HC Deb 16 February 2000 vol 344 cc953-64 3.44 pm
Mr. Robert Walter (North Dorset)

I beg to move amendment No. 36, in page 60, line 37, leave out from "Ireland" to end of line 39.

The First Deputy Chairman

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 44, in page 60, line 39, at end insert— 'or (d) any two or more local government administrative units in England and Wales.'.

Mr. Walter

I do not intend to dwell long on the amendments, which are relatively simple. Conservative Members are conscious of the fact that the measure provides for referendums to be held not only nationally, but in England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland, and in any of the regions, as defined by the regional development agencies.

It may come as no surprise to the Committee that Conservative Members see nothing magical in the areas of the RDAs. Elsewhere and on other occasions, we have pointed out that we are not entirely happy with the concept of RDAs—not least because we are not entirely happy that government should be organised on such a basis, although regional boundaries must be drawn somewhere.

That does not mean, however, that there is always a community of interest in a particular region. For example, my constituency is in Dorset, which is linked to the south-west region, but my constituents have little in common with the electors of Tewkesbury or Truro—save the fact that we all catch the train from either Waterloo or Paddington to reach the area.

Through the amendments, we want to provide the Electoral Commission with the power to regulate referendums held in smaller areas in multiples of local government areas—not in individual local government areas, because those are covered elsewhere. It would thus be possible to hold a regional referendum in, for example, Devon and Cornwall on an issue that was pertinent to both counties, but not to only one of them, and certainly not to the whole south-west region.

One could envisage a referendum being held on an issue that affected both sides of the Severn estuary; that might include the local government units in the former county of Gwent, in Gloucestershire and in Somerset. To give the Electoral Commission the flexibility to consider local referendums in areas that do not necessarily coincide with those covered by the RDAs or the home nations would be a worthwhile addition to the Bill.

Mr. Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove)

The amendments are rather mismatched. The first would delete one category of referendum. That is a mistake, because we need the widest possible range of options to ensure that the area in which opinions are sought, whatever its boundaries, comes within the purview of the Electoral Commission. As we want to bring all such matters under the control of the commission, it seems perverse to remove one category of referendum.

The second amendment is sensible. As the hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr. Walter) pointed out, it will sometimes be appropriate or expedient to hold referendums in more limited areas. He hinted at a Severn estuary referendum or at others that might cross current regional boundaries. I represent a constituency with the east midlands region on its southern boundary, but it is firmly placed in the north-west. It is less than 10 miles to the Yorkshire and Humberside region. The hon. Member for High Peak (Mr. Levitt) is in the Chamber, and we share a constituency boundary even though our constituencies are in different regions. One can imagine that a referendum on the Peak district national park or related issues would necessarily cross regional boundaries. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman is holding up several fingers, but I cannot interpret what they mean.

Amendment No. 44 would allow for something that is not constrained by the nations and states of the United Kingdom, or by the economic regions. It would thus be a useful addition to the Bill. Unfortunately, any vote would be on amendment No. 36. I hope that the Government will reject that, but that they will give serious consideration to amendment No. 44, which would build in a level of flexibility that would allow the Electoral Commission in reasonably foreseeable circumstances to exercise control and be the effective monitoring body, without the need to resort again to primary legislation.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde)

I shall be brief. I agree with much of what the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell) said about the two amendments.

Regional referendums can be important. The Committee may recall a referendum on the merits of the public ownership of water authorities that was held some years ago in the Strathclyde region. It attracted about 1 million respondents, 98 per cent. of whom said that they wanted water services to remain under local authority control. The potency of that response deterred the then Tory Government from privatising the water boards in Scotland.

I wish to ask my hon. Friend the Minister a question. It might be a little precipitate, but it was prompted by something that the hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr. Walter) said. Have there been any discussions with the Scottish Executive, the Northern Ireland Executive—we all know about the problems there—and the Welsh Executive about the conduct and commissioning of referendums? For example, if referendums are held in Northern Ireland once the Executive is reinstituted— I hope that that will take place soon—or in Scotland and Wales, am I right in thinking that it will be the respective Executives rather than the Westminster Government who will have the authority to call the referendums?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Mike O'Brien)

The distance between us is very small, even though I will not accept the amendments. I do not agree with amendment No. 36, but I shall give some consideration to amendment No. 44, albeit not on this Bill. As I shall explain, there is a way of dealing with the issue other than trying to amend the Bill.

Clause 95(1) specifies the referendums to which the provisions of part VII apply. It is not ultimately an exhaustive list, in the sense that future legislation providing for referendums to be held throughout areas or combinations of administrative units not specified in the clause could provide for the controls set in this part to be applied fully or in part to those referendums. That is not the only way in which we can manage the division of areas for referendums. We could decide in later legislation to do it differently. All that we are providing here, for the sake of convenience, is a template that we may or may not choose to use.

A case in point would be referendums on directly elected mayors under the Local Government Bill, which will make provision for the Secretary of State to make regulations as to the conduct of such referendums. It is intended that those regulations should apply, with necessary modifications, to a number of the provisions in part VII, having regard to the particular circumstances of those local referendums.

Clause 95(1)(c), which amendment No. 36 would delete, allows the provisions of part VII to be applied to a referendum held throughout an English region. Such referendums are not by any means an immediate prospect, but the Government intend to introduce, possibly in the next Parliament, legislation to allow people, region by region, to decide in a referendum whether they want directly elected regional government. The Government's judgment is that the part VII provisions would apply fully to such referendums. We might as well put them in place, because this is convenient legislation in which to do so, and it will provide for simplicity later.

Those referendums would be held on matters of significance, and each would involve a substantial electorate. Given that regional referendums are a genuine prospect, it makes sense to take this opportunity to make it clear that these controls would apply to those referendums.

Amendment No. 44 would apply the part VII provisions to referendums held in two or more local government administrative units in England and Wales. I am not persuaded that we need to put that into the Bill. We have made no presumptions that the boundaries for any future regional government in England need necessarily follow those of the existing administrative regions; that is, the Government office boundaries.

We have said that in time we shall introduce legislation to allow people to choose whether they want regional government. How we would deal with referendums cutting across regional boundaries should be a matter for that legislation. It is no use trying to prejudge the boundaries that we would use, when it may be some time before we will want to call those referendums. The Bill is convenient and simple and gives us a legitimate basis for proceeding with those referendums.

We are not closing the door on the ideas put forward by the hon. Members for North Dorset (Mr. Walter) and for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell), and I hope that, with the reassurances that I have given, the hon. Member for North Dorset will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (Dr. Godman) that there have been discussions with the Scots and Welsh about how to proceed with the legislation. As we get used to devolution, it is becoming natural for us to consult and discuss with our colleagues in the Scottish Parliament and Executive and the Welsh Assembly and Executive the changes that are taking place. I hope that he is satisfied with that reassurance.

Mr. Walter

I thank the Minister for his response. I am slightly—I would not say entirely—reassured that he has taken on board our points, particularly on amendment No. 44. On the basis that he seems to accept their spirit and suggests that they should be incorporated in other, later legislation, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

4 pm

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

I beg to move amendment No. 45, in page 61, line 13, at end add—

'(6) The exact number, nature and wording of

  1. (a) the question or questions, and
  2. (b) the possible answers to each question
in a referendum or other poll to which this Part applies shall be determined after consultation with the Commission; and any views expressed by the Commission shall be published.'.

The First Deputy Chairman

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 46, in clause 97, page 61, line 33, leave out from beginning to 'the' in line 34 and insert—

`The date of the poll in the case of any referendum to which this Part applies shall be fixed by the Commission, and'. No. 48, in clause 101, page 63, line 34, leave out 'after consulting the Commission' and insert— 'on the recommendation of the Commission'.

Sir Patrick Cormack

In responding to the previous group of amendments moved by my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Mr. Walter), the Minister used some interesting turns of phrase, of which I made a note. He talked of, "We might as well put in place", "It will be convenient" and "It makes sense." I hope that he will respond to amendment No. 45 in a similar spirit, because it would make sense and be convenient to implement the provisions suggested in it and the consequential amendments that we have tabled.

There was much talk on Monday, when we debated previous clauses, of the role of the commission and of the Speaker's Committee that will oversee its work. However, there seems to be no place for the commission in the crucial, central part of the Bill on drafting questions on referendum forms. The amendments would ensure a specified, proper and official place for the commission. It should be consulted on the drafting, so that it may be satisfied, beyond doubt, that the wording is not loaded.

Members of Parliament are called on more than others to fill in questionnaires day after day. Frankly, I make a practice of refusing to do so.

Mr. Mike O'Brien

So do I.

Sir Patrick Cormack

I am glad that the Minister takes the same line. His apt sedentary intervention underlines the need for the amendments.

It is easy to load a question, thereby almost directing the answer. The commission should be consulted and any views expressed by it published, so that people may take due note of what it has said.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

The Committee knows that my hon. Friend's eloquence is legendary. Do I interpret him correctly if I say that, without the amendments that he is eloquently advocating, the danger is that the commission would be nothing but the Prime Minister's hapless glove puppet?

Sir Patrick Cormack

I am always reluctant to allow any colleague to put words into my mouth, particularly when they come from my hon. Friend's silver tongue. If we do not incorporate the amendment, the danger is that we shall have an emasculated commission, which, at the very point of delivery, cannot exert influence or even express an opinion.

In a sense, therefore, my hon. Friend is right. We are concerned about the commission. We want it to have due and proper influence on the way in which questions are worded. We want its views to be known to all so that, if there is conflict or doubt, those who are called on to vote on any issue will know what the commission has said.

I hope that there is common ground between parties that the commission should be a respected body, whose general impartiality and approach is never questioned. If the commission is to have such a reputation and to maintain it through the years, it must have influence at such a crucial point.

The Minister has acknowledged, not only in his sedentary intervention, but in the context of the Bill, that there is some force to my argument, so I hope that he will accept the amendment. Even in the new clause, which we shall debate later and which I therefore cannot debate now, and which is so draconian, there is a specific reference to the commission and a role assigned to it. How much more important it is, then, to assign a role to the commission in clause 95.

Mr. Martin Bell (Tatton)

I shall be brief. The independents have not been widely consulted on this measure. Indeed, regrettably, they have not been consulted at all. The Parliamentary Secretary said that it was his belief that independents were usually Conservatives in disguise. That is not always and invariably the case.

I support the amendment, because I believe that the Bill contains some anti-democratic elements, of which this provision is one. The commission's independence is paramount, as it is in the nature of political parties—all political parties—to take power or to hold on to power. It will be extraordinarily difficult to safeguard the independence of the commission and its right to speak for and protect the interests of all the people in the country, who may not necessarily belong to a political party but who have profound political interests. Therefore, I support the amendment.

Mr. Stunell

The Liberal Democrats support the thrust of the amendment.

The three national referendums most likely to be held over the next few years are all on issues on which I would want the answer to be yes—Lords reform, the European Union and proportional representation. However, my strong desire for a positive result when those referendums are held does not blind me to the fact that those who set the questions have tremendous power to determine the outcome.

Every politician, I suppose, wants to win by fair means or foul, but I want to win primarily by fair means.

Hon. Members


Sir Patrick Cormack

Having enunciated that novel—or perhaps traditional—Liberal Democrat policy, will the hon. Gentleman explain the ratio?

Mr. Stunell

I am glad to have livened up the debate somewhat. The difficulty in discussing the Bill, as I said in a previous debate on the Floor of the House, is not that Members of Parliament are too poorly informed to discuss it—a fault that sometimes arises, if I may say so—but that we are too well informed to discuss it properly.

Regardless of the passion with which we want a particular outcome in politics, we have a duty to ensure that the processes used to reach decisions are fair, proper and balanced, not just to produce the desired outcome, but to ensure a fair opportunity for alternative views to be expressed and heard.

The point made by the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Bell) is one that we may not want to state on the Floor of the Chamber, but which we would certainly admit elsewhere—that is, that politicians never want to give up power. They will take power and hold on to it. I do not exclude the Liberal Democrats or any other political party from that. Perhaps the hon. Member for Tatton would allow me to say that even independents, once elected to the House, are sometimes tempted to stay. They may resist that temptation, and the Bill is about resisting temptation.

The intention of the amendments, if not their precise wording, is right. They reserve to the commission some of the fundamental decisions about how referendum questions will be phrased and put to the public. That is a proper reservation of power and duty to the Electoral Commission.

I understand the Government's thinking. I understand that there is a certain amount of expedience in this Parliament and, in their mind, in the next Parliament and possibly for the next thousand years. They will set the questions. However, a day will come when they will not set the questions. They might then wish that the Electoral Commission had a bigger role than that for which the Bill provides.

As a Liberal Democrat, I seldom get to set the questions. Although I support a specific outcome, I am well versed in the need for safeguards against power. I urge the Government to look favourably on the amendment's intention, if not the precise wording.

Dr. Godman

I have been a Member of Parliament for 16 years, but I never thought the day would come when I found myself in some agreement with a Conservative, the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack); a Liberal Democrat spokesman, the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell); and an Independent Member, the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Bell). I may get into trouble, but they have raised important points of principle about setting a fair question or series of questions in a referendum.

I was sorry to hear the hon. Member for South Staffordshire say that he never fills in questionnaires. Much empirical social science research uses questionnaires as a methodological tool. Not all questionnaires should be dismissed out of hand, because they can elicit useful information for public bodies and others. I was therefore sorry to hear him adopt such a dogmatic position. I throw the occasional questionnaire away, but such documents should be examined on their merit.

I hope that the Minister will take cognisance of some of the mistakes made by Governments in the Irish Republic, which has much more experience of referendums than we have. In recent years, as the Minister knows, there has been huge controversy about setting questions in referendums in the Irish Republic. For example, there was a recent referendum on the controversial issue of abortion, and controversy surrounded setting the question for the referendum on divorce.

Mr. Bercow

I agree with the thrust of the hon. Gentleman's comments. Does he agree that one useful test of the fairness of a referendum question is whether the wording is acceptable to a professionally commissioned opinion pollster?

Dr. Godman

I am being too agreeable this afternoon. I agree that setting the question—whether in a social science research questionnaire, of which I have some experience, or, more importantly, in a referendum—is very important. It is essential therefore that, whichever party is in power, the electorate perceive referendum questions to be fair and above board. In 10 or 15 years' time, we may have a referendum in Scotland on whether to be independent or to maintain the United Kingdom, if I can call it that. As the hon. Member for South Staffordshire said, there is nothing worse than a loaded question. We are dealing with a smart electorate, who are much more intelligent than some hon. Members—none of whom are present today, of course—believe.

Irrespective of political differences, we all owe it to the electorate to ensure that, when we conduct referendums at regional level, or in Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales, we can say, "Yes, a fair set of questions is being asked." I agree with the Opposition that the commission could vet the questions that are to be asked in a referendum by a party in power.

Mr. Mike O'Brien

The debate, including the Freudian speech of the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell), has been useful. However, I do not necessarily share his cynical view that politicians hold on to power. It could be argued that, given our unwritten constitution and the power of the Executive, abstinence from the abuse of power might sum up the whole of British constitutional history, at least in recent centuries. Perhaps we could argue that academically on another occasion.

4.15 pm

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Bell) feels under-consulted on the Bill. If he wants to meet to discuss its terms and how it might be better framed, I should be more than happy to do so. The hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) made a well-argued case for the question in any referendum to which part VII applies to be set after consultation with the Electoral Commission. Let me say up front that the Government want to reflect on that proposition. I agree that the commission must be seen as impartial and above the fray, and that it is possible to frame questions to achieve a certain result.

I welcome the fact that amendment No. 45 requires that a referendum question should be determined after consultation with, rather than on the recommendation of, the commission. It must be right that it is ultimately for Parliament to decide the wording of a referendum question. Part VII does not replace the need for separate legislation to authorise the holding of a particular referendum. That legislation will need to determine in particular the wording of the question and the date of the poll. Those are important issues for Parliament to consider.

Mr. Bercow

I note that the Minister said that, ultimately, it should be for Parliament to decide the question. Does he accept that if the commission recommended a particular question and the Government of the day sought to persuade Parliament to accept an alternative form of words, the least that the Government would owe Parliament and the British public would be an explanation of their reasons for rejecting the recommendation?

Mr. O'Brien

The Government listen carefully to Parliament and the Home Office has shown repeatedly that it listens to debates in the House with care and notes the strength of the arguments. We reflect on those arguments and are prepared to change our view if they are good, but sometimes they are not so good and we tell people where to get off.

If the wording of the question were left entirely to the Electoral Commission to determine, the House would be denied its proper role, which it should retain. The Government, therefore, would not agree to the question in a referendum being set or approved by the commission. However, consultation is an entirely different matter. Given the commission' s wider role in ensuring fair play in the conduct of a referendum, I can see merit in the argument made by the hon. Member for South Staffordshire. However, it is worth noting that the Neill committee made no proposals on the commission's involvement in setting a referendum question. That matter was considered in the November 1996 report of the Commission on Conduct of Referendums, chaired by Sir Patrick Nairne, but even it recognised that the wording of the question had to be for Parliament to decide. I have listened carefully to the points made in the debate and we want to reflect on the matter. The hon. Gentleman made some sound arguments in favour of the proposition and we shall consider them. In the meantime, I ask him not to press amendment No. 45.

The proposal in amendment No. 46 would not fit properly into our constitutional arrangements or the scheme set up by the Bill. Other countries have systems in which the Government or a certain number of citizens can require a referendum to be held. Alternatively, the constitution of the country concerned may require a referendum to be held to approve any constitutional change. In such a system it would be natural, and probably inescapable, for all the arrangements for holding the referendum to be put in the hands of a body equivalent to the Electoral Commission, which we are establishing in the Bill.

However, our system is not of that variety. It has almost invariably been the practice in the past, and seems likely to remain so in the future, that Parliament legislates for a particular referendum on a case-by-case basis. The proposed date on which the referendum would be held is an integral part of the proposition that is presented to Parliament, which Parliament adopts, alters or rejects.

There is no denying that the date on which a referendum is to be held is itself a political matter. Having it on one date may have consequences that having it on another date would not. Passing that matter over to the Electoral Commission would not transform it from a political to an apolitical question; it would simply mean that a decision of a political character, or at least with heavy political overtones, was being taken by the Electoral Commission rather than by Parliament. That would open it to criticism from political parties, which may feel themselves advantaged or disadvantaged in some way. We do not think that that would be a sensible arrangement or would benefit anyone.

This issue would be all the more difficult for the Electoral Commission because the amendment provides no criteria to guide it. The only guideline is the one already in the Bill, which provides for a minimum 28-day interval following the determination of applications for designation. The amendment does not, for example, say that the poll is to be held as soon as is practicable thereafter.

What are the Opposition after? Are they seeking a device to delay a referendum taking place? Well, we shall see. They say that the amendment is to prevent the Government of the day from putting into a Bill a date for a referendum that will best suit their own purposes. However, with no criteria to guide the commission, the obvious implication is that it is expected to ensure that the date of the poll does not unduly favour the Government side, which means that, relatively speaking, it favours the other side. That is asking too much of the commission, and is wrong in principle under our system. Trying to take what is, in many ways, a political decision out of the realm of political debate is not a sensible approach.

Mr. Bercow

So the Government are motivated by charity.

Mr. O'Brien

The Government are motivated by the highest standards of national interest and concern.

Clause 101(3), to which amendment No. 48 relates, is concerned with the possibility that a referendum question may admit more than two possible outcomes. In such circumstances, it may be open to question whether a permitted participant should be designated in respect of each of the possible outcomes. It is conceivable, for example, that one or more of the possible outcomes would be nonsensical.

An example of that was the 1997 poll on Scottish devolution, in which voters were presented with a two-part ballot paper and asked, first, to indicate whether they agreed or disagreed that there should be a Scottish Parliament, and, secondly, whether they agreed or disagreed that such a Parliament should have tax-varying powers. There were four possible outcomes, at least one of which—no to a Parliament but yes to giving it tax-varying powers—was meaningless in terms of the referendum campaign. Subsection (3) sets out a mechanism whereby it could be directed that no permitted participant be designated in respect of such an outcome.

The question is how such a decision is arrived at. Subsection (3) requires that the commission be consulted. As amended by amendment 48, such an order could be made only on the recommendation of the commission. In practice, it seems very unlikely that there would be much difference either way. It is difficult to envisage the circumstances in which there could be any real dispute as to whether a particular outcome merited the designation of a permitted participant.

In principle, I believe that this subsection should remain as it stands. The provisions of part VII start from the premise that the key decisions on whether and when a referendum is held, and the question of policy that the referendum is intended to resolve, are matters for the Government of the day and for Parliament. It is for the commission then to oversee the conduct of the referendum to ensure that, above all, it is fair. Although it is entirely right to consult the commission on the matter, it does not seem right to take that decision entirely out of the hands of the political arena, of the Chamber and of Parliament. I stress the role of Parliament in deciding these matters, as any order made under clause 101(3) is subject to the affirmative resolution procedure.

In view of what I think the hon. Member for South Staffordshire would agree was a sympathetic response to the amendments—at least on amendment No. 45—I hope that he will feel able to withdraw them.

Sir Patrick Cormack

Ah! The Minister says he hopes that I will feel able to withdraw "them". Well, I am perfectly content to withdraw amendment No. 45. The Minister has given a sympathetic and understanding answer; I believe him to be a man of his word, and I expect an amendment along the lines of amendment No. 45, giving the commission the role that he and I both want it to have, to be tabled on Report. If my inference is correct, we shall not press the amendment to a Division at this point, but, if the Minister does not table a similar amendment on Report, we shall do so then.

Mr. O'Brien

I want to reflect and consider. Obviously, consultations will be necessary. We spoke earlier of the need to consult devolved Executives, for instance. I am not giving the hon. Gentleman an undertaking; I am saying that I am very sympathetic, but wish to consider the matter further and undertake the proper consultations that I am sure he would want me to undertake before proposing such a measure.

Sir Patrick Cormack

It is early in the afternoon, and I am a man of infinite charity. I am therefore prepared to accept what the Minister has said in regard to amendment No. 45, but I must make plain our belief that my point—echoed, briefly but eloquently, by the hon. Members for Tatton (Mr. Bell), for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell) and for Greenock and Inverclyde (Dr. Godman), and by my hon. and silver-tongued Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) in his interventions—is important, and that the amendment is important. We want to return to the issue on Report if the Minister does not, and it is only right to give the Committee notice of that.

The Minister gave an elegantly forensic response to amendment No. 46, but a response that was wholly unsatisfactory to us. There are worries about the timing of referendums, and the Minister was honest enough to admit that timing can influence outcome. Let us look back to the two constitutional referendums that took place in the autumn of 1997. I cannot prove and do not know, but strongly suspect, that, had Wales voted on the same day as Scotland, the result might well have been different. A week later, the result was too close to call: it was so marginal as to be equivalent to a result demanding a recount in a marginal seat. We had the tiniest possible majority for the Welsh Assembly.

Nothing that I say should be taken to mean that I want to rerun that referendum. Constitutionally speaking, we of course accept that a majority is a majority, and we are doing all in our power to make the Welsh Assembly work; but the concept was not embraced with universal enthusiasm in the Principality. Half the people voted, and of those, nearly half said that they did not want it. I think that, if people had not been to some degree influenced by what I accept was a much more decisive result in Scotland in the previous week, we might well have seen a different result in Wales. That experience underlies our amendment.

The Minister sought to argue, in a pleasant and plausible manner, that the commission should have no say in the fixing of the date, but we nevertheless believe that it should have a real part to play, for all the reasons that I sought to advance in support of amendment No. 45—reasons with which hon. Members on both sides of the Committee agreed. We want the commission to be widely respected throughout the country. We want it to have a real role, which we think can be complete only if it can influence both the wording of the question and the date.

4.30 pm

Therefore, although I am prepared, for the reasons that I have advanced, to withdraw amendment No. 45 and will not press amendment No. 48 to a vote because the argument is finely balanced. We do not agree with the Minister, but we do not seek to divide the Committee on every amendment. We believe that there is a point of real substance in amendment No. 46. The Committee should be given the opportunity to vote on it. At the appropriate time, therefore, I would wish to call a Division on amendment No. 46.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 95 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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