James Wharton is the MP for Stockton South.
Today my Bill to legislate for a referendum on our EU membership came back to the House of Commons.
Many amendments have been tabled by Labour and Lib Dem MPs in an effort to drag the debate out and cause it to run out of time, many of them rather spurious and lacking any real support.
These amendments have been placed into four groups, and the Commons has to debate each group before we can decide whether to give the Bill its Third Reading.
Last week we finished the first (Franchise) and just after 11am this morning we completed debate on the second (Timing). In the afternoon we debated the text of the question, just managing to get through it in time, though with the possibility of a few votes having to be taken at the beginning of the next session.
This leaves one group to go (Conduct of the referendum) and the Third Reading debate itself.
Labour’s tactics throughout have been to talk long, supported by the Lib Dems, and today was no different. There were multiple, lengthy speeches, often drifting into a discussion of the merits of EU membership, instead of focusing on the specific point at issue.
We have one more sitting Friday before Christmas (29th November) and in the normal course of things we should have a decent chance of finishing the Bill’s Commons stages then. If not, we still have the option of returning in January, though it would be nice not to have to.
We saw again this Friday that Conservative MPs are determined to deliver this Bill. My colleagues were focused and disciplined in the face of much provocation by those who want to slow its progress.
I want this Bill to become law, and I think it has a good chance of doing so.
Whatever happens, it now seems inevitable there will be a referendum on our EU membership at some stage. The debate has moved on, it is surely only a matter of time before Labour and the Liberal Democrats catch up.