James Wharton is the Member of Parliament for Stockton South. Follow James on Twitter.
Yesterday was the first day of the Committee stage of my EU Referendum Bill. Having passed its second reading not long ago, I was keen to get it into committee and make progress. The sooner it is back before the Commons for Report and can hopefully get through to the Lords the better. Sadly, however, some of the Labour members of the committee, and its only Lib Dem (Martin Horwood) set out to delay progress as much as they could.
The committee met at 2pm and spent somewhere in the region of four and a half hours discussing when it should meet again. My original suggestion that we should meet on Tuesdays from 2pm and Wednesdays all day was, ultimately, accepted. Things then turned from bad to worse as Labour and the Lib Dem member proceeded to talk at length but yet make little progress. In a Bill Committee it is very difficult to prevent filibustering and we saw some impressive examples of it deployed as the evening wore on.
Conservative MPs dipped in and out of the public gallery to show their support, including at one stage the Prime Minister, who has never wavered in his backing for this Bill.
There are occasional and short breaks during such proceedings, and these are a chance not just for MPs to refuel and refresh but also for discussions and deals as to how progress might be made. It can become something of a game of attrition. Important issues are raised, of course, but ultimately one side eventually persuades the other, runs out of fresh argument or gives up its position.
Last night my Conservative colleagues, Gavin Williamson, Simon Hart, Pauline Latham, Aidan Burley and Tobias Ellwood, joined by Ministers David Liddington and Chloe Smith, stood firm admirably. By presenting a united front, determined to sit for as late into the evening as it might take, we were able to make some progress on the substantive matters of the Bill.
We geared up to go all evening, making plans to take shifts for short breaks and showers. Gavin took on the role of unofficial whip like a duck to water, drawing up a rota and ensuring the committee would also be well attended at all times. He organised colleagues as though he had been born for the role, and a place in the whips office must beckon soon.
In the end, a deal was struck. We were able to address the first two groups of amendments, being the substantive part of the changes tabled so far. We finished not long before 1am, a welcome surprise for MPs who had been prepared for an all night effort and had already rearranged diaries for the next day. Over 20 amendments were discussed at length and voted down.
The EU Referendum Bill still has some way to go before it can come back to the Commons. There will be more committee sittings when Parliament returns in September and then the battle on the floor of the house will recommence. The crucial first step of its first day at committee has now been passed, and our MPs have demonstrated beyond all doubt their commitment to supporting it and doing all we can to ensure it has the best possible chance of passing into law.