless of which side of the argument hon. Members are on. We need time to give due consideration to what is an important constitutional matter.

The amendment would also give some leeway to both Ministers present, who have significant duties in their Departments. They could get some work over and done with in September and return to the Committee on 15 October, having got that work under way. The amendment would provide them the leeway to be in a position to scrutinise the Bill properly.

We know that the Minister for Europe travels around Europe on our behalf. I would not like to see him prevented from doing so in September. He probably already has a number of visits planned, and so he should; it is the nature of his job. If we delay the start of the debate in Committee until 15 October, then he will have time to ensure that his travel plans in September, which are important to the national interests of this country—I am sure that he will visit many capitals around the European Union and perhaps wider, because his remit extends to Russia and the Balkans—

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson Conservative, South Staffordshire

On a point of order, Mr Benton. As much as we are enjoying the hon. Lady’s speech, I feel that she is straying off the amendment.

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Labour, Bootle

No. The hon. Lady is making a point about the importance of the position held by one of the Ministers on the Committee and how he fulfils his commitments in terms of the Bill. That is a perfectly legitimate point to make. However, I ask members of the Committee to move the process along. We have the amendment and have to get it out of the way one way or another. I ask members of the Committee to be as brief as possible.

Photo of Martin Horwood Martin Horwood Liberal Democrat, Cheltenham

I think the hon. Lady was making a serious point about the importance of having the Minister present in the Committee proceedings. I did slightly pluck the date of 15 October out of the hat as a reasonable date that allowed us time to talk to people such as the Backbench Business Committee. As she said, if we are to continue in this form of Committee, it gives us time to hear what the Electoral Commission and many others might have to say in the meantime.

I would be happy to see subsequent amendments to the programme motion, if Mr Benton’s earlier advice is correct and that we can do this at any time, to work round the ministerial diary. If there is an important European Council discussing environmental matters, fighting cross-border crime or trying to promote jobs in Europe, those are obviously critically important matters and we would not want the proceedings of the Bill to disrupt those important tasks in any way.

Photo of Emma Reynolds Emma Reynolds Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I think it is vital that the Minister for Europe is able to attend this Bill Committee. Having the intervening period between now and 15 October would allow the Minister to reschedule some of the visits he might have been planning or at least to get some of the work underway that he has to do after the summer recess. It is vitally important that the Minister for Europe attends the Bill Committee as he is very knowledgeable in these matters. I look forward to his response to the amendment. We also have another Minister on the Committee, the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, the hon. Member for Norwich North. She is indicating that she is pleased to be here and wants to be in future.

If we were to start the proceedings on 15 October, the Minister would also have the opportunity in the intervening period to look at the constitutional implications. I assume that is why she is on the Committee. I welcome her presence. It is extremely good that she has found the time as I know that she is very busy in her Department. If she had the intervening period suggested by the hon. Gentleman in the amendment, she would be able to go back to her Department and discuss the constitutional implications of the Bill. That would enrich the Committee’s consideration of this important Bill.

Photo of William Bain William Bain Shadow Minister (Scotland)

My hon. Friend makes a point of profound importance. In the last UK-wide referendum held on the alternative vote, the referendum question was changed  after the Cabinet Office, under the aegis of the Deputy Prime Minister, had to refer the question to the Electoral Commission. Would it not be better to scrutinise the Bill having the judgment of the Electoral Commission on whether the question in clause 1(4) is a fair one or not?

Photo of Emma Reynolds Emma Reynolds Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

I could not agree more. When we come to the substance of the Bill we will spend a significant amount of time looking at the question, which is extremely important. If we had an intervening period between now and 15 October, we would have the opportunity to talk to the Electoral Commission and also consider in more detail the implications of the question that the hon. Member for Stockton South has written into the Bill.

I am not suggesting that we would necessarily change it. However, I do think we should consider alternative questions to the one written into the Bill. Having that intervening period would allow us to give due consideration to whether the question he has put is leading. I am not suggesting it is, though some hon. Members might think so. We are led to believe that there has already been some discussion between the hon. Member for Stockton South and some of his colleagues about the question put in the Bill. I think that we should also have the opportunity to discuss that question with hon. Members across the House. We would have a period of two and a half months in which to discuss the vitally important and substantial question, which we will come to, of the substance of the Bill.

We would also have time in October. I know that the hon. Member for Stockton South obviously wants his Bill to become law. If we were to meet for the first time on 15 October there would be a number of weeks before 8 November. That would be the first Friday sitting day on which his Bill could be considered on Report. We would still have quite a number of weeks. If the hon. Gentleman’s sittings motion—which we are going to discuss after this amendment—were accepted, and whether we sit at 8.55 in the evening or 8.55 in the morning, we would still have a number of sittings in which to consider the Bill before us.

I am not entirely sure why the hon. Member for Stockton South is in such a great rush over this, because there is no reason to believe that we could not, between 15 October and 8 November, consider the Bill before us today in full with proper scrutiny. In fact, it would perhaps make for even quicker consideration, because we would have the opportunity to look at the substance of the Bill before us.

I urge the Committee to support what I think is actually a cross-party and consensual amendment, which has been put forward by a Liberal Democrat Member—not a Member from my own party—the hon. Member for Cheltenham. I think that we should duly consider the very serious and very considered proposal to sit on 15 October, rather than rushing into considering the substance of the Bill either today or when we get back in September. I think that this Bill Committee would be enriched by that proposal. I would like us to have more time. We have only really had since Monday to consider what we might say in this Committee and what amendments  we might put. I urge hon. Members on both sides of the House, in a constructive manner, to support the hon. Member’s amendment.

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Labour, Bootle

It has been proposed that the question be put.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour, Huddersfield

On a point of order, Mr Benton. You were talking to the Clerk, but I stood up slightly before the hon. Member for South Staffordshire, and I seconded his motion. I think it would be very discourteous of this Committee not to let me say two words about why I have seconded it. That seems very strange.

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Labour, Bootle

That is fair enough. I will allow the hon. Gentleman to speak, but after that I will have to put the question.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour, Huddersfield

I honestly do not want to get into a situation of it being them and us on this Committee. [Laughter.] I am sorry for all the giggles on that side, but the fact is that I have a very open mind about a referendum. I have not come here to be a party person. I am here as a Member of Parliament who cares very much about the rights of Parliament, and not only the rights of Parliament but the rights of the legislature as opposed to the Executive.

What worries me about this is the enormous haste about it all. Why we are sitting today anyway, on this last day before the House rises tomorrow? [Interruption.] Let me just finish. This is one of the most significant private Members’ Bills, certainly of those that I have seen in my 34 years in Parliament. The undue haste about getting this up does smell a little bit fishy. Why are we to get this through as fast as possible when we all know that there is a leisurely timetable? We have plenty of time to use, and as parliamentarians we have a responsibility to our constituents to stand up to the Executive.

We know what the Executive are up to. The Executive—this Government—said, “We are going to take over private Members’ business and we are going to get the person from our party who wins or comes highest in the ballot to introduce this Bill.” We are all grown-up; we know that that is the case. Other parties might have done it as well—I am trying to seek cross-party consensus—but we need more time for mature consideration of the impact of the Bill and a referendum on the people of this country. My constituents in Huddersfield would expect no less.

Two weeks ago, I asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether there had been any independent evaluation of the cost of leaving the European Union on the British economy. He admitted that there had not been. That is a chilling admission. Here we are with a Government-inspired private Member’s Bill, rushing to get it through the parliamentary process, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer says that no one has bothered to find out the cost in wealth, in employment and in the future of our constituents if there were a referendum and we were to leave the European Union.

I make a cross-party plea: what is the point of rushing? It is probably the most important private Member’s Bill in the history of private Members’ Bills. I am sorry to say that, but it is. As a Member of Parliament, not a parliamentary partisan, I am not going to be steamrollered by anyone—[Interruption.] I am not going to be steamrollered by someone who got elected yesterday— [Hon. Members: “Ooh!”] Someone who seems to care nothing about—

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Labour, Bootle

Order. Things are getting a little out of hand. Will the hon. Gentleman conclude his remarks? I can then put the question to the Committee.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour, Huddersfield

I think it is my right as a Back-Bench Member of Parliament to explain why I am deeply concerned. I am not unhappy about the Bill or its content. We are discussing taking more time. I do not know why Government Members are getting so excited; I am trying to do my job as Member of Parliament by saying, “Hold on. Whatever the merits of the Bill, let us take a little more time.”

We have suggested a very reasonable amendment that would give us that greater time. It would give all members of the Committee the chance to change our diaries and make better arrangements. We would have the time for reflection. We would not only be able to see the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee’s view of the whole enterprise, but many of us would be able to come to a more mature reflection on the effect that leaving the European Union would have on our constituencies.

That is the point that I am trying to make and I think it is fair. It may irritate some people, but they know that I work well with them on other issues, such as manufacturing; we work together, so they know that I have a good record of cross-party working. I appeal to them: let us bury our party-political differences and think as parliamentarians who do not want to be steamrollered by the Executive.

Photo of William Bain William Bain Shadow Minister (Scotland)

Is not the point really that the Committee is not being given sufficient time to explore the implications of the Bill for Government policy? It is staggering that the Government have already produced three documents—considerable, detailed and involved pieces of work—on the Scottish referendum, and yet no documents have been prepared by the Government or by the hon. Member for Stockton South in relation to this equally important referendum. Is that not why we need to begin substantive consideration in October? That would give them an opportunity to produce the necessary work and make their case.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour, Huddersfield

My hon. Friend is right. What is more shocking, Mr Benton, is this: you and I know the high value that MPs put on our House of Commons Library, but if you go to the Library to try to get any background on this Bill, you will be looking for a long time. It is not there. The Library staff say that they have not had time to prepare sufficient material to be of use to Members. That is shocking. This morning, I wanted up-to-date information, so I went to the Library with a series of requests, but they said that they needed more time to answer my questions.

Photo of Simon Hart Simon Hart Conservative, Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire

I have here a copy of the European Union (Referendum) Bill Library research paper dated 28 June 2013. Would the hon. Gentleman like to borrow it?

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour, Huddersfield

That is the only thing they have. I have it, too. I had a dozen questions based on the reading of that document and could get no answers, because they said they had had insufficient time to prepare the material.

Photo of Jim Dowd Jim Dowd Labour, Lewisham West and Penge

That particular document is not about the Bill. The sections are: “Generic rules for the conduct of a UK referendum”; “Generic regulation of referendums”; and “Passage of a Private Member’s Bill”. The detail about the Bill is not available. If we go to the Vote Office and ask for explanatory notes, there are none.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour, Huddersfield

I let my case rest. [ Interruption. ] I have had only one private Member’s Bill that came high in the ballot. It was when I was first in the House and it came 10th. The Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition and Chief Whip hated it. We eventually got seat belts, but it was an uphill struggle. So I know that when working for something, it is best not to alienate friends and potential allies on the first day. I have every right to speak on this matter and to speak at some length on this first day. I do not go in for making long speeches to waste time. I am saying, time and again, let us do this on an amicable basis.

The first meeting of any Committee is always a kind of “get to know you” working group. We have to-ing and fro-ing, and I do not mind a little bit of chirruping in the background, but the Bill is too important to rush.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour, Huddersfield

The hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire, who has not been in the House for so very long, thinks it is a waste of time—[ Interruption. ]

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Labour, Bootle

I appeal to Members not to lower the tone. We are not making any progress. Let us allow the hon. Gentleman to conclude his speech. Interruptions do not help any of us; it is difficult enough to try to conduct proceedings. It is not fair to the sponsor of the Bill, so let us try and make some progress, cut out the bickering and let the hon. Gentleman finish his speech.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour, Huddersfield

I have to address that remark about time wasting made from a sedentary position. I am not wasting time. A long time ago when I worked for a living, I was a university teacher; I used to teach stuff about constitutional matters. Whether we like it or not, the issue is about the relationship between a very powerful Executive in our country—some would say an elected dictatorship—and a parliamentary legislature that has to stand up for its rights. If it does not stand up for its rights when they are endangered, future generations will say, “Where were you?” when further Executive power was taken away from the legislature and we did nothing and said nothing.

We must do our duty, not only in this Parliament, but in Parliaments to come. This is a very big battle between a Government in a hurry and a Parliament that should  say, because it is sensible, “Hang on. Let us take our time on this. Let us scrutinise it properly. Let us do the proper job that we should do as elected Members in this Parliament.” We owe it to the country, our communities and our constituents.

Photo of Martin Horwood Martin Horwood Liberal Democrat, Cheltenham

On a point of order, Mr Benton. Am I allowed to sum up on my own amendment?

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Labour, Bootle

We are already debating the amendment, which we have to deal with first.

Photo of Martin Horwood Martin Horwood Liberal Democrat, Cheltenham

But it is my amendment that we are debating.

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Labour, Bootle

If you want to reply to it, I will allow that.

Photo of Martin Horwood Martin Horwood Liberal Democrat, Cheltenham 3:00, 17 July 2013

The original rationale for this amendment was to allow time for us to approach the Backbench Business Committee to consider whether there is an alternative means of dealing with Committee stage. As I said in my introductory remarks, it is quite extraordinary for a constitutional matter of this importance to be dealt with in an ordinary Bill Committee, not on the Floor of the House. It is unprecedented in recent history.

In addition to the option of looking into alternative ways of treating Committee stage, there are two other reasons why we should not rush through the substantive business of this Committee, but push the debate back to 15 October. That is not a great delay; it is only a few weeks of sitting time into the autumn Session. It would not delay the Bill or put it at risk from the next general election, the end of the Session or anything like that, but it would give us time to consider carefully its implications.

When we return to the substantive debate on the programme motion, I will make some of these points. I will not repeat myself by making them again. We should consider issues such as the legislative implications for other pieces of legislation, including the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, the European Union Act 2011 and potential legislation on the Scottish referendum and Scottish independence. There is a need to take proper evidence, not just on the legal and constitutional niceties of this proposal, but from business. I will come back to those points in the substantive debate on the programme motion.

There are two reasons why I say, in all seriousness, to the hon. Member for Stockton South that it is in his interests and those of the Bill’s supporters to hold off and listen to the wise words of the hon. Member for Huddersfield, who said that sometimes it is better to pause for breath and consider this kind of legislation properly.

First, this is a two-stage process. The Bill is progressing through the House of Commons at the moment, but it will go to the House of Lords in due course. I have to warn the hon. Member for Stockton South that the House of Lords is full of lawyers who are uninhibited by elections and the prospect of being turfed out by constituency associations. Some on those on the Liberal Democrat Benches make me look like a Eurosceptic. They will tear the Bill to pieces.

Mr Lidington indicated assent.

Photo of Martin Horwood Martin Horwood Liberal Democrat, Cheltenham

I see the Minister nodding in absolute agreement.

Photo of Jim Dowd Jim Dowd Labour, Lewisham West and Penge

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that the response of the House of Lords, when considering private Members’ Bills in particular, is conditioned by how the Bill is handled in the Commons? Therefore, it is in our enlightened self-interest to be flexible and reasonable in handling this end of the Bill, rather than simply railroading it through, because that could come back to bite us.

Photo of Martin Horwood Martin Horwood Liberal Democrat, Cheltenham

I was not aware that was a material consideration in the House of Lords’ consideration of Bills. If the hon. Gentleman is right, he reinforces my point, which is that if we deliver bad or ill-considered legislation to the House of Lords, our noble Friends will tear it to pieces. We have not considered the implications for the European Union Act 2011, and no amendments have been tabled relating to a possible repeal or amendment of that Act or the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. There are major implications that have not yet been considered in amendments. If we were to deliver the Bill to the House of Lords without properly considering those things, I have no doubt that our noble Friends will go to town on it.

The second reason why the hon. Member for Stockton South should pause for breath, take a little time and consider things carefully is that there is a political risk for the Conservative party. If the Bill is rushed through, Members from other parties will be able to make the obvious accusation that this is not serious legislation; it is not a weighty constitutional matter that has had the hundreds of hours of debate that weighty constitutional matters have received in this House in the past. It is actually a political exercise, we would say, to paper over the cracks and disunity in the Conservative party and provide a kind of paper unity to tide it through to the general election campaign and period after that. Then, the splits in the party will become much more apparent.

I am sure that my fellow Members on the Government Benches will not accept that proposition, but if they want to defend themselves against that, they need to make sure that the Bill is treated with the kind of seriousness that proper constitutional measures normally receive in the House. That means not rushing the Bill through, on a Wednesday afternoon, one day before the House rises for the summer in the hope that we will get it out and on its way to the House of Lords, because that is a recipe for being accused of not giving it serious consideration. That is a political risk for Conservative hon. Members and certainly a risk to the Bill when it gets to the House of Lords.

For all those reasons, and for the original reason I gave—it would allow us, through the usual channels and with the Backbench Business Committee, time to explore alternative treatments for the Committee stage—I propose the amendment that the Committee add the words

“commencing on 15 October 2013” to the end of the programme motion.

Gavin Williamson rose—

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Labour, Bootle

I am not going to put the question on closure. That is not necessary as the debate has concluded.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The Committee divided: Ayes 5, Noes 8.

Division number 1 Decision Time — New Clause 7 - Petitions of concern

Aye: 5 MPs

No: 8 MPs

Aye: A-Z by last name

No: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Labour, Bootle

We now resume the debate on the sittings motion. I call Emma Reynolds.

Photo of James Wharton James Wharton Conservative, Stockton South

On a point of order, Mr Benton. We discussed at some length and in detail the merits of the sittings motion while debating the amendment. Would you be open now to put the question on the substantive sittings motion?

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Labour, Bootle

No, that is not appropriate. We interrupted proceedings when the Opposition spokesperson was making her comments on the sittings motion. It would be totally out of order for me to discontinue what she was trying to say.

Photo of Emma Reynolds Emma Reynolds Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

Thank you, Mr Benton. We still have some need for consideration on the sittings motion. It is interesting that it states that we are due to meet on Wednesday at 8.55 pm and 2 pm. There are merits to meeting at either 8.55 pm or 8.55 am; on the Floor of the House at the moment there is a discussion on whether MPs should have second jobs and paid directorships. Some could argue that we could meet at 8.55 pm in the traditional manner of this House, perhaps sitting very late as used to happen when my hon. Friend the Member for Luton North was first elected. [ Interruption. ]

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Labour, Bootle

Order. There is too much background noise. I cannot hear the hon. Lady.

Photo of Emma Reynolds Emma Reynolds Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

Thank you, Mr Benton. Although she has been here longer than I have, the Minister points out that some of us on the Committee were elected only three years ago, so have not experienced a very late night sitting. Maybe an 8.55 pm start has its merits. I think that is something that we should consider, Mr Benton.

Photo of Jim Dowd Jim Dowd Labour, Lewisham West and Penge

The practice used to be tied up with 10 o’clock sittings. Of course, we do that only on a Monday these days. We used to break at 7 pm from the afternoon session and come back at 8.30 pm.

Photo of Emma Reynolds Emma Reynolds Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

It is a serious question. Do we meet at 8.55 am, which I thought was the original intention of the sponsor of the Bill, or do we meet at 8.55 pm? My right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East, who is not in his place, is the Chair of the Select Committee on Home Affairs. He will have Select Committee business to attend to. If we met at 8.55 pm it might allow him more time in the morning.

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Labour, Bootle

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Lady again but I have ruled previously that the 8.55 pm is negated. I accept the spirit, but that will duly be amended.

Photo of Emma Reynolds Emma Reynolds Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

I am grateful to you for clarifying that point, Mr Benton. I take it as read that we are to meet at 8.55 am.

I would like to consider whether the programme motion is conventional. There are many conventions that apply to a private Member’s Bill. One such convention is that private Member’s Bill Committees usually meet on a Wednesday. Therefore, it seems appropriate that the hon. Member for Stockton South has suggested that we meet twice on a Wednesday. That seems perfectly reasonable and conventional.

However, I am not sure why it is necessary or conventional for a private Member’s Bill Committee to meet on a Tuesday afternoon. I think we have seven sitting weeks between the first week after we are back in September and Friday 8 November. I imagine it is the intention and objective of the hon. Member for Stockton South to get the Bill back on to the Floor of the House for further scrutiny on 8 November. We have seven weeks in which to scrutinise substantially the Bill that he has introduced.

Not only is it conventional that we should meet only on a Wednesday, but it means that we will have time in the autumn to consider in detail the substance, the implications, the nature of the question—all the things that we have already mentioned—if we were to meet at 8.55 am and 2 pm on a Wednesday. I welcome the second part of the programme motion with regard to Wednesday, but I am not entirely clear why we should also meet on a Tuesday afternoon.

Photo of Jim Dowd Jim Dowd Labour, Lewisham West and Penge

I used to be a Government Whip for private Members’ Bills. In my experience, the promoters of such Bills—particularly those fortunate enough to come No. 1 in the ballot—get very proprietorial. They get worried that if they do not get their Bill through as soon as they can, things will go haywire. Given that, although this Bill does not have Government support, it has the support of the Conservative Whips Office, the situation is entirely open to them.

I can understand why the hon. Member for Stockton South fears he might not get it back for 8 November. However, there are six Fridays on which precedence is given to Bills emerging from Committee. It is entirely open to Government Whips to manage matters so that nothing can get past the Bill, because all private Members’ Bills, by convention, are allocated to a Committee such as this. For as long as this Committee exists, nothing can get past the Bill. That should reassure the hon. Gentleman to some degree that the prospect of the Bill making progress—if it is destined so to do—would not be jeopardised.

Photo of Emma Reynolds Emma Reynolds Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 3:15, 17 July 2013

As the first Division that we have just had in Committee demonstrates, if the hon. Member for Stockton South has his hon. Friends present, he has a majority. There is no reason, if we were to meet twice on Wednesdays for seven weeks before Friday 8 November, to doubt that we would have considered the Bill. I am therefore not entirely sure what justification there is for having an extra sitting on Tuesdays. I would welcome some clarification from the hon. Gentleman, either now or later in the debate.

Not only do I find the sittings motion unconventional, given that Committees considering private Members’ Bills usually sit on Wednesdays; I am not entirely sure, given all the other duties that hon. Members on both sides of the Committee have to their constituents and in the House—whether in Select Committees, other Bill Committees, or shadow or ministerial roles—that it is reasonable or proportionate for us to sit on Tuesdays. Why can we not just sit on Wednesdays, in the morning and the afternoon, given that we have seven weeks?

The hon. Gentleman is a new Member of Parliament, elected in 2010, as are many of us here, which is a good thing. In a way, we are still learning the ropes; we have been here only three years. I have many duties to my constituents. Why is it necessary to use Tuesday afternoons to scrutinise the Bill? There are many other issues—our constituency duties, and the big issues of the day—that hon. Members on both sides of the Committee are worried about.

The hon. Gentleman was very fortunate and I congratulate him again on winning the ballot. However, on the day before the ballot was drawn, he said that there were more pressing issues. If so, why should we sit on Tuesdays as well as Wednesdays? Surely, if there are pressing issues such as unemployment—figures for which are out today—and economic growth, why can we not have Tuesday afternoons to discuss them? We would still have time in the seven weeks available to consider the substance of the Bill.

The other test that is relevant to the sittings motion is whether it is in the national interest for us to rush the Bill. We have had some debate about when we should start substantive consideration. Having to sit on Tuesday afternoons as well as Wednesday mornings and afternoons would not be in the national interest. Ministers would be forced to come here on Tuesday afternoons, when it would be better for them to be working in their Departments, which would be in the national interest.

It seems ironic that the hon. Gentleman proposes, through the Bill, that we should have a referendum by the end of 2017. That is in four years’ time. Why do we need such an intensive timetable during those seven weeks? The juxtaposition of having to sit all through Tuesday afternoon—

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood Conservative, Bournemouth East

The hon. Lady just said that it was being rushed.

Photo of Emma Reynolds Emma Reynolds Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

Well, I think it will be rushed. We will not have much time between sittings on Tuesday afternoons and the two sittings on Wednesdays to consider the detail of what we have discussed. It seems neither rational nor necessary.

One suggestion that has been put to me is that the hon. Member for Stockton South wants to get the Bill out of Committee by September, in time for his own party conference. I hope that is not true. If it is, I do not think that should drive the scrutiny of this Committee. I do not want scrutiny of such an important Bill to be rushed through in time for the conference recess; that would be regrettable. That is why the Committee need only sit at 8.55 am and 2pm on Wednesday.

I hate to say it, but the reason why the hon. Gentleman wants the Committee to sit on a Tuesday afternoon seems political. Does he want to get the Bill through Committee in September, in time for the party conference? Is that really his intention? He can tell us if it is. He does not need to do that. His only real deadline is 8 November. He wants to maximise the opportunity for the Bill to be discussed on Report, on the Floor of the House, on 8 November.

That is the first date on which the Bill can be considered in the House. There are many weeks during which we can consider the Bill before then, and there would be sufficient time if we met just on a Wednesday morning and afternoon. There would also be less of a rush, because we would have time on the Tuesday to prepare for the Wednesday sitting. I therefore suggest to the hon. Gentleman that we meet just twice on the Wednesday, and not on the Tuesday. That would be conventional and appropriate and meet the requirements for scrutiny by Friday 8 November. We would also have time to think about improvements to the Bill.

Photo of William Bain William Bain Shadow Minister (Scotland)

Not meeting on a Tuesday would give both the Ministers serving on the Committee an opportunity to produce proper evidence on the implications of, and the arrangements for the franchise and polling for, the purported referendum.

Photo of Emma Reynolds Emma Reynolds Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. I am glad to see both Ministers at our first sitting; it is valuable to have the input of two Ministers, and long may that continue. I am sure they intend to attend future sittings. In order to maximise the opportunity for both to be present, it would be logical to restrict the sittings to a Wednesday.

The Government have serious business to attend to. The Minister for Europe has an important job to do, as does the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, the hon. Member for Norwich North. It would serve the national interest and be much more appropriate for them to be working at their Departments on a Tuesday afternoon, rather than in Committee. Furthermore, given that the Bill has not been subject to pre-legislative scrutiny, freeing up such time at the start of the week would enable Members to consult the Electoral Commission and other relevant bodies. It would enable the Library to prepare a detailed note on the Bill, clause by clause, and thus prepare us to scrutinise matters better.

I say to the hon. Member for Stockton South that rushing the process will not serve anybody on the Committee. [Interruption.] Conservative Members may laugh, but in the best Bill Committees hon. Members on both sides share the objective of full and proper  scrutiny. If the Bill is rushed through, that objective will not be met. [Interruption.] I am sorry that hon. Members are so unhappy for me to point that out.

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Labour, Bootle

Order. This is getting out of hand. I am almost tempted to suspend the sitting for half an hour to let people quieten down. There is far too much noise going on. Members are making speeches, and whether you agree with them or not, they have a right to be listened to. That applies to every member of the Committee. I ask Members to lower the noise level a bit.

Photo of Martin Horwood Martin Horwood Liberal Democrat, Cheltenham

Does the hon. Lady share my astonishment at the laughter from Conservative Members in response to her advocating proper, adequate and timely consideration of a measure that, if wrongly handled, might cost millions of jobs, put in jeopardy half our foreign direct investment and a large proportion of our trade with other European member states, and undermine our position in world trade talks and free trade agreements with the United States and other major markets?

For me, this is not a laughing matter. It is a very serious constitutional matter that has deep implications for British jobs and British interests. Does the hon. Lady share my disappointment that Conservative Members seem to be taking such a light-hearted and partisan approach to the Bill?

Photo of Emma Reynolds Emma Reynolds Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

I am disappointed, but I am not surprised. It is of great regret to me that in the first sitting of the Committee we should have such chuntering from sedentary positions. We are having a serious debate about how the Bill should be scrutinised, and I do not know why Conservative Members think it is appropriate to have private conversations and to heckle while other hon. Members are speaking. I am making a serious point about the consideration of a Bill that has important constitutional implications.

One reason why we should sit only on a Wednesday, and not on a Tuesday afternoon, is that our constituents are looking at what we do and asking what the country’s priorities are. If we were to sit on Wednesdays and all afternoon on Tuesdays, would we have the opportunity to discuss the issues of the day? I am not the only person to make such a suggestion. Commenting on the choice of private Member’s Bill, the Conservative councillor for Yarm and Kirklevington—in the constituency of the hon. Member for Stockton South—said that it should have been

“something to get the economy moving or to speed up help to get women into work.”

Had the Bill been on such a subject, perhaps it would have been appropriate for us to meet on a Tuesday afternoon, but it is not. The Bill is about our membership of the European Union and it has complicated implications, as the hon. Member for Cheltenham has suggested, for foreign direct investment and for our economy. We will need time between Committee sittings to consider those implications and to formulate our amendments. If we have to have three sittings every week, we will not have time to do so.

We have seven weeks in which to consider the Bill, so it is highly likely that the hon. Member for Stockton South will meet his target date of 8 November even if we sit only twice on a Wednesday. Conservative Members must consider how their attempts to rush the Bill through the Committee look to the outside world. Why can we not meet only on Wednesday mornings and Wednesday afternoons? To me, that is conventional. It would be appropriate, and it would be proportionate in terms of the other important issues that this country faces.

I agree with the last half of the sittings motion, which suggests that we meet at 8.55 am and 2 pm on Wednesdays, but it is not clear to me why we have to meet on a Tuesday afternoon as well. I am not sure which timetable the hon. Member for Stockton South is working to, and maybe he will clarify that. I hope that it is not the case that he was told by the Executive of his own party that they want to have this Bill through Committee in September, because I do not think that that would do any of us any good, frankly. I think that would rush the scrutiny, and pose severe risks in terms of the questions that might be put and the substance of the Bill. We need more time between sittings to consider fully amendments and the implications of the Bill.

Photo of William Bain William Bain Shadow Minister (Scotland) 3:30, 17 July 2013

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship once again this afternoon, Mr Benton. I support my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton North East, who made an excellent speech questioning the terms of the motion proposed by the hon. Member for Stockton South, which calls on the Committee to begin substantive consideration of this Bill this afternoon. Like my hon. Friend, in preparing for the debate on the motion, I had an opportunity to review the chronology of events which led up to the last referendum held in 1975 on the UK’s membership of what is now the EU, and was then the EEC. I have discovered numerous procedural differences in the steps taken leading up to that Bill, and indeed in the passage of that Bill—

Photo of Martin Horwood Martin Horwood Liberal Democrat, Cheltenham

On a point of information, the referendum was actually on membership of the European Community, not membership of the European Economic Community, because we had already moved into a phase where social and other legislation was part of the European project. We do not want to fall into the argument sometimes put from these Benches that the only vote in the 1970s was on economic membership of a single market, because it was not.

Photo of William Bain William Bain Shadow Minister (Scotland)

The hon. Gentleman is precisely right. Before I entered this House, in a previous life when I was a lecturer in European Union law, I did of course mention very frequently to students that the issue of pooling sovereignty, concerning not only economic matters, was addressed in case law from the 1950s. So precisely what people were joining was very apparent in the 1975 referendum, to which I have referred, and also in the European Communities Act 1972.

Photo of Jim Dowd Jim Dowd Labour, Lewisham West and Penge

This point comes up from time to time, and it gives a slightly misleading impression, which I am sure was not my hon. Friend’s intention. He referred to the last referendum being on membership and our  relationship with the European Community, but that gives a false impression because it was the only referendum there has ever been on our relationship with our European neighbours and partners, and it was provided by this party.

Photo of William Bain William Bain Shadow Minister (Scotland)

That is entirely right, and I understand that when a referendum was considered on the treaty of Maastricht, many Members, indeed now very senior members of the Government, spent hours debating the subject, and were fully aware of the fact that such a proposal had to be given adequate scrutiny by this House. That is precisely what would not be afforded if this business motion passed in its present form.

Of course, those points of difference between the procedure leading up to the 1975 referendum and the purported procedure that the hon. Member for Stockton South would have the Committee follow today should cause Members to pause for thought. We should think about whether it is proper for us to embark on line-by-line scrutiny of the Bill today, in the absence of several important documents being produced either by the hon. Gentleman or indeed by the Government. Such documents were available to this House when it considered the equivalent legislation in 1975; my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton North East and I have mentioned that two White Papers were presented to Parliament on the implications of asking the country whether we should remain in or leave the European communities.

Neither the Government nor the hon. Gentleman have indicated that they propose, singly or together, to present a document on the implications of the Bill for the Committee, and later the full House, to consider. As the hon. Member for Cheltenham has said, the Bill has implications for trade, for foreign direct investment, for employment and for employment rights. Such documents have simply not been produced, so the business motion that the hon. Member for Stockton South has presented to the Committee is inadequate. Before detailed scrutiny of the Bill begins, should we not have an opportunity to hear from the Minister for Europe why the Government have not helped us to analyse the Bill by publishing the balance of competences document that they have been promising for months?

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood Conservative, Bournemouth East

What has this got do with the timetable?

Photo of William Bain William Bain Shadow Minister (Scotland)

The timetable is about the scrutiny of the Bill, and we need the proper tools to scrutinise it. Surely the hon. Gentleman accepts that we should not embark on such a serious role on behalf of our constituents and the people of the country if the Government and the hon. Member for Stockton South have not provided us with the proper tools.

We have not seen the balance of competences document. We have not seen a White Paper from the Europe Minister, the Foreign Secretary or the Prime Minister on the powers that the Government believe should be transferred from EU level to national level. We have not seen a White Paper on the Government’s analysis of the referendum question in the Bill. Surely we cannot begin the detailed, serious task of scrutinising the implications of the Bill unless we have those documents to hand.

Although we are informed that the Bill is not a Government Bill, it is clear from the interest in the Committee that the Conservative part of the Government has a real interest in its fate. When will the hon. Member for Stockton South or the Ministers provide hon. Members with the papers and documents necessary to answer our important questions? We deserve detailed answers to our questions before we begin the task of scrutinising the Bill, which is precisely why the business motion should not be accepted in its present form.

What would be the implications of a yes vote or a no vote if the question in clause 1(4) were put to voters in the proposed referendum? For the 1975 referendum, two White Papers were published on the proposed terms of renegotiation of EC membership, one of which considered the implications of the proposed referendum question. It is regrettable that the Committee is not being afforded the same range of authoritative analysis on the implications of the Bill. If the hon. Gentleman believes it to be of vital national interest that line-by-line scrutiny of the Bill begins this afternoon, why cannot he or either of the Ministers present give us assurances about when we will receive the White Papers, Green Papers or other background documents that will allow us to fulfil our important scrutinising function?

As the Foreign Secretary mentioned on Second Reading, those of us who are registered to vote in Scottish constituencies are in a unique position, for should the Scottish Parliament pass the legislation currently before it to provide for a referendum on Scotland’s membership of the United Kingdom, then I will have a vote on whether we remain part of the European Union next September. In relation to that referendum, the Government have adopted a different strategy in terms of the background information and documentation that has been provided to voters.

Photo of Martin Horwood Martin Horwood Liberal Democrat, Cheltenham

The hon. Gentleman made an unintentional slip when he said that the Government have adopted a different strategy. Of course, this is not a Government Bill. The coalition Government have already legislated at length for referendums on the European Union in this Parliament and passed the European Union Act 2011, which put into practice what was then Conservative party policy. The Bill before us is only a Conservative private Member’s Bill.

Photo of William Bain William Bain Shadow Minister (Scotland)

The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point.

I have here three documents issued by the Government over the past three months that provide a balanced analysis of the implications of the Scottish referendum. I believe that it shows a complete contrast with the way in which the purported EU referendum is being handled that the same information has not been provided either to hon. Members or to voters, and there is no timetable to provide such evidence or analysis. That shows why we need a delay before we begin the detailed, line-by-line consideration of the Bill, so that the Government have an opportunity to give our constituents and hon. Members this information.

The sort of information that the hon. Member for Stockton South and the Ministers could provide the Committee with, if we did not accept the sittings motion, would include what the implications of a no vote would  be: would a no vote remove us from the European Union but keep us in the European economic area? Members need to know about such matters before we begin detailed scrutiny of the Bill. Would a no vote see us rejoin the European free trade area? Would we retain even a customs union with the EU, as Turkey enjoys as a state hoping to get in, while Government Members increasingly hope we get out? Do we not deserve information of such sort before we begin detailed scrutiny of the question in the Bill?

It is surely incumbent on the Government and the Bill’s promoter to set out the implications with which the Government and Members across the House would have to wrestle in the event that the Bill became law. That is why the sittings motion, as it stands, should not be accepted.

No assessment has been provided either by the hon. Gentleman or by Ministers about the Bill’s impact on trade. That would be enormously beneficial—I would say essential—to hon. Members beginning a task of scrutinising the Bill line by line. It is an extraordinary omission that we have not seen any of that detail in the process on the Bill. It is completely at odds with what happened in 1975. It would be awful if Members of the House were put in a worse position in representing our constituents and in getting to the bottom of the Bill’s implications if we were denied the information that our predecessors in 1975 had when they exercised this vital task on behalf of people across this country.

Photo of Emma Reynolds Emma Reynolds Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

Most of the Bills I have scrutinised had explanatory notes attached. Does my hon. Friend agree that if we have fewer sittings, it might give the hon. Member for Stockton South more time to produce such a document?

Photo of William Bain William Bain Shadow Minister (Scotland) 3:45, 17 July 2013

Indeed. My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. It is very interesting that incredible haste to have a vote can be detected on the part of the hon. Gentleman and his hon. and right hon. Friends, but they are not so hasty to explain what the vote actually means. What would be the implications of a yes vote and, more importantly, of a no vote? It is extraordinary that we have been asked to begin line-by-line consideration of a Bill of such significance without being furnished with that information. It is absolutely deplorable that that is the procedure we are being invited to adopt.

Of course, in considering the sittings motion, we should strongly deprecate the absence of an assessment of the impact on business from the hon. Gentleman or the Minister for Europe. Businesses would have to meet different technical standards if we were required to have bilateral trade agreements with EU member states, if we voted to leave the European Union. That is a crucial area, on which we need information before we begin detailed scrutiny of clause 1. Where too is the assessment of the advantages that businesses in the EU would achieve relative to those in the UK, if free trade agreements between the EU and the US, and between the EU and Japan, were achieved and signed, but the UK was not party to those accords and was denied up to £10 billion in annual economic benefits as a result? Why is no one else—[Interruption.] Members are scratching their heads, but we deserve—

Photo of Pauline Latham Pauline Latham Conservative, Mid Derbyshire

On a point of order, Mr Benton. Is this the debate that we should be having? We seem to be miles away from it. We are actually talking about the debate, not about the motion we should be debating now.

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Labour, Bootle

I assure the hon. Lady that if in my opinion any Member is out of order in their contribution I will not hesitate to say so. The hon. Member for Glasgow North East is making a case to justify the sittings motion, and additional information to it, and is completely in order. Be assured that I will not hesitate to call anybody out of order, who I think is out of order.

Photo of William Bain William Bain Shadow Minister (Scotland)

Thank you very much indeed, Mr Benton. The points about trade and foreign direct investment demonstrate that unless answers to some of these questions are available, the Committee cannot begin line-by-line consideration in the most effective way this afternoon, or on the terms of the schedule and business motion proposed by the hon. Member for Stockton South. How else are we to scrutinise a piece of legislation that will affect the lives and interests of every single one of our constituents? It is absolutely necessary that the information is provided.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour, Huddersfield

Earlier, I went to the Library and asked, “Is this all you have on the referendum and the Bill? Can you not give me some detail?” This is the kind of detail I was after. At this time of year everyone in the House of Commons is thinking of their holidays, and I think that they were as well. There is not the capacity in the House of Commons Library, which services every Member of Parliament, to answer the sort of questions we were asking. That is a real problem for parliamentarians.

Photo of William Bain William Bain Shadow Minister (Scotland)

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. We all recognise that the hon. Member for Stockton South has a task that he wants the Committee consider. He has an aim in mind, but the aim of all Members, and indeed the reason why we were sent to the House by our constituents, is to make sure that the laws we consider are scrutinised in relation to the evidence that backs them up.

By adopting the meeting schedule that the hon. Gentleman put before the Committee, our ability to scrutinise the implications of the Bill would be impaired. That would be regrettable. It would really not fit with the national interest or the interest of democratic debate and discussion, which is why I hope that the Committee will not endorse the business motion.

Photo of Martin Horwood Martin Horwood Liberal Democrat, Cheltenham

The programme motion in front of us today is not really fit for purpose. It requires further qualification or amendment. I agree very much with many of the remarks made by the hon. Member for Glasgow North East, who referred to the reasons why we need to take a bit more time before we move on to the substantial business of the Committee. I will come back to those themes.

I slightly disagree with the hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East, who lost me slightly in her peroration on the relative merits of Tuesdays and Wednesdays. She seemed to be challenging the actual quantum of time that we would spend each week on deliberation in Committee. It is pretty reasonable for the Committee on a major Bill—even if it is in the wrong place, in my view—to spend at least two days in  each week on it. It is not uncommon for us to spend two mornings and afternoons a week debating a Bill in Committee, so I did not quite follow the hon. Lady’s argument for reducing that to simply one day. The real issue about the programme motion is about the elapsed time that we can spend before we move to substantial consideration even of the very first clause. That is really important.

I obviously congratulate the hon. Member for Stockton South on coming top of the ballot. The closest I have ever come to getting a private Member’s Bill was a ten-minute rule Bill on the pub tie. We did not rush to Committee too fast. We wanted to consult with the pub industry. We wanted to consult tied landlords and lessees and we wanted to take our time before trying to move the debate forward. Unfortunately, the Bill never reached Committee, but nevertheless we took a lot of time drafting its detail. I might have been on the Committee for the Defence Reform Bill, but I may have been taken off it in order not to be sitting on two Committees at once. I hope we move back to 8.55 am because I have a nasty feeling that the Whips might put me back on that Bill if we meet on this one in the evening. I will end up spending all day in Bill Committees.

The Defence Reform Bill is moving into Committee at roughly the same time, but there will be a substantial amount of time for evidence sessions before moving to consider the clauses. That Bill is on important matters of defence procurement and the development of the Army reserve. Those are big issues but they are not nearly as big as the issues that are implied by this Bill. If it is justified for the Defence Reform Bill to have a considerable number of evidence sessions before moving to substantial consideration of the clauses, it is even more justified in this case.

I sat on the Joint Committee on Privacy and Injunctions. There we did not even start the evidence sessions until we had taken expert constitutional legal advice on the implications of what we were discussing. Again, there are similar implications for this legislation. Perhaps we should consider specific sessions to take legal and constitutional advice, quite apart from taking evidence from people who have views one way or the other on whether we should hold a referendum and the risks that it poses. For all those reasons we need to think carefully about the programme motion and whether it needs further amendment.

On the rush to consider it too quickly, I know that Conservative Members are frustrated by this. I see their point. They want to get moving. To have this Bill has been one of their great political campaigns. For the moment it has quite effectively papered over the cracks in the party and their disunity over Europe. They have united in favour of the Bill. It is useful political tool.

Photo of Aidan Burley Aidan Burley Conservative, Cannock Chase

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the reason we introduced the Bill in this way, which may be sub-optimal, is that his party would not allow us to have proper scrutiny of it in Government time? It is a bit rich for him to criticise us for not scrutinising properly when his party stopped us having a proper debate in Government time.

Photo of Martin Horwood Martin Horwood Liberal Democrat, Cheltenham

If the implication is that the Government have not provided enough time—

Photo of Martin Horwood Martin Horwood Liberal Democrat, Cheltenham

If the implication is that my party within the coalition has not consented to provide enough time for the scrutiny of a European referendum Bill then the hon. Gentleman could not be more wrong. I am sure the Minister will support me, as he and I spent many, many happy hours debating this precise subject over weeks and weeks during the passage of the European Union Act 2011, which put into practice what was then Conservative policy and was Conservative party policy at the last general election. At that stage, the Liberal Democrats were still in favour of an in/out referendum, as we are now. We were faced with having to concede that we had instead a Bill on the rather novel formula that there is a transfer of power prompting a referendum on the treaty change. That is fine. We were happy to go along with that. It was not our ideal piece of legislation, but nevertheless we spent hours and hours of Government time banging on about Europe.

We cannot have a situation where one of the coalition parties comes along every two years or so, changes their policy and demands that we revisit the entire process all over again. We had a coalition agreement to move forward with an EU Act, and we have fulfilled that obligation. There are many other important issues relating to jobs, the environment, crime and so on, which the Government ought to move on with. We still have not found time to put 0.7% of gross national income for international development into legislation, though I am proud that the Government have fulfilled that promise.

If we are struggling to find time for things as important as that, I do not think we should allow Government time to reopen debates that we have already covered at inordinate length with the likes of the hon. Member for Stone (Mr Cash) and many of his friends. I am in danger of wavering off the main issue of the programme motion, although I am sure Mr Benton will drag me back. I must try to resist hon. Members’ temptations to deviate to other subject matter.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour, Huddersfield

The hon. Gentleman is more experienced than I am in the David and Goliath situation. I know he feels sympathy. It seems that we have the Goliath of the Government saying, “We want this and we want it now. We do not want any parliamentary procedures to get in the way of getting it through as fast we possibly can.” Does he agree that it is a David and Goliath situation?

Photo of Martin Horwood Martin Horwood Liberal Democrat, Cheltenham

I am afraid the hon. Gentleman has misconstrued again. We have to be clear that this is not a Government Bill. It is not a Bill that is moving forward with the consent of the coalition Government. [ Interruption. ] I am interested to see that Ministers are here. We have Ministers present on these Bill Committees sometimes.

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Labour, Bootle

Order. I ask the hon. Gentleman to come back to the sittings motion. It is not in my interest or anyone else’s to hear about the machinations in the coalition. I ask you to keep to the sittings motion.

Photo of Martin Horwood Martin Horwood Liberal Democrat, Cheltenham

I apologise, Mr Benton. You are absolutely right. I will try to resist temptation from various hon. Members to deviate from the main subject.

I have three main arguments why the programme motion is not fit for purpose and why it should specify that we do not debate the substantial clauses today certainly, and I would say not for some time, effectively into the autumn sittings.

First, the economic and political implications deserve proper consideration. In the House, we have been arguing for so long about having votes for referendums that it takes an effort of will to realise that we are now talking about it for real. This is a substantial argument that could affect people’s jobs, Britain’s standing in the world, the viability of the single market, and our co-operation with other European countries on justice and home affairs.

Only this week, we voted to opt into a series of measures on justice and home affairs. We specifically voted, subject to a couple of red lines, to take part in Europol, a European Union institution. To have a referendum that throws into doubt our co-operation in Europol and all those other justice and home affairs measures is a major step. We need to start exploring the implications of these things and whether other steps would need to be put in place in the intervening years to maintain some level of co-operation, albeit inadequate, in some of those areas.

There are the implications of climate change, and our global negotiations through the UN framework convention on climate change, where we have played a leading role [Interruption.] The hon. Lady tuts, but I attended the UN FCCC negotiations in Cancun and saw a British Energy Secretary playing a leading role in those global negotiations with the Americans and the Chinese, by virtue of the fact that he was representing the European Union view. I doubt he would have been at the top table if we had not been members of the European Union.

What is our role in the UN FCCC if we go forward with the referendum? Are we implying that we would have separate representation? Are we to remain members of the European emissions trading scheme? That is not clear.

All those things need to be debated and we should not rush to legislate on a pre-emptive referendum. The implications of the timing provided for by the Bill need to be properly understood before we move forward. Otherwise, we might inadvertently agree to timing that would do real damage to our standing in the world, our role in controlling climate change and our ability to access markets and take part in free-trade agreements. There would be many political implications with consequences for jobs and the welfare and well-being of citizens of this country, and we need time to understand them.

There would also be legal and legislative implications, which, as with the Joint Committee on Privacy and Injunctions, it is worth taking time to consider. As I pointed out on Second Reading, the Bill appears to have been drafted as if the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 did not exist. There is no reference to it anywhere, yet that Act was designed to lay down ground rules under which referendums would be held, including, importantly, the role of the Electoral Commission in passing judgment on the questions in a referendum and advising the Government on the exact  wording. The sittings motion does not specify that we shall take our time and listen, for instance, even to informal views expressed by the Electoral Commission, let alone consider amendments whereby its advice would be incorporated in the Bill, but we should not rush to legislate, thereby making the Bill much more vulnerable to attack in another place and open to criticism that it has not been properly thought through.

I have referred to the European Union Act 2011.

Photo of Jim Dowd Jim Dowd Labour, Lewisham West and Penge 4:00, 17 July 2013

The last of the few paragraphs in the Library document says that the Bill takes account of the role of the Electoral Commission in oversight of referendums, but makes no reference to the 2000 Act, section 101 of which states that the legislation applies to any UK referendum held under a UK Act of Parliament. If the Bill makes progress, at whatever speed the Committee decides, it will be deficient and defective.

Photo of Martin Horwood Martin Horwood Liberal Democrat, Cheltenham

The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point that precisely reinforces the need to take our time, pause for breath before we rush into clause-by-clause consideration and take proper legal and constitutional advice on how the Bill relates to other legislation, such as the 2000 Act. I am sure he will make that point when we come to those substantial discussions.

On the interrelationship between the Bill and the 2011 Act, that legislation was passed only two years ago with full Government support, and the Minister then argued vociferously that we needed not a Bill of this type, but one of that type. It will be interesting to see how he transforms his arguments to say, actually, that was wrong and we now need not that kind of Bill, but this kind.

There are serious issues involved. We passed the 2011 Act into law. It is rather complicated, as I found when I sat down to draft an amendment that would link up with that Act through the mechanism of the transfer of power described in the Bill. If we are to amend or repeal the 2011 Act, as would seem logical in relation to the Bill, we need time properly to consider how to do it, but we are in danger of having no time to do so. The 2011 Act is not simple legislation that says, “We have a referendum under these circumstances.” Its starting point is ratification of a treaty change, and it states that treaty change cannot happen without the referendum condition being met. The referendum condition is met by holding a referendum except in the exempted circumstances. The exempted circumstances are those in which no essential transfer of power takes place; those are listed at length.

If we go ahead with the Bill without having properly debated and programmed in considerations with respect to the 2011 Act, we might end up in the ludicrous situation of having both Acts in force at the same time. We should consider the implications of that. We might hold our great in/out referendum by 2017 while simultaneously talking about holding a referendum under the 2011 Act on a treaty change that was taking place at the same time. We could save a lot of public money, I suppose, by holding both those referendums on the same day; but what if we voted yes to the treaty change but no to in/out, or the other way around, and so had incompatible results from the two referendums? In practice, if we pass the Bill, the 2011 Act will be nonsense.

It is therefore quite clear that the Bill should incorporate a repeal of parts or all of the EU Act 2011. We need serious time to be advised, probably by parliamentary agents and lawyers, on how exactly we would go about drafting amendments that could take apart a major piece of legislation, so that we do not create a complete constitutional nonsense.

The added complication, of course, is that we cannot simply repeal the 2011 Act, because some bits are quite good. I occasionally find myself in rare agreement with the hon. Member for Stone, because it is good that the EU Act mandated this Parliament to give much greater scrutiny to EU affairs and the decisions that Ministers take to European Councils. I think we stretched things rather far the day that we debated, on the Floor of the House, whether the programme of the European Parliament should be published in electronic format. That apparently needed a debate on the Floor of the House, whereas such a debate is seemingly not justified for the Committee stage of a Bill on a referendum on EU membership.

The essential idea of the EU Act—that there should be much greater scrutiny by national Parliaments of policy conducted by our Ministers, on our behalf, at European level—is a very good one, and I want to retain some elements of that notion. Again, therefore, we need time to take proper legal and constitutional advice on exactly how to construct amendments to repeal or amend, or repeal in part, the European Union Act 2011.

Photo of Aidan Burley Aidan Burley Conservative, Cannock Chase

On a point of order, Mr Benton. I am struggling to work out how repealing part of the European Union Act has anything to do with the time scale for the Bill. Could you give me some guidance?

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Labour, Bootle

I made the same ruling earlier on: the point has something to do with the context because it supports the appeal about the adjustment to the motion that we are discussing. It is relevant. I reassure you, again, that any Member who goes out of order will be ruled out of order.

Photo of Martin Horwood Martin Horwood Liberal Democrat, Cheltenham

Thank you, Mr Benton. I am grateful for your ruling, because it is absolutely right that if we are to consider—[ Interruption. ] There is a great tutting and whistling through teeth from Conservative Members on the Government Benches; perhaps one of them would like to make an intervention to explain exactly how we will amend the European Union Act 2011 to prevent complete constitutional nonsense should the Bill become law. If we do not make the time to take proper legal and constitutional advice before moving amendments on that issue—or, perhaps, not moving them at all—the Bill will be torn to pieces in the House of Lords. It is in the interests of the Bill’s supporters not to make it the Dangerous Dogs Act of constitutional reform: they should not turn it into an example of how rushed law is bad law.

Photo of Emma Reynolds Emma Reynolds Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that if we were to scrutinise the substance of the Bill come September, during the intervening parliamentary recess there would be more time for exploring the legal implications that he talked about?

Photo of Martin Horwood Martin Horwood Liberal Democrat, Cheltenham

Yes, that is exactly right, and I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that point. The idea that the Bill is simple is charming, but utterly misleading. It is complicated and has complicated implications for other legislation, for economics and for the politics of this country. We need to give it due consideration.

My third point is that there is a very strong case for evidence sessions. In that sense, the programme motion perhaps needs some amendment and, at the end of my remarks, I might venture to propose a further amendment to it on that basis. The argument for evidence sessions is that, if we are to have about 10 evidence sessions for the Defence Reform Bill, to consider the implications of—

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Labour, Bootle

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman’s flow, but only the House can make a judgment on evidence sessions; the Committee cannot.

Photo of Martin Horwood Martin Horwood Liberal Democrat, Cheltenham

Further to that ruling, Mr Benton, may I ask you whether it would be within the power of the Committee to use some of the sessions available to it to take evidence if it wanted to? That is within the powers of—

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Labour, Bootle

Order. It is not within the power of this Committee to take evidence. That remains the prerogative of the House. I hope that that is clear.

Photo of Martin Horwood Martin Horwood Liberal Democrat, Cheltenham

In that case, I will continue with my remarks, but could I perhaps ask the Clerk and the Chair to confer as I speak and advise me at the end of my remarks on how I can take forward my argument.

Photo of Jim Dowd Jim Dowd Labour, Lewisham West and Penge

On a point of order, Mr Benton. Could you clarify this point? Draft Bill Committee procedure is to take evidence, and I accept that entirely, but other Committees are at liberty to make a request to the House to give them powers. Would it not be in order for us to pass a resolution asking for the House to give permission to have such sessions as the hon. Member for Cheltenham suggests?

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Labour, Bootle

My understanding is that that is not possible with a private Member’s Bill. You are perfectly right about public Bills, though. That is the legal ruling.

Photo of Martin Horwood Martin Horwood Liberal Democrat, Cheltenham

I am grateful for that advice, Mr Benton, but I would not mind seeing whether we could have more substantial advice on that, because this is a major issue. There must be some mechanism for when a Bill Committee meets and suddenly realises that it is not dealing with a simple two-page Bill at all, but with something that has enormous and complicated implications—not least legal and constitutional implications—and feels the need to take evidence.

On the types of evidence I was considering, the case has already been made for hearing from Ministers, who might want to explain the implications of various aspects of holding a referendum. Certainly, we should hear evidence from the Electoral Commission on the wording of the referendum question, the holding of any referendum, the mechanics behind it and whether the Bill is adequate for that purpose. We could take academic advice on the constitutional implications—the Liberal Democrats’ Whips Office has already been contacted by the former Member  for Cambridge, who is a reader in law at Cambridge university and already has strong views on the Bill, which I am sure he would be willing to share at length with the Committee; that would be an entertaining and enlightening process.

Bodies such as the Association of Chief Police Officers representing police in England and Wales, and perhaps Scotland as well, might want to discuss the implications for law and order, defence co-operation and whether we should still have a British head of Europol as the process goes forward—

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Labour, Bootle

Order. I hope that this proves to be of help to the hon. Gentleman. The legal ruling I just gave is correct. The learned Clerks are working on an explanatory note at the moment. It is a matter for another day who could give evidence, if that became possible. At the moment, I hope that he will accept my ruling that it is the prerogative of the House to decide whether evidence is taken. Mr Dowd’s suggestion can be looked into, but for the time being that is the ruling. I hope that that will be accepted.

Photo of Martin Horwood Martin Horwood Liberal Democrat, Cheltenham

I am very grateful for your ruling, Mr Benton, and of course I accept it, but it does raise some difficult questions. If we are to look at this another day or in due course, the problem is that, by then, we might have moved on to substantial discussion of the clauses, which is precisely the situation that makes many of us unhappy, because we will have passed the moment when we could have learnt from evidence on the constitutional, economic and other implications of the Bill, in order to come back and amend those clauses. Indeed, they might be passed this afternoon.

I am therefore not quite clear how we take forward the request for evidence to be heard. That request is made seriously: it will help to defend the Bill in its later stages in the House of Lords and it is badly needed, certainly in terms of the constitutional and legal implications and the relationship to other legislation. We may now be seeking advice on whether we should adjourn to wait for the advice, but I am in your hands, Mr Benton.

I was bringing my remarks to a close, but I wanted to raise the issue of the franchise. We have an extraordinary situation for which we need some evidence—I am sorry, Ministers obviously have the talent of being able to talk and read notes simultaneously, but I am not quite so good at it. I have been handed a note, which states that the power to take evidence is given to a programmed Public Bill Committee under Standing Order No. 84A(2). The House may give other Public Bill Committees that power by a motion under Standing Order No. 63(2)(b). I am not entirely aware of the implications of that—I am not sure where that leaves us today on what steps we can take to defer consideration of the substantial clauses in the Bill, which is the case that I am trying to make.

Photo of William Bain William Bain Shadow Minister (Scotland) 4:15, 17 July 2013

The hon. Gentleman suggest that the implication of the note, which obviously gives an interpretation of House Standing Orders, is that the House collectively can provide the Committee with the powers to take evidence from expert witnesses. Could the issue be raised at business questions tomorrow and  through the usual channels, so that the House collectively is able to have a debate and to vote on whether the Committee has been given the proper tools to scrutinise the Bill?

Photo of Martin Horwood Martin Horwood Liberal Democrat, Cheltenham

In my view, that would be perfectly appropriate to ask at business questions, provided that the Committee had not already motored on and started debating the substantial issues. If so, active consideration of adjourning our proceedings might be appropriate, once we have completed our debate and voted on the programme motion. We should hold off from the substantial business of the Committee—that would be a wise thing to do, but I am entirely in the hands of the Chair and the Clerks for the exact procedure to be followed.

One of the other failings of the programme motion is that it will not allow us time to gain adequate advice and evidence on the franchise. The Bill might put us in a bizarre situation. The Westminster franchise is to be used for the referendum, so we might have Maltese and Cypriot citizens in this country able to vote, but not Gibraltarians, despite the fact that Gibraltarians would be forced to exit the European Union along with us if the referendum went that way. That is a major constitutional and quite a big political issue for a country that has, in the case of the Falklands and elsewhere, famously defended the rights of small territories to have self-determination and not to be bounced one way or the other by larger countries.

We could learn from the implications of the experience of Denmark. Greenland is the only territory that has left the European Union; it is under the Danish Crown, but not part of the Kingdom of Denmark, a situation parallel to that of Gibraltar. Such issues are complicated, and we need time—militated against by the programme motion at the moment—to consider the issues properly.

Photo of Emma Reynolds Emma Reynolds Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

Has the hon. Gentleman had time since the constitution of the Bill Committee to look at the detail and to seek legal advice about whether Gibraltarians should be in the franchise under the Bill? Given that in European parliamentary elections, they have the right to vote, it is perhaps relevant that the franchise should be extended to them for the referendum. I have not had the time to seek that legal advice, however—has he?

Photo of Martin Horwood Martin Horwood Liberal Democrat, Cheltenham

No, I have not. I am afraid that the meagre resources of the Liberal Democrat parliamentary party do not compare with the well-funded resources of either the Labour party or the Conservative party—I will not get into who funds them. We need a bit of time to find people who will give that kind of constitutional advice for free and help us with drafting amendments. To rush through the substantive part of the Bill too fast would be a huge mistake.

My final point on the franchise concerns the implications of the Scottish referendum and the interactions between this and the Scottish situation. If, in the meantime, Scotland had voted for independence, we would be in a bizarre situation. Under the Westminster franchise of granting rights to Commonwealth citizens, it might not be clear whether Scotland would be part of the Commonwealth.

In many cases, Scotland’s declaration of independence might mean that it would have to reapply to organisations such as the European Union. There might be a hiatus while it reapplied for Commonwealth membership, so it would not be clear whether Scottish citizens residing in England and Wales would have a vote in the referendum. That is yet another complicated constitutional and legal issue on which we should take advice before hurtling into consideration of the main clauses.

Photo of William Bain William Bain Shadow Minister (Scotland)

I entirely agree with the point the hon. Gentleman is making. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office helpfully provided advice for those of us in the Better Together campaign, and those who believe more widely in the UK remaining one state, about Scotland’s position in relation to the EU. Is it not essential, before we begin the detailed line-by-line scrutiny of the Bill, to have similar analysis from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office about the implications for the franchise if Scotland had decided to leave the United Kingdom in the meantime?

Photo of Martin Horwood Martin Horwood Liberal Democrat, Cheltenham

The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. We are venturing into a legal and constitutional minefield. The Bill has some bizarre political implications for the Scottish dimension. If people who want independence for Scotland and Scottish membership of the European Union thought that the British Government would try to make that difficult, they might have an incentive to vote no in the British referendum on European Union membership to make sure that Britain is not a member of the EU when the time came for Scotland to reapply so that it could vote yes to Scottish membership of the EU and enter by the back door, leaving England out in the cold.

That is a convoluted political scenario, but it shows the complexity of some of the issues, and the interplay between Scottish, Commonwealth and British citizenship and the franchise, on which we need proper legal and constitutional advice before we proceed to line-by-line consideration.

We have had some debate on the timetable and the programme motion, but we need to consider it very carefully. Those hon. Members who support the Bill and want it to succeed may find that on some issues, although we seem to be dividing slightly on party lines already, they have unexpected allies and that some of us are not quite as opposed to referendums as they seem to paint us. At the time of the Lisbon treaty, I voted for an in/out referendum not in four years, but then and there, and I rebelled against my own party to vote for a referendum on the Lisbon treaty. I like referendums and my party likes referendums. We have backed every other referendum that has been held on the European Union, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the alternative vote.

As I said on Second Reading, we cannot win them all, but we like referendums. We are in favour of an in/out referendum and have been consistently in favour for many years. We have not changed our position, but it is very important that we do not rush into the Bill in a way that makes it vulnerable to being torn to pieces in the House of Lords and rubbished by anyone who has looked into the serious constitutional and political implications. I am very unhappy with the programme motion.

Photo of Jim Dowd Jim Dowd Labour, Lewisham West and Penge

I will observe the niceties first. I once served on a Committee with the late Tony Banks who became Lord Stratford. He was one of the House’s great characters and iconoclasts. He told me that he once thought that he would stand up in a Committee and say that he was thoroughly depressed by the occupant of the Chair and that he was a crashing bore, if only to create a difference from the normal civility of people welcoming the Chair and serving under their chairmanship. I have no recollection that he actually did that and I do not think he did. I will certainly not be doing that today because, Mr Benton, although I enjoy cordial relations with every member of the Panel of Chairs, you are one of my favourites. After that ingratiation, I will move on to the business before us.

I am in two minds. I support much of what my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton North East said and particularly the points she and the hon. Member for Cheltenham made on the detail of the Bill. The Bill is a very strange creature. As I said on Second Reading, I am a member of the Labour for a referendum campaign, as indeed is my hon. Friend the Member for Luton North and my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East, who are no longer in their places. We hope to persuade our Front Bench to move position so that a Labour Government after 2015 would effectively be offering an in/out referendum.

I am in two minds about this because it is the duty and the role of every Member of Parliament—and of Parliament itself—to apply the most careful scrutiny and examine in the fullest detail possible every piece of legislation that comes before this House. In this way, it can ensure that it does have the effect outlined and intended and ensure that any unintended consequences are addressed as far as possible. I know that there is a concern that programme motions have in fact diluted the ability of Parliament to do this: whole swathes of Bills go through without the detailed scrutiny that they merit.

In opposition, the Conservative party used to rage mightily against the iniquity of the Labour Government bringing forward programme motions after Second Reading, but of course it is a device of Government. Now that they are the Government, of course programme motions are an essential tool. I accept the degree of hypocrisy involved in that as it is just one of the facets of political life in this place.

Therefore, I am torn. My inclination is to give this Bill the most careful scrutiny, particularly given its import and its potential to disrupt our relationships with our European neighbours and partners—and to affect the future of this nation for many decades, if not generations, to come—but my other reaction is that it is not a real Bill at all, just a political ruse. The hon. Member for Cheltenham mentioned previously that it is a device, whose sole beneficiaries are not the British people but the Conservative party. It is a device that has been concocted to get over the problems the Conservatives have had with people banging on about Europe—the fruitcakes, the closet racists and God knows who else over recent years.

Therefore, my instinct in the second case is to get this thing out of the way as quickly as possible, to waste the bare minimum of time on this Bill and leave all of us to do something far more productive and useful than dealing with such a bizarre measure as the one we are  looking at today. I can understand that the hon. Member for Stockton South is a young man in a hurry. Perhaps his efforts to get it dealt with as soon as possible simply reflect the impetuosity of youth—I do not know. Bernard Shaw once famously said that youth was far too valuable to be wasted on the young. Nonetheless, a bit more caution and a more measured approach on his part would not necessarily do his cause any harm at all.

I speak as somebody who used to glory in the title of being one of the Lord Commissioners of Her Majesty’s Treasury. The First Lord is, of course, the Prime Minister, the Second Lord is the Chancellor and the other five are functionaries in the Whips Office. I was one of those. This room may not be entirely uncontaminated by such a functionary at this very moment, although we cannot see that part of the room and so it does not really exist.

One of my responsibilities in my previous role was to deal with private Members’ business. I did that for the four years of the first Blair term, from ’97 to 2001. I learned a number of things during that time. I especially remember dealing with the first Bill drawn up in ’97 by one of the new Members, which led to the Hunting Act 2004. It did not succeed as a private Member’s Bill, but its principles went into law.

One learns a lot of things about how to deal with private Members’ Bills—the techniques and tricks that the Government can use to support them, and how to ensure their safe passage through this House and the Lords, where the Government’s control is far more constrained. I advise the hon. Member for Stockton South to look at how the Bill will be treated. I have absolutely no doubt that, come what may—whether or not the amendment from the hon. Member for Cheltenham is accepted, we defeat the sittings motion and revert to having Standing Committee C on a Wednesday—the Bill will return to the Floor of the House on Friday 8 November.

4.30 pm

I omitted to mention that I am grateful to the hon. Member for Stockton South for inviting me to serve on the Committee. I was happy to accept, and with some alacrity. I do not want to tell him what is best for him, but I urge him to consider how the haste implicit in the sittings motion will play in later stages of consideration.

Standing Committee C was traditionally the recipient of private Members’ Bills, and it used to meet only on Wednesday mornings, before that changed to Wednesday mornings and Wednesday afternoons. It sat on Wednesdays because Government Bills were not discussed on that day, so it prevented hon. Members from having to attend two Bills at the same time. That practice did not completely remove such conflicts, but it minimised them. I find the idea of meeting on a Tuesday somewhat strange, because it deviates from that principle.

Photo of Emma Reynolds Emma Reynolds Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

So that the Committee can benefit from my hon. Friend’s vast experience, will he tell us whether, when he assiduously carried out his then role as a Government Whip, he ever encountered a private Member’s Bill that sat on a Tuesday?

Photo of Jim Dowd Jim Dowd Labour, Lewisham West and Penge

No, that did not happen. The Government used several devices with other Bills; these are all matters of history that can be checked. The Wild Mammals (Hunting with Dogs) Bill Committee, for example, was  kept in Standing Committee C and everything else rolled up behind it. Once it cleared Standing Committee C, we had a backlog of other Bills that we needed to get through. It is up to the Government to open other Committees, and we opened a further five or six: H, J, K, L and so on. We paralleled all the other Bills through so that the timetable for private Members’ business was not interfered with. As far as I am aware, we never had to resort to meeting on a Tuesday. There is nothing to prevent people from doing so, but it is highly unusual.

Photo of Emma Reynolds Emma Reynolds Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the hunting Bill had its Second Reading on 28 November 1997, but the Bill Committee did not sit until 17 December 1997? That period between Second Reading and Bill Committee seems to have been longer than it was in this instance.

Photo of Jim Dowd Jim Dowd Labour, Lewisham West and Penge

Traditionally, in my experience, that has been the pattern. The Committee of Selection meets the week after Second Reading, and the Bill Committee meets the week after that, so there is normally the best part of a fortnight before the Bill Committee starts.

Traditionally, the first meeting covered only the sittings motion before the Committee moved on to other things. The Bill is unusual in that it has virtually unlimited support from most of the various organs and parts of the Conservative party. I have not yet detected the fingerprints of Mr Lynton Crosby, but one never knows what resources can be called on.

Photo of Martin Horwood Martin Horwood Liberal Democrat, Cheltenham

One of the curiosities of the Bill is that it would allow a vote to Mr Crosby, as a Commonwealth citizen, but deny a vote to the Gibraltarians, who would be expelled from the European Union as a result.

Photo of Jim Dowd Jim Dowd Labour, Lewisham West and Penge

I thought that the hon. Gentleman was going to say that the Bill would give Lynton Crosby a vote but not Len McCluskey.

Anomaly, contradiction and inconsistency are the hallmarks of the Bill. I am, however, partly of the mind that it is not serious—that it is a political stunt and not meant to be taken seriously. If the Bill does make it through both Houses and becomes an Act, I am certain that, come what may, it will never be implemented in this form. Any future Government will either repeal it or replace it.

If there is a majority Conservative Government after the next election, they will bring forward an entirely different measure. If there is a majority Labour Government, I hope to convince them to bring forward a programme of renegotiation with the EU and a commitment then to subject that to referendum, which is exactly what Harold Wilson’s Labour Government did in 1975, when, incidentally, I voted no.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

On resuming—

Photo of Jim Dowd Jim Dowd Labour, Lewisham West and Penge

As I was saying, if there is a majority Labour Government, I hope that they will offer exactly the same prospectus to the British people as in 1975. If there is another coalition of any kind, the whole thing will just be locked into the state we are in today.

The choice is whether it is better not to prolong the agony of this demented Bill and dispatch the measly offering as swiftly as possible, wasting no more time on it. I am absolutely certain that, if we carry on with this trajectory, it will not make it through the building, but then I am not sure that that is the intention. My instincts are that we should give the Bill the consideration and critical examination that it merits.

I have absolutely no doubt that the sittings motion will be agreed. The Conservative party was whipped on Second Reading—as I was saying earlier to my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton North East, that is completely unprecedented on private business in my experience of 21 years in the House. I presume that the Committee is also whipped. I have noticed during the afternoon that supervisors have been popping in from time to time to ensure that everyone is behaving in an appropriate manner, which they have done so far. However, I caution Conservative Members against hubris.

One of the most depressing facets of parliamentary life is being a Government Back Bencher; a private Member’s Bill, by extension, is the same thing. They just have to sit and not say very much, knowing full well that they have the votes to carry it off in the end. But that is the penalty of a democracy; we have to listen to people with whom we do not necessarily agree. I caution a degree of humility in what people do, and a degree of patience. I am certain that the sittings motion will go through and, to save time, I offer my apologies for the afternoon of 4 September because I will be otherwise engaged.

Finally, there is no need to rush. There is no need for Tuesday sittings—none at all. It is only the Wednesday morning sitting that is constrained because it has to finish at 11.30 am. It sits from 8.55 am, despite the argument about 8.55 pm, and the afternoon sitting, of course, can go on for as long as it likes. There is no need for it to be completed at any other time, so I do not understand the rationale behind the motion, unless it is to minimise the opportunities for tabling amendments.

The only other reason why the Tuesday is referred to in the motion is as a wrecking manoeuvre, which does the hon. Member for Stockton South no credit. He has handled himself very well so far. He has a difficult job in getting the Bill right through Parliament, but he would do well to reflect on what I have said.

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Labour, Bootle

I inform Committee members that they are voting on the sittings motion with the typographical error corrected.

Question put.

The Committee divided: Ayes 8, Noes 4.

Division number 2 Decision Time — New Clause 7 - Petitions of concern

Aye: 8 MPs

No: 4 MPs

Aye: A-Z by last name

No: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved,

That the European Union (Referendum) Bill Committee do meet on Tuesdays at 2.00 pm and Wednesdays at 8.55 am and 2.00 pm on days when the House is sitting.