Motion made, and Question proposed,
That the Order of 9 June 2015 (European Union Referendum Bill (Programme)) be varied as follows:
(1) Paragraphs (5) and (6) of the Order shall be omitted.
(2) Proceedings on Consideration shall be taken in the order shown in the first column of the following Table.
(3) The proceedings shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the times specified in the second column of the Table.
Time for conclusion of proceedings
New Clauses, new Schedules and amendments relating to the application to the referendum of section 125 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 or to the subject matter of that section
Two and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on Consideration
New Clauses and new Schedules relating to the subject matter of clause 2; amendments to clause 2; amendments to clause 2; remaining proceedings on Consideration
Five hours after the commencement of proceedings on Consideration
(4) Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion six hours after the commencement of proceedings on Consideration.—(Mr Lidington.)
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. I always think that it is marginally to my advantage to speak when I am trying to persuade hon. Members to support my cause. Many people have argued to the contrary —that silence could be golden in the circumstances—but looking at the programme motion, I do not think the Government should succeed. Only six weeks have passed since we were here discussing the European Referendum Bill. Of course I understand the Government’s anxiety to progress the business while the Labour party is concerned about other matters, but the motion on the Order Paper strikes me as hardly adequate for reasonable discussion.
Those of us who were present during the Committee stage will remember, among many other events, a last-minute starred amendment allowed relating to the timing of the referendum; the Government facing defeat on the issue of purdah; and the absolute confidence with which the Leader of the House and the Minister told us that the question to be put in the referendum was already more or less accepted by the Electoral Commission and that we did not have to worry about that process.
Now we come to Report stage, and we find that we are to have two and a half hours to debate the issue of purdah. We also find that a Government amendment—new clause 10—was tabled so late that you, Mr Speaker, have allowed a manuscript amendment to that new clause. I have absolutely no idea what the Government were doing during the six weeks of recess that they were only able to table a new clause so late as to allow a manuscript amendment to it. That will cause considerable controversy, and I imagine that debating it will take up the full two and a half hours.
That brings us to the second two and a half hours allowed to us, in which we have to discuss the
“Entitlement to vote, impartiality of broadcasters, party spending limits, the referendum…campaigning…financial controls…further provisions about the referendum”
“the question on the ballot paper”.
The hon. Gentleman will be able to exercise his best judgment on whether to support the motion, but I think it is reasonable to state the inadequacy of the time allowed. There is little or no chance that all these matters will be adequately and properly discussed, and the hon. Member—the right hon. Member—knows it.
I beg the hon. Gentleman’s pardon. These things take time. A few years ago, if someone had said that I would be a right hon. Member, I would have shaken my head as well, but who knows what will happen to him.
It is perfectly proper and reasonable to state that this is an inadequate timetable and to appeal to the best judgment of the Foreign Secretary to tell us that he has been persuaded by this eloquent speech to allow a proper length of time for discussion of these hugely important matters.
To facilitate the House finishing before midnight, Mr Speaker, I shall leave matters there—[Interruption.] Well, I could move past my introduction to say a few things more, but I shall say only that this is not a proper way to discuss a matter of such import. The Government have lost control of the timing of the referendum, they have lost control of the conduct of the referendum and they have been overturned on the referendum question, all in the space of the last few weeks. Their attempt to rush the Bill through this House has not served them well, and even at this last ditch, I think they would do well to consider coming back with a more adequate timetable. The Government might thereby serve the interests of the House, and probably their own interests, rather better than they have been doing.