HC Deb 04 April 2001 vol 366 cc341-84

  1. l3.—(1) This paragraph applies if—
    1. (a) a Motion for the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 24 (Adjournment on specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration) has been stood over to seven o'clock; but
    2. (b) proceedings to which this Order applies have begun before then.
    1. (2) Proceedings on that Motion shall stand postponed until the conclusion of those proceedings.
  2. 14.—(1) No Motion shall be made to alter the order in which any proceedings on either of the Bills are taken.
    1. (2) No dilatory Motion with respect to, or in the course of, proceedings to which this Order applies shall be made except by a Minister of the Crown; and the Question on any such Motion shall be put forthwith.
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    1. (2) Standing Order No. 15(1) (Exempted business) shall apply to any proceedings to which this Order applies.
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  5. 17. Proceedings to which this Order applies shall not be interrupted under any Standing Order relating to the sittings of the House.

Those who are experts in the number of guillotine motions that have been before the House since the war—those who are not experts are recommended to read the research document available, as ever, in the Library—will know that it is not unusual for a single allocation of time motion to be moved in respect of two Bills. However, the circumstances of this allocation of time motion are unusual, although they are not unprecedented.

Most allocation of time motions arise because of the Government's difficulties in getting a normal Bill through all its proceedings, owing to problems in securing the Opposition's co-operation. That is a timeless verity, and it is true regardless of which party fills the Treasury Benches. [Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) says from a sedentary position, "Oh yes, quite routine." It was routine for guillotine motions to be moved in the 1980s, and some of us remember those.

Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald)

Fewer than three.

Mr. Straw

No, there were not fewer than three guillotine motions in the 1980s. The number of guillotine motions is principally a function of the way in which an Opposition behave. There were a large number of guillotine motions in the 1980s, because the then Opposition, of whom I was a Front-Bench member, decided that they were not willing to co-operate in sensible informal understandings about the timetabling of motions. For reasons that I fully understood, although I sometimes vociferously disagreed with them at the time, the Government therefore decided, rightly, that they were entitled to get their business through, and tabled guillotine motions accordingly.

There were far fewer guillotine motions in the latter part of the 1992 to 1997 Parliament, because by that stage, after 15, 16 or 17 years in opposition, the Labour party had learned a lesson—that it made a great deal more sense to spend time debating the heart of a Bill, agreeing sensible timetables, ensuring that they could be delivered by effective internal party discipline, and then getting out to campaign.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)


Mr. Straw

I shall give way in a moment.

That strategy was far more impressive. The hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) shakes his head, but if he studies the facts, he will see that to have been the case. He will also see that, at greater length than I propose to do so today, I have offered gratuitous but, I hope, welcome advice to the Opposition in their current predicament. It would be against my interests for them to accept that advice, but it is available to them.

Mr. Forth


Mr. Straw

I shall give way to the right hon. Gentleman in a moment. I always do.

Two of the guillotine motions during our time in opposition were ones with which we agreed. Those included the Prevention of Terrorism (Additional Powers) Act 1996, which passed through all its stages during Easter 1996.

Mr. Forth

Does the Home Secretary's research tell him how many guillotines were introduced during the glorious period of Conservative Government to ensure that Bills passed through all their stages within one hour? Does he not recognise that the Government's introduction of such a requirement is not only extraordinary and exceptional, but is an insult to our parliamentary process? What is the precedent for their actions?

Mr. Straw

I could while away the time, but I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the precedent that was set only a few days ago in the other place, where, without timetabling, every single stage of the Bill's consideration was completed in 24 minutes. That was achieved because the Bill was agreed in terms by the three main parties and because the Government had introduced it at their request. If the Opposition in this House were capable of even a modicum of the discipline that is possible in the other place, a guillotine motion would not be needed. The right hon. Gentleman wears a badge of honour. His party is so deeply divided that it is absolutely impossible for its leader or Whips ever to gain the agreement of their Back Benchers, and he knows it, as he is one of the rebels. Indeed, he is one of the many Opposition Back Benchers who hold their Front-Bench colleagues in almost utter and undisguised contempt, and who will lose almost no opportunity to embarrass them.

Miss Widdecombe

After that long diatribe, will the Home Secretary please answer the question that was asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth)? When have any Government taken a Bill through Second Reading, Committee, Report and Third Reading in 60 minutes flat?

Mr. Straw

I have just answered the right hon. Lady's question by referring to the other place, which recognised that the Bill was agreed on. It is widely known that the other place usually takes rather longer to complete such deliberations, as it has no guillotine arrangements. However, as it was understood that the Bill had been agreed on because it sought to remedy—

Mr. Forth

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will you confirm that, in your wisdom, you have selected two amendments for discussion in relation to this Bill whose consideration will be limited to one hour? As the Home Secretary is seeking to misinform us, it would be helpful to know that that is the case and that the amendments are relevant.

Mr. Speaker

The amendments to which the right hon. Gentleman refers will be considered in Committee. I did not select them for consideration; they were selected by the Chairman of Ways and Means.

Mr. Straw

Let me deal with the reasons for introducing the Bill, after which—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) is bad tempered today—very bad tempered indeed.

Mr. Straw

The right hon. Lady is bad tempered every day, Mr. Speaker, but we all get used to it. It is a bit like the weather. Life would not be the same without her sedentary mutterings, for which we have come to show so much affection.

Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim)

The Home Secretary said that the Bill was passed in the other place by agreement, but I understand that there was opposition. The speeches made by the former leader of the Ulster Unionist party could not in any way be said to have commended the Bill. In this House, can smaller parties from Northern Ireland now take it that we are not considered at all? We did not receive the Elections Bill in good time, and we have received apologies for that, which we have accepted. How is three-way agreement achieved when the main part of that Bill, which we will discuss today, is to do with Northern Ireland? Surely representatives from Northern Ireland should have been properly consulted and given time for proper debate.

Mr. Straw

With respect, I was talking about the second Bill, the Election Publications Bill, because I had been led on to that subject. I shall return later to the main Bill before the House, to which more time has been allocated, although I accept that the time is limited. In that Bill, by far the greatest number of words is related to Northern Ireland, and of course I will take any interventions from the hon. Gentleman in respect of that.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

Will the Home Secretary give way?

Mr. Straw

If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to proceed on the Election Publications Bill, I will take an intervention later.

The publications Bill is a short, three-clause Bill that has been introduced following representations from all three main parties. All parties have many thousands of prospective candidates throughout the country and are likely to be in the same difficulty regarding the new imprint requirements, and we need to regularise the position as soon as possible. The fact that local elections are to be postponed for five weeks does not alter the need to proceed expeditiously. I have already explained that last week the other place took 23 minutes to give the Bill a Second Reading, and the remaining stages were taken in two minutes flat.

I want to deal with the suggestion made last week by the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning), the shadow Leader of the House, and now by the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald, that the need for the Bill has arisen because of flawed drafting in the original Bill. That is not the case. The original Bill was the subject of considerable discussion by the parties. There was then further consultation with the parties about the commencement order, which could have made effectively the same provisions as this Bill: a phased introduction of the new sections and the continuation for a period of the existing section 110 of the Representation of the People Act 1983. I consulted all the parties, and none of them noticed—neither did I, but I am in good company—that the consequence of the commencement order was to place every potential candidate in a situation where any material that had been printed but not formally published in advance of the new sections coming into force could technically have put them, their agents and, possibly, their printers at risk of criminal proceedings. Obviously, that was unacceptable.

Discussions rapidly took place between the parties in a different atmosphere from the one that the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton has tried to generate. We agreed not that the new Bill would repeal those words but that it would provide for them to be phased in in a different way and that the original section 110 would be deemed to have taken effect. [Interruption.] It has to be deemed so to be enforced. It is not the first time that such words have been used in amending the law and it will not be the last. We reinstated section 110 and suspended the operation of the new Act and there will be further consultation about bringing the provisions into force after the forthcoming elections.

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton)

Before the beginning of the Second Reading of the publications Bill, will the Home Secretary place in the Library the documentation appertaining to the consultation that lie says he carried out? I am aware that on 4 November 1999, a senior Home Office official consulted about matters to do with the hiring of hackney carriages, committee rooms and planned changes to election law petitions, but there was no mention of the imprint in that consultation. On 17 January 2000, the same official wrote to 100 registered parties to say that the Home Office aim to issue regular bulletins to registered parties on the Bill's progress. No such progress has been the subject of consultation with any political party.

Mr. Straw

I shall do my best to comply with the hon. Lady's—

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Straw

Allow me to finish my answer to the shadow Leader of the House. I shall do my best to comply—

Mr. Hogg


Mr. Straw

No, I shall not give way to the right hon. and learned Gentleman until I have dealt with his hon. Friend's question. He should show more manners than he usually does in debates.

I shall do my best to comply with the hon. Lady's request, and if we cannot get the documents, I shall ask my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary to give her a more detailed response. My clear recollection is that the parties were consulted about the bringing into force of parts of that Act, and we consulted about the orders. In any case, I shall get back to the hon. Lady about that.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire)

Will the Home Secretary tell the House how the new wording "promoting of a candidate" helps to enhance the electorate's understanding of the documents? What was wrong with the old wording "printed and published by"?

Mr. Straw

Some people may say that there was nothing particularly wrong with the old wording. It was put to the House that we should make it clearer on whose behalf—[Interruption.] I shall give the hon. Gentleman an explanation if he wants one, otherwise I shall not bother to take interventions and we shall just plough on. It is quite straightforward.

The formula "printed and published" has been used for locally produced publicity for decades, and works satisfactorily. In material printed and published on behalf of a candidate, it is obvious who the candidate is. The new provisions aim to deal with two problems. First, in material published on behalf of third parties, it is not always obvious on whose behalf it is published. The material may attack a candidate, or it may ask people to vote for candidates who support one proposition rather than another. The second matter, which was not dealt with under the Representation of the People Act 1983, concerns nationally produced material.

Mr. Speaker

Order. We are now going into the detail of the Bill rather than the allocation of time.

Mr. Straw

The timetable motion is necessary because we have had to amend the original provisions in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. Furthermore, in the past there have been no requirements in respect of material produced nationally. Now that we have a regime for expenditure, it is important that we know on what that expenditure has been based.

Mr. Hogg


Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield)


Mr. Straw

In view of your strictures, Mr. Speaker, I shall make some progress, and then accept a few more interventions. As ever, I have taken a large number of interventions.

Mr. Hogg

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way on this point?

Mr. Straw

No, I shall not give way. I shall come back to that matter later.

As Conservative Members are concerned about precedents, I have been told that in 1989 the Gaming (Amendment) Bill went through Second Reading and remaining stages without debate.

Mr. Forth

Was there a guillotine?

Mr. Straw

There was almost certainly not a guillotine, because there were not people like the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Hogg

What about Bob Cryer?

Mr. Straw

Bob Cryer was an infinitely better parliamentarian than the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth). As I remember, at the time the right hon. Gentleman had taken the Queen's shilling and with that a Trappist vow of silence to obey the Whips, so we did not have anarchist interventions from him.

Mr. Bercow


Mr. Blunt


Mr. Straw

I shall now make some progress, because other hon. Members want to speak.

I took representations on the new provisions that have been brought into force. I can tell the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton that letters were sent to a variety of people consulting them on the orders. A letter dated 12 December 2000 was sent to Mr. Stephen Gilbert in the Conservative party and to equivalent people in other parties. [Interruption.] I gather from the hon. Member for Buckingham Mr. Bercow that he is a great man, so at least we know he exists and that some people have a high opinion of him. That makes it even more odd that he was not able to impart that information to the shadow Leader of the House. Anyway, I had representations about the effects of the proposals.

At this point, I must declare an interest. At about the time when representations were being made by the national parties, I was going through my cellar and my attic in Blackburn, and came across a large stock of posters, some dating back to the 1980s.

Mr. Hogg

We shall be looking at your election expenses!

Mr. Straw

No, that will all be taken into account.

The posters bore messages such as "We back Jack", "Get Jack back" and "Let's back Jack". They have always worked in the past, and I look forward to their working in the future. We have been careful never to put a time or a date on the out-slips. We have not gone quite so far as going to collect them back—[Interruption.] They do in other parts of Lancashire, according to my Parliamentary Private Secretary, who I am pleased to see is with us again. I thought it ridiculous, however, for us to be prevented from using such messages by a technicality. I am sorry that the arrangements were introduced in the way that they were; I did not spot the error and neither did my officials, but nor, it must be said, did the other parties.

Mr. Hogg


Mr. Bercow


Mr. Straw

I shall give way to the hon. Member for Buckingham, as he has been straining at the leash.

Mr. Bercow

The Home Secretary's tutorial on succinct slogans for deployment in Blackburn is doubtless very illuminating, but I am rather more concerned about the deplorable way in which he has rewritten history. Is he unaware that—to name but one example—my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) has emphasised several times that when he was a Minister in the last Government, he did not even consider talking to either the Leader of the House or the Government Chief Whip about the possibility of a guillotine motion until debate on the Bill for which he was responsible had lasted for at least 100 hours?

Mr. Straw

I think it was 80 hours, but we can argue about that. There was a convention, but it was sometimes left in abeyance when the Conservatives were in power. Moreover—I have a list here—it was extremely rare, certainly after my right hon. Friend the current Prime Minister had become Leader of the Opposition, for any Bill to be guillotined. That was because the Opposition changed the way in which they behaved.

There was no necessity for the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border to consult the Leader of the House or anyone else about a guillotine when I was shadow Home Secretary, because, with two exceptions, the welter of Home Office legislation contained no Bills that we forced to a guillotine. We sensibly agreed a timetable, in a much shorter time than 80 hours.

Yes, we had our disagreements about Bills. Some were very strong disagreements; in other cases we may have agreed with the overall purpose of the Bill, but disagreed with parts of it. We got on with things and did the business, however, and we represented our constituents better than we would have done by keeping ourselves here until the small hours and making life incomprehensible to the voters. The two exceptions that I mentioned were the guillotine on the Bill that became the Prevention of Terrorism (Additional Powers) Act 1996, which I agreed to because I was supporting the then Home Secretary—others may have thought that those powers were not necessary—and the guillotine on what became the Firearms (Amendment) (No. 2) Act 1997, which was introduced in the wake of the massacre at Dunblane. We supported that Bill, although we did not think that it went far enough. My recollection is that the guillotine was introduced very quickly, well in advance of the 80-hours rule. The concern was that the Bill would be disrupted by people who did not want firearms controls.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

I confess that I am now totally bewildered. We are discussing a timetable on the Elections Bill. May I enter a little caveat? I disagree with everything that the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) says, but in this instance he has a point. It is terribly important that the House of Commons should not rush through legislation without being clear what it is doing. Does my right hon. Friend accept that some of the Bills that he has mentioned, particularly that on prevention of terrorism, are clear examples of what happens when this House accepts legislation in one day? It then has to spend considerable time amending it.

Mr. Straw

I accept that it will be far better—it makes for much better debate, too—if there can be agreements between the parties. It is sometimes necessary—on this occasion, it is palpably necessary—for there to be a timetable motion. Sometimes, timetable motions are short, but agreement between the parties requires that the parties themselves are able to maintain some discipline. We were not in that position in the 1980s. We were in that position in the 1990s. I regret to say—although, in the end, it is their problem, not ours—that the current Opposition are not in that position.

Mr. Hogg

Will the Home Secretary give way?

Mr. Straw

I promise to give way to the right hon. and learned Gentleman in a few minutes, after I have had made some further progress.

I come to the reason for the timetable on the Elections Bill. The case for the Elections Bill was made at some length, as was, to some extent, the case against it, so far as one could understand it, during the exchanges on my statement on Monday. When I looked at Hansard, I noticed that the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald went on for twice as long as I had in my original statement and it still was not particularly clear what exactly she was saying.

Although there is argument about the date to which the elections should be deferred—the Opposition say that they should be deferred without date and we say, as I believe do the Liberal Democrats, that they should be deferred until 7 June—there is no argument between the main parties that they should be deferred from 3 May. That being the case, they must be deferred very quickly. Otherwise, the electoral process will simply continue. It has to. Money has to continue to be spent unless and until the Bill is passed by the House and by the other place.

On Monday, I went into detail—I will go into further detail on Second Reading—to explain why we believe that it is inappropriate in terms not only of the process of elections, tourism and other factors, but of the conduct of local councils and their ability to represent their electors, to defer the elections for any significant time past 7 June. There is an argument about whether the date should be 7, 14 or 21 June. That is a choice, but it was plain to me when I was explaining the matter in the House on Monday that many Opposition Members simply had not worked out what the consequences would be of an indefinite deferral of local elections. In making the case for the urgent timetable motion, I will briefly spell that out.

If the elections are deferred indefinitely, one of two consequences will follow. One is that all by-elections will be deferred indefinitely. If that happens, with increasing frequency, existing members of councils, who I am sure will be willing to serve for an extra five weeks, but who were to have resigned on 3 May, or were not seeking renomination on 3 May, will resign because they have decided—or their party has decided on their behalf—not to serve for a further term. As I explained to the House, at each election—it is a surprisingly high figure—there is a turnover of about a quarter of councillors. They go. Therefore, over the coming months, we would find that 10, 15 or 20 per cent. of councillors had resigned. Sadly, some vacancies result from deaths.

As vacancies arose, for inevitable reasons, such as illness and death, the control of councils would start to shift as the balance changed randomly between Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, or Conservatives and independents, simply because of resignations and deaths and not through the decision of the electorate. That must be wrong and would cause chaos in the administration of councils.

The alternative would be to continue to allow by-elections to take place, but we would then have a stream of by-elections, which have to be called within 35 days of a vacancy arising and to take place within 25 working days of that declaration—there is little of the flexibility that we have in respect of parliamentary by-elections—in the very rural areas where the disruption caused by foot and mouth is at its greatest.

If that course—logically and administratively, the better course—were followed, the weekly or bi-weekly by-elections in Cumbria and Devon would be more disruptive to rural life there and to the focus on foot and mouth than having a single day for the local elections, as we are proposing.

Mr. Hogg

I apologise for taking the Home Secretary back to what he was saying earlier on the Election Publications Bill and why the errors were made. Does that not illustrate why it would be helpful if we resorted more often to Special Standing Committees, allowing evidence to be taken and problems to come to light before a Bill is considered in detail?

Mr. Straw

As a health warning and caveat to my remarks, let me say that these are matters for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, but personally I think that there is a lot in what the right hon. and learned Gentleman says. He will forgive me if I remind him that in opposition we used to argue for Special Standing Committees, and one was used for the Children Act 1989

Mr. Hogg

No, it was—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I remind the right hon. and learned Gentleman that he must be quiet when he is seated.

Mr. Hogg

I am sorry, Mr. Speaker. You are absolutely right. I was trying to correct the Home Secretary, but you are right.

Mr. Speaker

I am always right.

Mr. Hogg

May I say how pleased I am to know that?

Mr. Straw

I am sometimes wrong, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman may be right that it was not the Children Act but a special education measure on which we had a Special Standing Committee. Leaving that aside, I introduced a Special Standing Committee for the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, and it was the better for it, so I accept that point.

Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington)

It would be a very useful development if a Cabinet Minister such as my right hon. Friend gave an undertaking to the House that in future all Bills from his Department would be treated under that procedure. Once one Cabinet Minister took that decision in principle, others would follow. It is not only a matter for the Leader of the House.

Mr. Straw


Mr. Speaker

Order. How we treat Bills is nothing to do with the allocation of time motion. We must restrict ourselves to that.

Mr. Straw

In the light of what you have said, Mr. Speaker, I will have to talk to my hon. Friend in the Tea Room.

Mr. Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire)

I am concerned that we will not have time to reach clause 2, which relates to Northern Ireland. Is the Home Secretary confident that we will be able to have a proper debate on Northern Ireland, because some issues need to be discussed that make us nervous about the potential change of date?

Mr. Straw

I accept the concern of the hon. Gentleman, who is the Liberal Democrat spokesman on Northern Ireland matters. I have also had representations from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on the provisions as they affect Northern Ireland. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will deal with those matters when he replies.

I have explained the case for both Bills—with a bit of luck, to the satisfaction of both sides of the House—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Opposition Members have been shot down in flames by their request for a precedent. The Gaming (Amendment) Act is a great precedent. The fact that it was not guillotined is neither here nor there; it was passed. My guess is that that legislation was far more significant to far more people than the Election Publications Bill will ever be, as it will affect only the small minority of those who are candidates or agents for elections. That is the precedent.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Straw

No, I will not.

I should also add that, in the other place, the official representatives of the other parties were happy to co-operate in the consideration of the Election Publications Bill.

The Elections Bill will defer the date of the elections. As I said, there is widespread agreement on both sides of the House that they have to be deferred. Although there is disagreement on the date to which they should be deferred, that does not affect the need for urgency. What does affect the need for urgency is the fact that, if we do not produce certainty and ensure that everyone is given the legal certainty that 3 May is no longer the date for the elections and that another date has been inserted, we will simply waste a great deal of money and the time of local government staff, candidates, agents and their helpers.

For those reasons—although I understand the concerns about guillotine motions and I do not like introducing them—I hope that the House will accept my arguments.

4.17 pm
Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald)

I have to say that, even for the Home Secretary, that speech was preposterous. The last time he moved a guillotine motion, he concluded his speech by saying: I look forward to the embraces and kisses of the Opposition."—[Official Report, 29 November 2000; Vol. 357, c. 994.]

Mr. Hogg

Of you, Ann.

Miss Widdecombe

Well, he said the Opposition.

The right hon. Gentleman received neither embraces nor kisses on that occasion, and he will certainly not receive any from Opposition Members today. There is no justification whatsoever for what can be described only as an outrageous and absurd guillotine motion, tabled by the Home Secretary and the Leader of the House. The motion will hinder the interests of democracy and of our constituents, who send us here to hold the Government to account and to ensure that the laws passed by Parliament are in good order, well thought through and properly scrutinised.

It is only a couple of weeks since three Members of the Conservative Whips Office and I were sufficiently incensed by the lack of true accountability by the Government to try to bring the issue to wider public attention. Today, we have two more justifications for that sit-in.

Later, in one hour flat, we shall put a Bill through all its stages in the House—a Bill that would never have been necessary if the House had been allowed to scrutinise the original Bill properly. The amendment that it seeks to correct was never put to the House for debate and was introduced at a late stage in the other place. Yet, undeterred by having created such a mess that an emergency Bill is now necessary, the Government still push it through without any attempt at serious scrutiny.

I challenge the right hon. Gentleman—I have challenged him before and I challenge him again—to tell me of any other occasion, under any Government, when a Bill on the constitution was taken through Second Reading, Committee, Report and Third Reading in 60 minutes flat at the behest of a Government on an imposed guillotine.

Mr. Hogg

Not only that, but the Bill was published yesterday without any pre-publication discussion or consultation.

Miss Widdecombe

My right hon. and learned Friend is right: that only makes the situation vastly worse.

Does the Home Secretary acknowledge that he is insulting this Holm and the British people? They are being governed by tranches of law that have never been debated by the House, much less voted on.

Mr. Forth

The matter is even worse than my right hon. Friend suggests. As it happens, an amendment that I tabled to the Elections Publications Bill has been selected. It was known to have been selected, yet the Government tabled this vicious guillotine, allocating one hour for all stages, in the knowledge that the Chairman of Ways and Means had selected an amendment. Since then, another amendment tabled in the name of an hon. Member from another party has been selected. Does not that compound the matter beyond all endurance?

Miss Widdecombe

It certainly does. Large numbers of amendments to both Bills will not be debated tonight. We have already seen the consequence of such an approach. We would not have had to debate the Election Publications Bill today if there had been proper scrutiny of the original Bill.

I remind the Home Secretary of his words to the House on 4 April last year, of which today's debate may be considered to be the anniversary: It is in the nature of Home Office Bills, particularly constitutional ones, that they are subject to amendment. That is an important part of the process.—[Official Report, 4 April 2000; Vol. 347, c.928.] On 29 November last year, the Home Secretary said: I thank individual Opposition Members as much as my right hon. and hon. Friends for the way in which every Bill in which I have been involved has been improved as a result of the parliamentary process."—[Official Report, 29 November 2000; Vol. 357. c. 987.] Yet it is that important part of the constitutional process, which has resulted in the improvement of every Bill with which the Home Secretary has been involved, that the right hon. Gentleman is dispensing with this evening.

What is the justification for the guillotine motion? It is not as though the Opposition are trying to delay or frustrate the Elections Bill. As I made clear in response to the Home Secretary's statement on Monday afternoon, the Opposition welcome the fact that the Government have decided—albeit belatedly—to provide for a postponement of the local elections, which were due to take place on 3 May. Indeed, it was the Opposition who first called, more than two weeks ago, for such a measure to be introduced.

The Election Publications Bill is also the subject of cross-party consensus, as the Home Secretary has acknowledged, and as he knows full well. There is not a shred of evidence to support the contention that, without a guillotine, the Opposition would attempt to delay or frustrate the Bill, yet these days the House cannot expect much more from a Home Secretary and a Leader of the House who had the audacity only a few weeks ago to deem that the Committee stage of a major Bill had been completed, despite the fact that more than half its text had never been considered.

So what is the real reason for the motion? The House, and especially my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), will recall the attitude of Labour Members during the Committee stage of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill—and of one Labour Member in particular. During that Committee, which also sat on the Floor of the House, my right hon. and learned Friend, together with my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack), who at the time graced the Opposition Front Bench, made some extremely powerful points about the Government's proposals on referendum rules. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien), refused to respond to the debate. In justification, he said: Hon. Members in all parts of the House will understand that some hon. Members want to go home. One can understand that."— [Official Report, 16 February 2001; Vol. 344, c. 1071.] The Minister made those remarks at midnight. One can therefore understand perfectly well why the guillotine motion will cut short debate this evening at 11 pm: Labour Members will want to go home, rather than stay here and ensure that the legislation being considered by the House, which goes to the very heart of our democracy, is in good order.

The right hon. Gentleman is again moving a guillotine motion on constitutional legislation, which shows exactly what the Government think about both these important constitutional measures and about the need for consensus and agreement on them.

What happened to the right hon. Gentleman? He said in February 1995: You can only move for constitutional change by consensus, by consent, and you've got to get these things right. When the House considers the Elections Publications Bill later tonight, right hon. and hon. Members will see exactly how the right hon. Gentleman failed to get things right in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) will have more to say on that subject when the time comes.

The guillotine motion means that the House will have very little time, if any, in which to consider the important amendments that have been tabled on a range of crucial electoral issues. Indeed, when the Government amendments are made in Committee and the House proceeds to consideration on Report, the farcical procedure that applied to the Football (Disorder) Bill in the previous Session will apply again. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. The right hon. Member for North-West Durham (Ms Armstrong) must be calm. [Interruption.] Order. The right hon. Lady will withdraw that remark. [Interruption.] Order. The right hon. Lady will get to her feet and withdraw that remark.

The Minister for Local Government and the Regions (Ms Hilary Armstrong)

I was simply saying—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. I heard the right hon. Lady talk about misleading the House.

Ms Armstrong

I said that I was concerned that the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) was not going to mislead the House. I withdraw everything.

Miss Widdecombe

Does the Home Secretary recall the proceedings on the Football (Disorder) Bill, when the House was forced to consider amendments on Report that had not been printed to a Bill that had not been reprinted? Furthermore, although my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Matins) wanted to retable his Committee amendments, which had not been discussed in Committee because of the guillotine, he was not able to do so because in waiting to discuss them in Committee he missed the deadline for Report.

I described the procedure as a farce, and that is exactly what it was. The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) commented: The House has been asked to consider amendments on Report to a Bill that was not even before us simply because it had not been printed as amended in Committee. People who had not been here would not have been able to follow debate on the Bill that we were amending, and those of us who were here all day have found it difficult to follow the implications of each and every amendment.— [Official Report, 17 July 2000; Vol. 354, c. 176.] Even the Minister of State, Home Office, the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), said: I am acutely aware of criticisms about the time taken to address the Bill and consider its various aspects."—[Official Report, 17 July 2000; Vol. 354, c. 173.]

Yet, despite that experience and the Minister's comments, the guillotine motion before the House today takes no account of those criticisms and no account of the experience on that Bill.

Rev. Ian Paisley

One of the Bills before us contains a reference to schedule 1 of the Elections (Northern Ireland) Act 2001. There is no such Act. As a good parliamentarian, I asked to see all the Acts, and I was told that there is no such Act. The Bill provides for the amendment of an Act that does not exist.

Miss Widdecombe

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his close scrutiny. The point of having a debate is that the House can provide close scrutiny, but it will be denied to us today. Before the Government produce a flawed Bill, perhaps they will very hastily consider the hon. Gentleman's important contribution.

There is not even a provision for a five-minute delay in which to allow right hon. and hon. Members to table amendments for Report or to allow the Bill to be reprinted. In a few hours, the House will be faced with the same unacceptable situation. Indeed, it will be even more unacceptable, because only one hour will be allowed for Report and Third Reading, so there will almost certainly be no Third Reading debate.

It is all the more important for the House to have adequate time to consider the Elections Bill, above all in view of the hasty way in which it has been put together. I believe that it has been even more hastily drafted than the Football (Disorder) Bill, which was considered and consulted on for almost a week, if I remember correctly, yet a large number of improvements were subsequently made to it, several of which resulted from matters first raised in Opposition amendments.

The Elections Bill has been cobbled together in what must have been a matter of hours. Throughout last month, the Government, mostly through the Prime Minister's official spokesman, made it clear not only that they had no proposals to introduce legislation of this nature but that they were not even working on contingency plans—so we all know how much notice the Cabinet, above all the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, had of the reversal of that decision.

Hon. Members from all parties have already identified parts of the Bill that could be improved, and the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) has identified where the Bill is just plain nonsense. It is important that the House has time to consider the points that have been made, but even if the debate on the guillotine motion does not run for three hours, which is what the Government have allowed, the House will not get far past the Second Reading debate and, if it is extremely lucky, a couple of groups of amendments, before the guillotine falls. Important issues such as limiting the compensation scheme to independent candidates, as we have proposed, will not be debated. Nor will we debate the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross) on compensation for the expenditure incurred by the chief electoral officer in Northern Ireland.

Other important amendments tabled by hon. Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies will not be discussed, including those on combining polling cards for the local and national elections and those tabled by Ulster Unionist and Democratic Unionist Members on whether counting agents should be allowed to be present when ballot papers placed in the wrong box are sorted out.

The Home Secretary will recall the words of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay), who spoke for the Opposition on the guillotine motion that the Home Secretary moved on 29 November. He said: We value the Home Secretary's reputation as someone who is serious about this place. He is in such stark contrast to the Prime Minister and others who treat the Chamber in a cavalier way."—[Official Report, 29 November 2000; Vol. 357, c. 994.] My right hon. Friend then commented that the Home Secretary was tarnishing that reputation by moving the guillotine on that occasion. Today, the Home Secretary has no reputation for taking this place seriously. In the past, his guillotines have produced chaos in the Chamber and, as the House will see later when it considers the Election Publications Bill, botched legislation that need not have been a mess had this arrogant and dictatorial Government had any respect for the usual democratic processes.

The motion is an affront to the House and to the people who sent us here, who expect us to spend more than a few minutes on important proposals: that we will not do so is testament to the arrogance of the Government—an arrogance that will not be forgotten in the coming weeks as the guillotine falls on this contemptuous, arrogant, incompetent, out-of-touch, control-freak Government when the election comes, if it does come, on 7 June.

4.33 pm
Mr. Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove)

Like the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats broadly support both the Bills that are the subject of the guillotine motion. The Government, having weighed the matter up carefully, have decided that the local government elections should be deferred from 3 May to 7 June, and my party supports them. Equally, the issue of the imprints and the introduction of the new regulations is an important one for the political parties. The Home Secretary is right to point to the fact that all three political parties were in favour of that change, and indeed urged that it should be made.

As far as I can understand it, all three major political parties in the House agree that the legislation is fit and proper for the House to consider and that it ought to be passed without unreasonable delay.

Mr. Robert McCartney (North Down)

Does the hon. Gentleman appreciate that large sections of the Elections Bill that refer to Northern Ireland have nothing to do with such supervening factors as foot and mouth, which bring the three major parties into agreement to support the principle of the Bill?

Mr. Stunell

I fully understand the hon. and learned Gentleman's views on that matter. I was careful to make it clear that I was speaking on behalf only of the Liberal Democrats—I have made clear my views on that point. Several issues of detail in both Bills attracted the attention of my colleagues and me. Were the debate to be of sufficient length and thoroughness, we would want those matters to be included.

Given the broad consensus in the House and the willingness on both sides that progress be made with reasonable speed, the guillotine is out of place, unnecessary and probably counter-productive. Apart from any other consideration, even if such a guillotine were thought appropriate, the time allocated is ridiculously short for debate on inch serious issues.

The House and one of its Committees—the Select Committee on the Modernisation of the House of Commons, on which I serve—have spent a great deal of time working out how the House could be more effective in the examination and rectification of legislation. In pursuit of that aim, I put questions to the Leader of the House. She assured me that one characteristic of the Labour Government was that they were improving the first drafts of Bills—the quality of measures when they are first put before the House is so much better that she wants to claim some credit for that.

I tabled a parliamentary question to establish the ratio of clauses, as introduced, to subsequent Government amendments in legislation under the previous Conservative Government and under the Labour Government. I thought it appropriate to set up some quality control to judge whether the claim made by the Leader of the House was soundly based. The answer was that the cost of working out the figures would be disproportionate. That is a circumlocutory way of saying that there is no evidence whatever to support the claim that the quality of legislation is better—or, indeed, worse—under the Labour Government than under the Conservative Government.

Mr. Hogg

Is not the truth that the quality of legislation improves only to the extent that there is discussion and consultation before publication? In cases such as these Bills—by definition—there is neither.

Mr. Stunell

I strongly support the right hon. and learned Gentleman's argument—indeed, I am probably ahead of him, because I have deployed such an argument in the Modernisation Committee, although not all his hon. Friends felt as confident of it as me.

That brings us to the question of whether the time allowed under the guillotine is anything like sufficient to accommodate the issues raised by the Bills. I did not hear the Home Secretary suggest that he believes for a moment that the range of amendments submitted—nor those selected by either the Speaker or the Chairman of the Committee—is outrageous, perverse or out of order. A total of 50 amendments to the Elections Bill have been selected for debate. Approximately 50 others were not selected—I have not made an exact count. That is a large number of amendments covering substantial and important issues. Even after the latest list was printed, a further seven manuscript amendments were submitted but, of course, the House will not really have an opportunity to evaluate their importance.

Some of the issues for debate might be dismissed quite quickly by the House. It might decide that they are matters solely for debate, not for serious consideration, but one or two issues are clearly above the threshold of being available merely for debate. Compensation for candidates, which is dealt with in the Bill, is a matter on which my right hon. and hon. Friends have commented very unfavourably. Will there be an opportunity to debate that and to take a decision on it?

The hon. and learned Member for North Down (Mr. McCartney) raised with me the issue of Northern Ireland. In fact, a substantial proportion of the Elections Bill relates to Northern Ireland, and issues have been raised about the difficulties that might be caused by holding the local elections and the general election simultaneously and about the fact that—at least, at present—we can give thanks that there is no foot and mouth in Northern Ireland, and so on. Will there be time for those issues to be discussed?

I understand that the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) has proposed in some amendments that the elections might be deferred to different dates in different areas. Those important issues might be dealt with quickly, but they certainly merit debate.

The Bill contains errors. For example, in deferring the annual meetings of councils as a consequence of deferring the local elections, police and joint fire authorities were overlooked, so we find that the dates of their annual meetings are not in synchronisation with the new timetable. Surely that needs to be discussed and rectified.

I noticed, by the new magic medium of e-mail, that the Home Office has today had to reissue its circular to returning officers, drawing their attention to an error in the timetable that it had included in the circular that it issued yesterday. Yet again, that shows not just the haste and speed—all of which is desirable, as we want all these things to be done—but the fact that there are issues before the House that even the Home Office has not squared and got ready to go.

Surely the right way forward is to allow not only reasonable time to debate those issues, but reasonable time to elapse for people to get their thinking caps on, so that they can anticipate and steer around the difficulties that may be thrown up. To advocate doing that is not to say that the Bill should not be passed, nor that it should be delayed, but simply to say that the Bill should receive proper scrutiny in the first place, so that we get it right first time.

I shall comment for a moment or two on the Election Publications Bill, with which the House will also deal tonight as a result of the guillotine. I served on the Standing Committee that considered the original Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill, and I spoke on behalf of the Liberal Democrats at each stage of the debate. The Committee was unusual. My experience of such matters is that Standing Committees are sometimes blessed with a few experts in the particular topic, but seldom is 100 per cent. of the membership made up of experts—yet every hon. Member on that Standing Committee was an expert. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien), will remember that we crawled over the detail of that Bill perhaps almost to excess, but such matters were not at the forefront of our consideration.

I understand that the Bill is intended to ensure that third-party endorsements of particular candidates—or, more likely, third-party attacks on them—are properly attributed in future. Clearly, all political parties would understand the need for, and the desirability of, that proposal, but they would also understand that is not practical to introduce it now, given the very compressed timetable that is proposed.

I remind the Home Secretary and the Minister that one of the questions that was persistently asked of the Home Office team in Committee was whether they thought that electoral commissioners could be put in place and produce their rulings and guidance in time for a general election that, even then, was widely expected to take place about now. Home Office Ministers were sure that everything would be put in place and that we would be satisfied. However, that has not been possible.

We will have only an hour to debate the Election Publications Bill. That may be sufficient, because only two amendments have been tabled. They cover exactly the same point even though they propose slightly different mechanisms to deal with it. In due course, I hope that we shall have an opportunity to debate them. However, the amendments refer to the Home Secretary's capacity—alone and unaided—to reintroduce the proposals that I mentioned entirely without consultation. Therefore, it is important to the House that we debate that issue, so that either the amendments are accepted or we receive cast-iron assurances from the Government and the Home Secretary about their future behaviour. It is one thing to suspend the provisions almost without notice, but it might be another to introduce them—or perhaps deliberately to fail to introduce them—when it is appropriate to do so entirely on the fiat of the Home Secretary.

Liberal Democrats believe that the Government should lift the guillotine and withdraw the motion. They should let the debate take its course, because they would be pleasantly surprised at the outcome that that would produce. If a vote takes place when expected, we shall have only a little over two hours to debate the Second Reading and Committee stages of the Elections Bill and we shall have one hour to debate the Election Publications Bill.

The first debate is the most serious and we shall have only two minutes to debate each amendment, and that assumes that we have no votes. The guillotine, as imposed out of the blue in an unnecessary and counterproductive fashion, is wrong in principle, but I hope that even the Government can see that it is wholly inadequate in practice. I ask the Minister to make a concession on the issue of time. I hope very much that we can have a comparatively short debate on this motion, so that we can use the maximum amount of time on real scrutiny of the Bills.

We have been jammed into an uncomfortable and wholly unsatisfactory and unnecessary position. The solution lies with Ministers, and we look very much to them to provide us with that solution.

4.48 pm
Mr. Robert McCartney (North Down)

I wish to speak about the Elections Bill, which is particularly significant for Northern Ireland. It is important that procedures that limit the time that the House has to consider any Bill be used sparingly; but when the Bill affects the constitutional rights of electors and may influence their future, such a procedure must be used even more sparingly.

The greater part of the Elections Bill is taken up with matters relating to Northern Ireland. Because of the effects of foot and mouth, it is understandable that there may be a great deal of agreement about the Bill's contents among the parties that are largely concerned with the United Kingdom mainland, but that consideration does not affect Northern Ireland. At present, we are free from foot and mouth, so there is absolutely no objection to local government elections taking place in Northern Ireland in accordance with extant legislation. They could be held on 16 May, with a general election to follow once a date is determined.

We should have a full debate on aspects of the Bill that pertain to Northern Ireland. It should not be time limited. There is a grave suspicion that those provisions are being included for no reason whatsoever. They do not appear to be connected with the general election or foot and mouth. It has been common knowledge for some time that, to further their policies and objectives in relation to the peace process or the Belfast agreement, the Government have made moves to ensure that the Ulster Unionist party and the Social Democratic and Labour party should gain an advantage by a change in electoral arrangements. It was at first suggested that the local government elections in Northern Ireland should be postponed from 16 May 2001 to an indefinite future date, while local government was possibly reorganised. The agreement of the Ulster Unionists and the SDLP could not be obtained for that.

Long before the issue of foot and mouth arose in Great Britain or Northern Ireland, there were rumours in political circles in Northern Ireland that local government elections and the general election would be held on the same day. Fundamental constitutional issues are at stake and should be debated at length, including whether the principles of democracy and electors' rights are best served by having elections which use two systems on the same day. In Northern Ireland, voters will be expected to follow the general election procedure of first past the post, which allows them simply to put an X against the name of the single candidate for whom they want to vote, and the local government election procedure, which is based on proportional representation. Under that system, the voter marks his preference for one, two, three, four, five, six or more candidates on a list. It is not a matter of applying the same electoral principles as obtain for the election on the mainland, which will always use the first past the post system.

The capacity for engendering confusion, difficulty, misunderstanding and protests about the validity of votes is protean in Northern Ireland. Indeed, some of the proposals plainly provide for the boxes that contain the votes to be opened at the discretion of the returning officer, without the scrutiny of party representatives, to allow general election votes to be separated like the wheat and the tares from the votes cast in the local government elections. By making provisions that recognise the substantial mistakes that will be made and the mix-ups and confusion that will occur, on which the returning officer will have to decide, the Bill acknowledges my concern, which I hope I have put with some force. It is absolutely ludicrous, in purely electoral terms, to have two elections on the same day for two different sets of candidates that operate under two fundamentally different voting procedures.

Rev. Ian Paisley

I am amazed that the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland dissents from what the hon. and learned Gentleman has been saying—I hope that the Under-Secretary is listening. The schedule to the Electrons Bill states: Nothing in these rules or the local elections rules requires the counting agents to be given facilities for overseeing the proceedings mentioned". What are those proceedings? Are they that the boxes should be opened, every vote be taken out, the coloured votes separated into one pile and the white votes into another, all with no public scrutiny? Are those votes then to be wrapped up in a parcel and sent out with an outrider—we realise that local government people have employed outriders to go on motorbike to deliver parcels of votes to other places—without scrutiny? The Under-Secretary needs to face up to that.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Sylvia Heal)

Order. I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is going wide of the debate.

Mr. McCartney

I return to my general theme. For reasons that have nothing to do with the emergency in the United Kingdom at large, which has made it necessary for us to consider both Bills, the Government have decided to incorporate in one of them provisions that are not required by any exigency in Northern Ireland, and to import a system of voting that guarantees confusion. Indeed, the Bill recognises and provides for the sorting out of anticipated difficulty.

The Government are imposing a guillotine on a Bill that provides for the exercise of fundamental democratic and constitutional rights that any citizen may enjoy—the right to cast his vote in circumstances in which there is no confusion about the validity of its casting, in which there is no mix-up with any other election, and in which, in confidence and certainty, he can cast a vote for those by whom he wishes to be represented in local government or the House. It seems to me—and, I hope, the House—that the essential falseness and weakness of the proposed legislation, so far as it bears on that part of the United Kingdom known as Northern Ireland, is that it incorporates measures that are in no way induced, caused or generated by the fundamental emergency that has led to the introduction of both Bills. I hope and trust that, even at this late stage, Ministers will consider that, in relation to Northern Ireland, that is such a fundamental, democratic and constitutional issue as to require—nay, demand—a full and comprehensive debate.

4.58 pm
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham)

I beg to move, as an amendment to the motion, in paragraph 1(1), after "on Second Reading," to leave out in Committee and on consideration and Third Reading". I hope that the hon. and learned Member for North Down (Mr. McCartney) will forgive me if I do not respond directly to what he said or follow on directly from his arguments. I hope that you will forgive me, Madam Deputy Speaker, if I say that he raised issues that disturb people like me, who are not familiar with the background in Northern Ireland. The hon. and learned Gentleman made points that need to be properly addressed by Ministers and which add weight to the general unease that many of us feel about the timetable motion.

My purpose in speaking is, first, to express my opposition to, and deep anxiety about, the timetable motion, and secondly, to speak to the manuscript amendment which Mr. Speaker kindly selected. My manuscript amendment is confined to the Elections Bill, not the Election Publications Bill, and would enable the House to consider all stages of the Elections Bill over two days, rather than one day. We should have Second Reading today, ending at 10 pm, and we should deal with the Committee, Report and Third Reading tomorrow, ending at a fairly late hour—say, 12 midnight. In any event, we should debate the Elections Bill over a two-day period.

The argument that we have heard from all parts of the House is that there is a need for emergency legislation. I make two observations about that. First, the fact that we may need legislation rapidly does not mean that we should pass it without proper scrutiny. Secondly, the phrase "emergency legislation" is probably not properly descriptive of what we are discussing. We are speaking of rapid legislation.

Mr. Forth

Panic legislation.

Mr. Hogg

I am speaking of rapid legislation. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) and I approach the matter from different points of view. My right hon. Friend is addressing the motives of those on the Government Front Bench when he uses the phrase "panic legislation". My argument is that the legislation must be passed rapidly. We do not disagree, but I do not want to use the phrase that my right hon. Friend used.

The guillotine motion relates to two Bills. I propose to concentrate exclusively on the Elections Bill, save to say in respect of the Election Publications Bill that the fact that we shall have to consider that Bill under a timetable motion, or at all, arises because the principal legislation amended by the Election Publications Bill was itself not properly discussed. That ought to make us very chary of using the mechanism set out in the timetable motion.

I repeat the point that I made to the Home Secretary. I am a serious believer in the procedure whereby a Standing Committee can take evidence. There is a great deal in what the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) said about a Cabinet Minister deciding as a matter of principle that all legislation introduced by that Department should be the subject of evidence taking, either through a Select Committee, which was the procedure adopted in the context of the Adoption and Children Bill, or, as I would suggest—although I do not want to be dogmatic—by the Special Standing Committee procedure, which has been in place for yonks but is rarely used. It should be.

I turn to the Elections Bill and the timetable motion. We need to understand what we are discussing. As I understand the effect of the timetable motion, I think that the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell) misspoke himself, if he will forgive my saying so. We must finish the Second Reading and Committee stage by 9 pm. In other words, we have about four hours to go through a process which, in the ordinary course of events, would take very many hours.

That is pretty surprising, and it is not implausible to say that there is a strong presumption that it is thoroughly undesirable, too. It is all the more undesirable when one bears in mind that the Elections Bill was published only yesterday. I did not see it at all until 3.45 pm, and my constituents will not have seen it even now.

As I understand it from the Prime Minister's official spokesman, Mr. Campbell, who often seems to be in the dominant position in No. 10, until very recently, probably Monday, no work was being done on the Bill. That, by definition, means—if he was telling the truth, and I am prepared to give him credit for doing so—that no work was done, and there was no pre-drafting consultation. If he was telling the truth—let us assume that he was—it must necessarily follow that there was a lack of consultation. How could pre-drafting consultation have occurred if no work had been done? Thus the Elections Bill was published yesterday and was not the subject of consultation, but we are being asked to bang it through by 10 o'clock. That strikes me as a pretty remarkable state of affairs.

Mr. Bercow

Does my right hon. and learned Friend consider that, when the Government decided the adequacy of the motion, they may have been influenced by the expectation—or even intention—that no Labour Member would seek to speak during this three-hour debate? Only one of their Back Benchers—the hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac)—has eventually had the courtesy even to attend.

Mr. Hogg

I suspect that my hon. Friend is right, to the extent that the Government Whips are trying to keep their Benches clear. He has, however, done a slight injustice to the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), who expressed earlier her grave anxiety about procedure such as that with which the motion deals. The House will know that the hon. Lady is deservedly of high reputation and is jealous of the reputation of the House. Her views carry weight, and it was clear that she did not like the process that we are considering. I should point out that I now see another Labour Member in the Chamber, although I do not immediately recognise him.

Having made it clear that we are engaged in a thoroughly undesirable exercise, I should like to speak in more detail. I observed that 10 groups of amendments appeared in the preliminary selection. As I have taken advice, I know that more amendments are being added to those groups, probably even as I speak. More amendments will appear on Second Reading, and perhaps in Committee. There is an ever-expanding number of amendments, many of which are substantive. My right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) tabled important amendments relating to the process for selecting a date. I tabled an amendment suggesting that the local authority elections should be delayed until the end of this year. Amendments dealing with a range of procedural matters have been tabled by the Liberal Democrats and by Unionist Members. I also thought that the hon. and learned Member for North Down made points of particular importance.

The plain truth is, however, that we shall consider none of those amendments. By 9 o'clock, we will barely have finished even a partial Second Reading, let alone a detailed discussion. Important amendments that Mr. Speaker has selected for consideration in relation to a Bill of constitutional importance will remain untouched. We cannot take representations or consult outside interests on the technicalities. Furthermore, my constituents cannot express a view through me to the House. I am bound to say that that is not only remarkable, but scandalous. If the legislation were absolutely essential, then all right, we could accept the need for urgency, but it is not absolutely essential.

I have provided a solution, albeit a partial one: a two-day debate. That time scale would enable us to debate Second Reading until the ordinary time—10 o'clock tonight—and take time for reflection. Perhaps the e-mail system, faxes and so on would then communicate representations of one sort or another. A more informed debate would then follow tomorrow. What on earth is wrong with that? God knows that it would be a truncated debate, but it would be a lot better than what we are now talking about.

It is nice to see the Home Secretary back in his place. He has his correspondence, so no doubt he will be signing away and looking through all the documents from the last general election which he has fished out of his attic. I shall certainly give way to him, although he found it difficult to give way to me. I note that he does not want me to give way to him. So be it; I will not do so for the moment. In any event, I expect a proper response from a Minister at the close of this debate, explaining why we cannot consider the Elections Bill over two days, and I look forward to that. If the House adopts the solution that I have recommended—a two-day debate—that will leave adequate time in this place and the other place to finish consideration of the Bill in time to allow local elections to take place on 7 June, if that is what is resolved.

I move now from the particular to the general, and I want to make five points. Most importantly, the House does not need to be treated in the way we are tonight being treated. If the Government had heeded the wise words of my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), an enabling Bill would have been introduced some two or three weeks ago, and the deferment of the local elections would have been triggered by a statutory instrument provided for in that legislation. If the Government had adopted my right hon. Friend's wise suggestion, we would not have been in the jam that they tell us we are in today. The truth is that the Prime Minister dithered, talked to his political advisers, considered what was in his party's interests and made a rapid, urgent and unmeritorious decision.

Assuming that the Government could not have been persuaded to do what was so manifestly sensible and enact an enabling Bill, they could at least have published a draft Bill some two or three weeks ago, so that interested parties could have considered it and expressed their opinions and it could have been improved if necessary. The Government chose not to do that either.

I am not particularly in favour of late nights, but God knows I have been in this place long enough: some would say too long—[HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] That was the reaction that I expected from my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst but not from my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald. We are perfectly capable of sitting late when necessary, and if we must, we should. We have done so on many occasions during this Parliament, albeit when it has suited the Government.

I remember, for example, the proceedings on the Football (Disorder) Bill, fathered by the Home Secretary. It may have been a great Bill, but I thought it was lousy. I have a lot to say about it, but I said it at 11, 12 and 1 o'clock, which was a perfectly sensible time to say it. We could sit late if we really wanted to. The fact that we are not doing so raises serious questions about the propriety of what we are doing.

I have also tabled another manuscript amendment. It has not been selected, but I can make my point none the less. The Bill—I refer to the Elections Bill, not the Election Publications Bill—refers to England, Wales and Northern Ireland; it does not refer to Scotland, so why should Members who represent Scottish constituencies vote on the Bill? It is no conceivable business of theirs. It is the business of Northern Ireland Members and Welsh Members, although I do not see one here, and it is certainly our business.

Mr. Straw

Did the right hon. and learned Gentleman take a similar view, even privately, when the Bill to establish a poll tax in Scotland alone came before the House? Did he say that the Bill should be voted on only by Scottish Members?

Mr. Hogg

The right hon. Gentleman is missing the essential consequences of devolution. Before devolution, ours was a unitary state, whereas since devolution, affairs in Scotland have been explicitly and exclusively the responsibility of the Scottish Parliament. I shall not proceed with this line of argument, Madam Speaker. Even the Home Secretary will understand the folly of his intervention.

My amendment to prevent Scottish MPs from voting on the Bill has not been accepted. However, it is within the Home Secretary's competence to advise those of his colleagues who come from Scottish constituencies that it would not be inappropriate for them to vote, and I hope that he will do so.

Mr. Bercow

I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend is right in supposing that the reason why the Government do not want to sit late is that most Ministers and Labour Members cannot wait to scurry home to consume their Ovaltine and tuck themselves up as early as possible. Does he acknowledge that one of the main bases of Government objection to his tabled amendment is that if debate took place over two days, and so continued throughout tomorrow, it would gravely affront the Minister for the Cabinet Office and her colleague the Parliamentary Secretary, who want to push through that wretched constitutional monstrosity called the Regulatory Reform Bill?

Mr. Hogg

My hon. Friend may well be right, but I have never consulted the interests of the Minister for the Cabinet Office—and she has never consulted mine either. We are at least ad idem on that.

There is a legitimate discussion about whether local government elections should be held on 7 June or at some other date. I believe that they should be held at a later date: probably in the middle or latter part of October, by which time foot and mouth will certainly be under control. It is doubtful that the disease will be under control by June. It is absolutely clear that if—with the exception of Northern Ireland—local government elections are to be deferred because of foot and mouth, we should be able to receive representations from our constituents and other interested groups before fixing on the date of 7 June.

The guillotine and the procedure that we are adopting prevent us from hearing the technical and other arguments about an appropriate date. I may be right or wrong in saying that the appropriate date is October, not June, but I would feel much happier if the House had had proper time to receive representations from constituents who are most affected by these matters.

I am against the motion, and if it is pushed to a Division I shall vote against it. In any event, I am strongly in favour of my amendment, which would enable the House to consider the Elections Bill over two days. If you will permit me, Madam Deputy Speaker, and if I am so enabled, I shall call a Division on that amendment.

5.19 pm
Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch)

I support the comments of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) and his amendment. I want to confine my remarks to the implications of having only one hour in which to discuss the Election Publications Bill. At least the Elections Bill will be discussed in the other place. I hope that the other place will be more intent on scrutinising it than it was on scrutinising the Election Publications Bill.

The Home Secretary used that fact against us. He said that the other place spent only 23 minutes discussing the Election Publications Bill. I doubt very much that the other place would have spent only 23 minutes discussing the Bill had it known that the House of Commons would be allowed only one hour in which to discuss all its stages. That arrangement is without precedent: it is constitutionally outrageous, and it shows that we have an increasingly tyrannical Government.

The fact that the Home Secretary had to use a wholly specious precedent in a lame attempt to prop up his case reveals how desperate he is. He cited the precedent—as he described it—of the 1989 Gaming (Amendment) Bill. Because I do not take everything that the Home Secretary says at face value, I then slipped out of the Chamber and went to the Library to look up the history of that Bill. In fact it is the Gaming (Amendment) Act 1990, which was introduced in the House of Lords as a private Member's Bill in 1990.

The Bill was debated in the House of Lords, where its Second Reading took place on 15 February. It was introduced by Lord Allen of Abbeydale. The Committee stage took place in the House of Lords on 1 March; there was a formal Report stage on 22 March, and Third Reading took place on 2 April in the House of Lords. The Bill then came to the House of Commons, where it was given a formal Second Reading on 8 June. It is true that it was not debated; there was a vote, and it was allowed a Second Reading. Significantly, however, there was then time for Members of the House of Commons to decide whether they wanted to table amendments, because the Bill was considered again on 6 July. As no amendments had been tabled and there was no discontent with the Bill, it passed into law. That is a very different proposition from what we are discussing now.

In a throwaway line, the Home Secretary—again, perhaps badly briefed—said he assumed that the Gaming (Amendment) Act must have been of much greater concern to many more people than the Election Publications Bill. The Gaming (Amendment) Act, however, refers only to the narrow issue of applications for casino licences. I submit that many more people are interested in the imprints of election literature than are interested in that subject.

Mr. Straw

I too will go to the Library, but I have been informed that the 1990 Gaming (Amendment) Bill was different from the 1989 Bill.

Mr. Chope

Indeed, because the 1989 Bill does not exist. Taking what the Home Secretary had said at face value, I asked the Librarian to look up the 1989 Bill. When he could not find it, I said "I am sure it must be there, because the Home Secretary has said it is there." We looked at the books and there was nothing, so we then thought that the date must be wrong—and indeed the date is 1990. I do not know what disciplinary action the Home Secretary wishes to take against those who advised him. Perhaps he will take full responsibility: in fact, I am sure that he will.

There is a serious point here. If we have only an hour in which to debate the Bill from beginning to end, how will we have a chance to conduct research and investigate the accuracy of arguments deployed by the Government in support of their legislation—and how will those outside have a chance to discuss the issues and verify what Ministers say?

I am sure that the Home Secretary spoke in good faith, but he is man enough to admit that he made a fundamental error in referring to the 1989 Gaming (Amendment) Bill. I hope that it will not be used again as a specious precedent for even more draconian curtailments of debate.

In any event, the Election Publications Bill is unusual because clause 2 is effectively a Henry VIII clause giving the Home Secretary absolute power to amend primary legislation in the form of section 110 of the Representation of the People Act 1983. [Interruption.]

Mr. Bercow

It is important that the sedentary chunterings of the Home Secretary should be placed firmly on the record. Did I hear the Home Secretary correctly when he said a moment ago that the Bill was "scarcely draconian"?

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. Will the hon. Gentleman please address the Chair?

Mr. Bercow

I apologise profusely. There was no intentional discourtesy. Did my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) hear, as I did, the Home Secretary say that the measure was "scarcely draconian"? If he did—my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) is signalling that he heard it—can he tell me what exactly the Home Secretary would regard as draconian?

Mr. Chope

Once we have got to the stage of saying that we can deal with Government legislation in the House by forcing it through within one hour, without any chance to debate it further, that is draconian.

Mr. Straw

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) for raising the matter. He is right: I did say that the Bill was scarcely draconian. I was also muttering that Draco was the chief magistrate in Athens in the 7th century BC. The reason why he is remembered is because he introduced capital punishment for virtually every criminal offence.

Mr. Forth

An excellent man.

Mr. Straw

The right hon. Gentleman says that Draco was an excellent man. That is not a tradition that I have sought to follow in any particular whatever. Nor do I believe that one can in any sense describe the Bill, which is about election publications, as within the compass of what Draco had in mind when he gave his name to an immortal adjective.

Mr. Chope

The Home Secretary is desperately trying to argue the point. He says that the Bill is scarcely draconian. What he is saying is that it is not very draconian—not by his standards. We will see what sort of punishment regime is in operation when some of his hon. Friends seek to try to divide the House or vote against the legislation, particularly the timetable motion. We will see whether he wishes to impose the equivalent of capital punishment on their parliamentary careers. I suspect that that is exactly what he and his friends have in mind.

The Bill, the debate on which is to be limited to one hour, is unusual not just because it has a Henry VIII clause, but because it seeks to keep on the statute book two sets of laws. The helpful note produced by the Library says: The Election Publications Bill [HL] is fairly unusual in that it ensures that both the pre-16 February and the post-16 February provisions of s110 are in effect in force at the same time. It is also unusual because it does not result from a court case or new legal advice where the interpretation of the law has been brought into question, but simply by the inability of certain political parties"—

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is now debating the content of the Bill, rather than the motion that is before us.

Mr. Chope

I am seeking not to debate the content of the Bill, but to explain why we should have the chance to debate the content of the Bill. It is an unusual Bill. It is without precedent and deserves proper scrutiny. If I had been attempting at this stage to read the whole of the Election Publications Bill briefing from the Library, obviously, I would be out of order. All I am saying is that the Bill, on which the Government are trying to curtail debate, is very unusual. We should have proper scrutiny.

I am very worried by the Home Secretary's remark that it would not have been necessary to curtail debate on the Election Publications Bill if it had not been made clear that there was some opposition to it among Conservative Members. I think that he meant that someone—my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth)—had had the temerity to table an amendment.

The Bill was on the Order Paper for debate on Monday, and there was ample time to scrutinise it then. There is no reason to suspect that the Chair would not have allowed a closure motion at a reasonable time if it seemed that the debate was being prolonged unnecessarily. I came to the House on Monday prepared to debate the substance of the Bill, and now we will have only a very short time to raise matters of concern.

It is wholly unnecessary to treat us in this way. The Home Secretary seems to take the view that the whole purpose of Parliament is for Front Benchers to come to agreements and push everyone else out of the equation. What future role do Back Benchers have if debate is so curtailed that there is time only for speeches from the Front Benches before the guillotine falls? We are getting to that stage, and it is very serious indeed.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst has been assiduous in ensuring that private Members' legislation is properly scrutinised. If one were to apply to such legislation the precedent that the Government are now setting, we might have six or 10 one-hour Second Reading debates on a Friday. The Government might find that rather uncomfortable, because it could give Back Benchers more power to introduce legislation. Fridays might then become rather more burdensome for them.

If it is reasonable for a Second Reading debate on a Bill covering quite a narrow issue to run from 9.30 to 2.30 on a Friday, why is it necessary to restrict to one hour the debate on a significant Bill that is retrospective, contains a Henry VIII clause and sets the intriguing precedent of putting two contradictory pieces of legislation on the statute book at the same time? This is appalling, and I strongly oppose it.

5.33 pm
Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim)

Northern Ireland Members and our constituents are in a very difficult position. The Elections Bill has sprung from the womb of the tragedy that has afflicted the larger part of the United Kingdom—the foot and mouth plague—but we do not have that plague in Northern Ireland. The plague can be isolated, and the European Community has declared Northern Ireland plague-free, except for one local government area.

The Bill has been introduced to postpone elections because of foot and mouth, but there is no ground for that whatever in Northern Ireland. The people of Northern Ireland are enraged by the fact that the Bill is almost wholly concerned with us: there are a couple of lines on England and Wales, then on page 2 we find the clause heading "Postponement of local elections in Northern Ireland". Schedule 1, on page five, also deals with Northern Ireland. Almost the whole Bill deals with Northern Ireland.

For some reason or other, local government elections that could have been held on 16 May will not be held on that date but postponed to a date to be chosen on which both elections can be held. If we in Northern Ireland had ever heard of such a proposal, perhaps we would have treated this Bill with more respect. There has been a large argument in Northern Ireland about when local elections should be held.

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. May I remind the hon. Gentleman that we are discussing the allocation of time motion?

Rev. Ian Paisley

I am making the point that I object to the guillotine because it is part of a solution to a situation that did not need to arise. It is legitimate for me to make that very special point, as my colleague the hon. and learned Member for North Down (Mr. McCartney) did in his speech. That is what I am seeking to do.

The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland—who is now in control of the Treasury Bench—knows the discussions that he has had in past months on local government elections. Those discussions have had nothing whatsoever to do with the foot and mouth plague. Two parties in Northern Ireland—the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister—want something to be done about those local government elections. One party—the First Minister—wanted the elections to be postponed for a long time, perhaps one or two years. It did not suit him to consult the people because the people would have rejected what he said. He therefore decided, "Let us postpone them. They are going to be unpleasant for me."

The First Minister's Deputy wanted something to be done about the elections, but he did not want to be so drastic. As the two parties could not agree, they could not present an agreement to the Government. However, they decided to propose that both elections should be held on the same day, as they felt that that would be a great advantage to them. Therefore, the House is being asked to pass this Bill not because of foot and mouth disease—according to Europe, which seems to be the supreme potentate in these matters, there is no foot and mouth disease in Northern Ireland—but because the Government have decided that we shall go with the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, who feel that it would be good to delay the elections.

Hon. Members will notice, however, that not one Ulster Unionist Member is in the Chamber. Ulster Unionist Members do not want what their leader wants; they do not want it at all. Therefore, they have not attended the debate, although they may attend for debate on Second Reading, if we have time for that.

The Minister is smiling graciously because he knows all of that very well. He and my party had long meetings on the matter. I am holding a very long letter on the matter that I sent to the Prime Minister. I am glad that, yesterday, I mentioned in the House that I had not received a reply to it from the Prime Minister because, this morning, I received a hand-delivered reply from him. I will bear that in mind in future when he does not reply to my letters.

No decent democrat could agree with some of the Bill's provisions. Even the Alliance party is opposed to the Bill. Although it is one of the pro-agreement parties, it cannot stomach the Bill, which strikes at—

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. I really must remind the hon. Gentleman that we are discussing not the Bill's content, but the allocation of time for considering it.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Should we not have time to discuss a matter that cuts across basic democracy? I happen to believe in free elections. I happen to believe that, when the boxes are opened, they should be scrutinised by the candidates and by the scrutineers. I lost my first election because an election box went missing. I would have been elected had the box been found. My hon. Friend the Member for South Antrim (Dr. McCrea) lost the election in the Mid-Ulster constituency because of fraud. Everyone admitted that there was fraud in that election, even members of the Social Democratic and Labour party.

The Bill under consideration provides a way for fraud to be carried out. Interestingly enough, it used to be that the electoral officer had to perform certain duties when votes were counted. The Bill does not require him to do anything. The word used is "may", rather than "shall". He cannot be forced to do anything. That cuts at the heart of democracy.

What is more, scrutineers and candidates will be prevented from seeing the boxes opened for the first time.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

Is the hon. Gentleman arguing that the programme motion will allow insufficient time to represent the interests of the thousands of people in Ulster who vote for him and his party?

Rev. Ian Paisley

There will be no time for that. Once debate on this motion is complete, we will move on to the next motion. I have been told that perhaps one person from my party will be able to make a short speech, and then it will be all over. We have gone through the Bill and have tabled amendments to it. I do not want to raise this matter continually, but my party has been treated shamefully in not being told about the Bill. We have received an apology for that.

When we were eventually told about the Bill, we were given a draft version. I went to the Vote Office and asked for all the relevant Acts, but the office could not supply them, so I was not able to give full consideration to all the papers mentioned in the Bill. I had to wait until late last night before I got the necessary papers.

How could I have had time to look at all the papers? I worked hard on the matter, and discovered that one of the papers—Elections (Northern Ireland) Act 2001—could not be found because it does not exist. The Vote Office wrote to me, stating: The N. I. Office have informed us that there is no such act as the Elections (N.I.) Act 2001.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. George Howarth)

I thank the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) for giving way. His normal eagle-eyed scrutiny has revealed a drafting mistake in the Bill. If he looks at the amendments selected for debate, he will note that the Government have [The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland] tabled an amendment to put the matter right. We spotted the error as well, but of course the resources available to us are far greater than those available to him.

Rev. Ian Paisley

The Minister is not revealing all the facts. He spotted the problem because he received a letter from the Vote Office. However, the argument remains the same.

I represent, both here and in Europe, more people in Northern Ireland than are represented by any other hon. Member. My party represents a majority of the Unionist electorate. It is right for me to tell the House that I must oppose the guillotine. We cannot reasonably discuss a matter when there is no time to consider it. The relevant parliamentary offices lack the necessary information, and the Minister is forced to reveal that a drastic mistake had been made.

There have been two drastic mistakes. As the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth), the spokesman for the Ulster Unionist party, said yesterday in the House, Northern Ireland representatives have been unable to get hold of the papers in time. When we finally got them, a paper that was not relevant held up the supply of the other papers.

The people of Northern Ireland cannot be expected to ask us to ram this measure through, because it is not needed. We could go ahead and have our elections on 16 May. It is a terrible thing when politicians are afraid of an election result. What is more, the Bill opens the way for cheating and fraud on the part of every criminal in the country. All they have to do is run down one motorbike rider carrying a bundle of votes from one station to the other. If those votes are lost, the whole election has to be declared null and void. The Minister knows that there are people in Northern Ireland who would do that gladly. If the big bomb in Londonderry yesterday had exploded it would have blown up many police officers, so we know that that is a reality.

How could the Government expect me to say, "Go ahead, rush it through."? I must make my protest. I have found it very difficult to do so. I was held up yesterday because I was told that I was out of order. I know that there will be no time to speak on Second Reading today, so I am making my point strongly now.

There is no need for the Bill. Northern Ireland does not have foot and mouth disease, according to the European Union, which is the supreme potentate. It examines the innards of the animals and declare whether they are clean or unclean. It has taken the place of the Aaronic priesthood. As Europe has declared Northern Ireland clean, we should be able to hold the local government elections on the proper day without any change.

5.47 pm
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

We must surely have reached the depths of parliamentary despair—the slough of parliamentary despond—in the point to which the Government have brought us today. I follow in the spirit of the remarks of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) and strongly support his amendment.

We must ask ourselves why we, as the House of Commons and a Parliament, are in this intolerable position. The reason is that we are caught between the vacillation of the Prime Minister and the arbitrary date of the Easter recess, which has been decided, essentially, by the Government. The Prime Minister is the Government—no other part of the Government appears to function in any sense—and even he cannot make up his mind. The one thing that the Government have decided on, to which the House has agreed, is the date of the Easter recess.

The Government have said that these two rather grubby Bills must be passed immediately, with no effective scrutiny or consideration. Why? Because of the indecision of the Government, who, nevertheless, have a mysterious ability to decide positively about the date of the Easter recess. We cannot therefore have the proper time normally available for considering a Bill of this kind.

The Home Secretary tried to draw an analogy with the deliberations in another place. I have always thought it proper and good for the two Houses of Parliament to take a completely different view of the way in which they deal with legislation. Therefore, the fact that the members of another place saw fit to allow one of the Bills to go through quickly, without much debate and without amendment, is neither here nor there. It is for this House to decide how it will deal with matters. The fact that the Election Publications Bill was originally on Monday's Order Paper and that the Chairman of Ways and Means kindly accepted and selected my amendment to the Bill—since when another amendment has been tabled and selected—suggests that this House was looking at the Bill in a very different way from the other place. For the Home Secretary to come along and say, "The Lords let it go through very quickly and therefore so should the Commons" is a distressing example of a misunderstanding by the right hon. Gentleman of the way in which Parliament works. I should have thought that he was on top of these things, but it seems that he has slipped of late. He now apparently says that if something happens in another place, it should happen here. I refute that argument.

The Home Secretary tried to suggest that there was a precedent. I asked whether there was a precedent for a Government, under a guillotine, seeking to restrict all stages of a public Bill to one hour. He came up with a precedent that was, as my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) demonstrated, a spurious and unlike example. In other words, there is no precedent. Yet again the Government are breaking new parliamentary ground by having the gall and arrogance to say that the law of the land should be made after one hour's consideration in total by the House of Commons. That is the prospect which we face tonight, and it is surely unacceptable.

Let us take a different approach, again following the spirit of what my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham said. Why could we not sit later tonight? Presumably, it is because the babes on the Labour Benches do not want to be here too late. They do not feel that it is right to be detained at a late hour to do something as trivial as legislating, scrutinising or holding the Government to account. The delicate babes on the Government Benches feel that it is inappropriate to be delayed overlong in the House of Commons. Surely if it is a matter of emergency—which I doubt—and a matter of panic, which it certainly is for the Government, they could say to their babes, "Can't you just stay a bit late for one night to allow us to consider the matter?"

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. The right hon. Gentleman is surely aware that that is not the language that we expect to be used in the Chamber in reference to hon. Members.

Mr. Forth

I am sorry if I have offended the delicacy of Labour Members. I shall try to remember that I should address them as honourable but largely absent Members. That perhaps would be a more accurate description of them. I shall try to remember to use it in future.

Mr. Bercow

My right hon. Friend expresses himself in his customarily restrained and understated fashion with which the House is familiar. While I do not in any way dissent from the important point that he has made in his emollient style, may I ask whether he agrees that another reason that the Government do not want substantial debate on this matter any more than on any other is that they know that most of the people who would contribute to the debate from the Back Benches, including their own, would be potent speakers largely critical of the Government? Surely my right hon. Friend accepts that what the Government want is for their Back Benchers to be craven lickspittles of the Patronage Secretary.

Mr. Forth

The Government may already have achieved that objective early in this Parliament. The point is whether those who are still keen on our role of scrutinising and attempting to hold to account should be given a proper opportunity so to do.

The Chairman of Ways and Means has selected a large number of amendments and a new clause which are deemed to be suitable and appropriate for debate and consideration by the House. They cover some important matters, and they have been tabled by members of more than one political party. As Northern Ireland Members have said, the amendments bear substantially on matters that are the proper concern of Northern Ireland.

So we have on the one hand the Government's self-imposed need or desire to deal with the matter in the most peremptory and panicky fashion and on the other the acknowledgement by the Chairman of Ways and Means that legitimate amendments have been tabled, even to the extent that the manuscript amendment tabled by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham has been selected. As my right hon. and learned Friend said, there may be further amendments to come. Against that background, the Government say that the amount of time available to the House is to be arbitrarily and unnecessarily restricted to 10 o'clock this evening, in the case of the Elections Bill. That has been done for no given reason. Perhaps the Minister will tell us why the matter must be dealt with by 10 o'clock this day and why it must be dealt with on this day in any case.

The Elections Bill will have to go to another place. One asks whether the normal period will be allowed to elapse between the end of consideration by the House of Commons and when the other place is asked to pick it up. I should have thought that that was an important consideration. As far as I know, the House of Lords will sit tomorrow. It could sit on Friday, if it is not already due to do so. It will almost certainly sit on Monday and Tuesday. There is ample scope for the amendment tabled by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham to be accommodated, or even to go further and allow more time for consideration. No reason has been given in the case of the Elections Bill, never mind an adequate or acceptable one, for the deadline of 10 o'clock this evening, or for allowing only one day's consideration of a Bill to which a large number of amendments and new clauses have already been selected.

When it comes to the Election Publications Bill, about which my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch spoke a moment ago, and to which I am happy to say that my own modest amendment has been selected, the waters get murkier. It is a grubby little Bill introduced with an even grubbier all-party consensus to conceal some all-party cock-ups. What worse motivation could there be for changing the law of the land? I shall hope to catch your eye later, Madam Deputy Speaker, and expose the Bill for what it truly is. This is not the time or the place to do so.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)

If time is so crucial, why are we wasting three hours in debating the programme motion?

Mr. Forth

What a typical and representative view from a Government Member. They think that the debate is a waste of time, Madam Deputy Speaker. A Government Member who has drifted into the Chamber opines that the debate is all basically a waste of time. Nothing could sum up better the attitude of—I was going to say new Labour, but I will not insult the hon. Gentleman by using that label. I do not think that he would welcome it. A senior member of the Labour party and a generally respected Member of the House gives us his view that the debate is a waste of time. I am sure that if you shared that view, Madam Deputy Speaker, you would have put a stop to it long ago. This is an important debate, and one that I can well see that the Government want to shut down or ideally avoid altogether.

I will not say more on the Election Publications Bill at this stage, and I may not be able to say much later because the Government have allowed only one hour to change the law of the land—one hour in total for the House of Commons to consider a matter of widespread interest. Were I to catch your eye later, Madam Deputy Speaker, I would refer briefly to the reasons given for the Bill in its brief passage through another place. They reveal some interesting aspects of it, but this is not the occasion on which to do any such thing. Suffice it to say that there are several reasons why the House should reject the motion, not least that one hour in total for consideration of a Bill is utterly unacceptable and outrageous. It is without precedent because the Home Secretary and all the might of his Department were unable to produce a precedent.

Unless I am contradicted by the Minister, this is new ground. This is something that has not happened before. Law is being made by a Government imposing themselves on the House of Commons and saying that all stages of a Bill must be completed in one hour. Let us understand what that means. Let us say—I was going to say 659 Members of Parliament, but I will exclude the payroll—instead, let us say that more than 500 Members of Parliament may wish to speak. They will be given a total of one hour—

Mr. Don Foster (Bath)

Or less.

Mr. Forth

The hon. Gentleman reminds me that Divisions could reduce that time. I am being generous to the Government. I said that it is just possible that there will be as much as one hour for debate, but, of course, it could be 45 minutes or even less.

Mr. Pike

It could be more.

Mr. Forth

It certainly could be, if the hon. Gentleman's dearest wish were granted and we completed consideration of the Elections Bill before 10 o'clock this evening. Presumably, the hon. Gentleman suggests that we get through 50 amendments before 10 o'clock, so that we can get on to the Election Publications Bill earlier than that.

Mr. Pike

I have great respect for the right hon. Gentleman, but we could have started debate on the Elections Bill at 3.40 pm, so we could have had much more time on it.

Mr. Forth

Of course. If we debated nothing at all in the House, we could all go home immediately. That is the logic of the position increasingly taken by Labour Members.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath)

In support of my right hon. Friend's argument, has he considered the fact that, earlier, the Home Secretary advised the House that it might be a good idea if, on certain matters, we followed the other place? Has my right hon. Friend considered that Her Majesty's Government apparently anticipate that the other place will consider the Elections Bill for two days—continuing into next week?

Mr. Forth

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that information. However, we do not know it officially—it is not public knowledge. In any case, I do not think that should alter our attitude to our consideration of the Bill. The fact that Members in another place saw fit to deal with the Election Publications Bill in a few minutes is a matter for them—properly. However, I see it differently in this place. My hon. Friend's helpful advice does not alter by one iota my view of the motion or of the Bills.

Mr. Don Foster

The right hon. Gentleman might reflect further on the intervention of his hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins). Although Members in another place have longer to discuss the Bill, they will not be allowed to discuss matters relating to its financial consequences. They have thus been given a significantly longer time to deal with far less.

Mr. Forth

That is so. What makes it all worse is that, according to the section of the motion headed "Consideration of Lords Amendments to the Elections Bill", the Government suggest that, if their lordships are wise enough to make amendments to the Bill, we shall then be given one hour to consider those amendments when the Bill comes back to this place. I hope that amendments will be made in the other place, because we certainly shall not have time to amend the Bill, based on the admirable selection made by the Chairman of Ways and Means.

I hope that their lordships scrutinise the measure carefully and amend it—I doubt that we shall have the opportunity to do so. It will then be interesting to see what we do during the one hour that the Government are allocating for our consideration of the Lords amendments that I hope will be made. The viciousness of the motion is compounded the further one looks ahead to future proceedings.

The combination of the comments of my right hon. and hon. Friends and my own modest contribution should surely be enough to persuade the House to reject the motion. I hope that we shall accept the amendment tabled by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham, although I do not think that it goes far enough. However, it certainly goes in the right direction, so I am prepared to support it. I hope, too, that the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the hon. Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth), will at least attempt to answer some of the many questions that have been put. Before we decide how we will vote, he will have one last chance to persuade us—as his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary failed to do—that the motion is appropriate, acceptable and proper.

Mr. Bercow


Mr. Forth

I am about to conclude, but I will give way to my hon. Friend once more.

Mr. Bercow

My right hon. Friend's generosity of spirit invariably gets the better of him—as Members on both sides are well aware. I invite him to consider this rather simple, prosaic but, I hope, valid point: does he not think that it is significant that during this afternoon's debate, one lacuna in the Bill has already been identified and that the Home Secretary has made a mess of matters in respect of gaming legislation? As we have found two Government errors in the space of two and a half hours, is it not reasonable to anticipate that the danger of the procedure recommended by the Government is that several further errors will be discovered—but only when it is too late?

Mr. Forth

I agree with the thrust of what my hon. Friend says; it would certainly be too late in this place, if the House passes the motion—as I fear we must anticipate. The Government will wheel in the terracotta army; they will go through the Lobby—I was going to say "like sheep", but that might be rather an unfortunate description at present—and, no doubt, the motion will be passed. However, I can hold out this hope to my hon. Friend: the more errors, lacunae and cock-ups that are identified in the Bill at present—we have already had a hint of some and, no doubt, more will emerge during the next few hours—the greater will be the incentive for another place to look at length and in depth at the matter, in order to carry out the job that we have been denied the opportunity to do. That is my fervent hope.

6.5 pm

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport)

I am shocked by the motion. The proposed legislation is extremely complicated. My reading of the selection made by the Chairman of Ways and Means is that 50 amendments will be discussed during different stages in the passage of the Bill. It will be completely impossible for the House to give those amendments proper consideration. How can we think otherwise than that politics is in disrepute if the House is treated in that manner?

In this week's edition of The House magazine, I read the thoughts of some Members who will be leaving the House at the next general election and was struck by the fact that all of them said that the House had changed—and changed for the worse—and that Parliament was being treated with contempt. Yesterday, I held a conversation in the Corridor with a Cabinet Minister, who shall be nameless. I said, "I was pleased to see you sitting in the Chamber for a few minutes earlier, because it's good to see Cabinet Ministers supporting their junior Ministers—if only briefly—when legislation is going through the House, but you weren't there for very long". To which the Cabinet Minister replied, "I can't sit in there, we have a country to run".

Surely, the place for elected Members of Parliament and Ministers is in the House, if they can find the time to be here. It is shocking that the Government routinely introduce timetable motions on significant issues that should be debated at some length

Sometimes, we are accused of creating artificial obstacles and of seeing artificial problems when we urge that legislation should be given more time. However, on many occasions during my long period of membership of the House, constituents and others have written to me at, perhaps, Third Reading stage or even when legislation has been passed, pointing out that they had not appreciated the significance of the measure and asking us to do something about it. Quite often, the answer is, "No, we can't do anything about it, because it has already been passed."

The individual Members of Parliament who contribute to debates on measures are not the only people who should be part of the discussion process. There should be a decent interval between the introduction of a Bill, its consideration on Second Reading, in Committee, on Report and Third Reading, so that people outside the House who may be affected by the legislation have a decent opportunity to consider it, discuss it with others who are concerned and to make representations through their Members of Parliament. My experience is that legislation is often improved by the representations made by trade associations, by individuals and by bodies such as the Hansard Society, who are concerned about our democracy.

I am not aware that any of my colleagues has urged that we should rise for the Easter recess on Tuesday. Like other hon. Members, I receive criticism about the long Easter break—I see no reason for such a long break. I see no reason, either, for legislation to be pushed through in such a precipitate manner. It is bad government and the Government should be ashamed of pushing the measure through so hurriedly. In my experience, that will lead to mistakes that we shall regret. The Government should be ashamed that they have introduced the motion.

6.10 pm
Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath)

In winding up for the official Opposition on this important debate on the Government's extraordinary guillotine, I should like to start by looking back at what has led them to introduce such a panic guillotine motion. I go back just a couple of weeks to 21 March, when, at Prime Minister's questions, my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) asked: having the option to delay some local elections requires legislation quickly, is the Prime Minister absolutely sure that he will not regret later doing nothing now? The Prime Minister's response was very interesting, and all hon. Members ought to be remember it. He said: I simply ask the right hon. Gentleman this: postpone until when? For one month, two months, six months?"—[Official Report, 21 March 2001; Vol. 365, c. 338.] Only a fortnight later, the Government have moved this extraordinary guillotine motion, seeking to curtail debate in a way that will, as so many hon. Members have said, lead to all the most significant parliamentary scrutiny being squeezed into no more than an hour.

When the Home Secretary moved the guillotine motion he gave a discursive and long preamble, which revealed only too clearly to all Opposition Members how embarrassed he is. We know perfectly well that he was one, in common with almost all the Cabinet, who said that he did not want to delay the local elections. There is no doubt that his reluctance to deal with the specific guillotine and the fact that he spent the vast bulk of his speech talking about other guillotines in earlier Parliaments—as the Official Report will confirm—reveals, once again, how uncomfortable he is at having to move a guillotine that he never wanted to introduce.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) pointed out all the inconsistencies in the Government's position. She rightly said that there is no justification whatever for this outrageous and absurd guillotine motion. As she said, it will hinder the interests of democracy and those of our constituents, who sent us here in the first place to hold the Government to account and to ensure that the laws passed by Parliament are in good order, well thought through and properly scrutinised.

The hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell), who spoke for the Liberal Democrats, supports the official Opposition and shares our concerns. The hon. and learned Member for North Down (Mr. McCartney) raised particular concerns about how the truncated debate on the Bill will affect Northern Ireland.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), in moving his amendment, which we on the official Opposition Front Bench support, wanted to ensure that this constitutional measure receives proper debate and scrutiny. He made an extremely powerful and, in intellectual terms, an unanswerable case, as he does so often.

My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) referred to the opportunities that there should be to debate matters properly on Second Reading, as well as managing to catch out the Home Secretary on one of several errors in some gaming legislation, for which the right hon. Gentleman gave the wrong date.

The hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) set out the difficulties that he has with the Elections Bill. As he rightly said, the circumstances are very different in Northern Ireland, because of the different election dates and the fact that, happily, foot and mouth does not currently affect the Province. Even more significantly, he spotted a drafting error, which the Public Bill Office had to point out to the Government.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) said in a powerful intervention, two errors have emerged during this short debate—one in the drafting of the measure, which refers to a non-existent Act, and the other when the Home Secretary referred to the wrong legislation in the wrong year. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) said in his usual powerful contribution, there are particular dangers in the guillotine. My hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) referred to the need for decent intervals between the stages of any Bill, so that those outside the House can contribute their thoughts and reactions.

I was considering which factor of the Government's attitude to this guillotined Bill was particularly relevant to the debate. I was reminded that so many Opposition Members have regarded this Government's version of elective dictatorship, their bypassing of all democratic scrutiny and their contempt for the House as Orwellian. It is perhaps especially important to remember one of George Orwell's greatest works. It is sadly redolent of a debate on the introduction of emergency legislation under a tight guillotine because of a foot and mouth epidemic affecting animals. It is, of course, "Animal Farm".

All hon. Members will remember that Napoleon, the leader of the pigs, changed the rules under which the others operated. Instead of "two legs bad, four legs good", as the pigs became more human, the slogan became "two legs better". That is precisely what the Government are doing in their guillotine. They interpret words in the way that suits them. They have a complete contempt for Parliament and all democratic scrutiny, and they change the rules as they go along. Truly, this is an Orwellian Government and this is an appalling guillotine, of which any Government should be ashamed.

6.16 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. George Howarth)

We should remind ourselves that we are having this debate because of the concern, which is shared on both sides of the House, about the great suffering being caused to so many by foot and mouth disease and about the proper democratic process, of which elections are, of course, a central part. I think that that is agreed, but we find ourselves in a situation that is almost without precedent.

Frankly, postponing local elections is not a step that any of us takes lightly, but we have introduced a Bill that is generally acknowledged to be in the national interest. It is a matter of urgency because the elections were due to take place in England and Wales and, indeed, in Northern Ireland, during May. So we must ensure that there is clarity for the candidates who are standing in those elections and for the councils, which need to make the necessary arrangements for the elections and for what happens afterwards.

The need for clarity is one of the reasons why we introduced the allocation of time motion. If this House and the other place do not pass the Bill, what we shall have is an aspiration, rather than clarity about what should definitely happen. That argument must be weighed in the balance and taken seriously.

I want to comment on the argument used by the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe), who opened the debate for the official Opposition. As she is well aware, I personally have some affection for her. Nevertheless, she occasionally has the capacity to go somewhat over the top, and others have commented on that trait. I do not think that I shall be misrepresenting her if I say that the burden of her argument, as I understood it, was that both Bills involve enormously important constitutional matters and, as such, should not be subject to a timetable motion at all. That was mote or less the burden of her speech. Indeed, she was supported by the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning), who is sitting next to her, who complained, on behalf of the Opposition, about a lack of consultation.

Let me examine the points that the right hon. Lady made and explain what we are doing. The Election Publications Bill will do precisely what the Conservative party requested we do. On 16 March, the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Mr. Prior) wrote to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. The hon. Gentleman is described in the letter as the chief executive and registered treasurer of the Conservative party, and his letter concludes: I look forward to hearing from you and I know that you will understand the urgency of this matter. The subject is a matter of urgency and the chief executive and registered treasurer of the Conservative party recognises that the matter not only needs addressing, but needs addressing urgently. Those were his words.

Miss Widdecombe

Is the Minister not confusing two issues: the urgency and speed with which a Bill should be introduced and the degree of speed with which it should be carried through the House? There is common ground that both Bills had to be introduced with great urgency, but the common ground breaks up because we believe that great urgency should not be used as an excuse for no scrutiny.

Mr. Howarth

The right hon. Lady has set out an argument and is determined to maintain it in all circumstances. That is an understandable debating position to take. However, she should have listened carefully to what I said a moment ago. I said that political parties, local authorities, candidates and agents and everyone involved in the electoral process needed clarity. If we are to have clarity, it is urgent not only that we address the issue but that we get provisions on to the statute book as quickly as possible.

Mr. Forth


Mr. Hawkins


Mr. Howarth

I want to develop my point, but I shall give way in a minute I ask the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Gentleman to exercise a little patience.

Let me explain the purpose behind the Election Publications Bill. The Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 introduced new requirements for the posters, leaflets and so on that political parties and others use in campaigns. Those new requirements were brought into effect, along with the main provisions of the Act relating to election spending and donations, from 16 February 2001. With hindsight, that was too soon for the particular provisions covered by the Election Publications Bill. Political parties and candidates all over the country were left with insufficient time to rework their election material. They are very familiar, as we all are, with the old requirements and it is right that they should be allowed to work to those requirements for a period.

The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald said that that is an important constitutional change. It is not—the Bill will put right a problem that emerged as a result of the outworkings of the Act. That is all that we are doing.

Mr. Forth

I am grateful to the Minister for his characteristic courtesy in giving way. If the matter is as urgent as he says, how was it that, although the Election Publications Bill was on the Order Paper on Monday when it could have been dealt with perfectly adequately, for some mysterious reason, the Government withdrew it and have brought it back to the House two days later under a one-hour time constraint? What sort of urgency is that?

Mr. Howarth

The short answer is that, since the Bills contain some common characteristics and cover some common issues, it was considered convenient to bring them together—[Interruption.] If Opposition Members will allow me to proceed, I shall come to the other point that the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald made.

The right hon. Lady said that the Elections Bill had major constitutional implications and suggested that debate on it should be subject to an almost open-ended procedure. As she and the House know, the Bill will delay the date of the local elections. That is precisely what the Leader of the Opposition has been asking for, and precisely what, after due consideration, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister decided was appropriate in the national interest. To describe that as a major constitutional change leaves the right hon. Lady open to the normal accusation that is made against her—she is again guilty of hyperbole.

Mr. Hawkins

In the light of the Minister's remarks and the fact that, in another place, Baroness Jay of Paddington has allowed for two days of debate, how can he justify the fact that the Government have provided this House only the rest of this evening for debate on the Elections Bill and only one hour for the important Bill that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) mentioned?

Mr. Howarth

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made the issue abundantly clear in his opening speech. Circumstances in the other place are as they are because the Opposition there are far more disciplined and better organised than they are in this House. I have a sneaking admiration for the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), as he well knows. However, he and one or two of his colleagues have the capacity, while remaining in order, to stretch out the business of the House to sometimes ludicrous proportions. Frankly, that point has to be factored into any considerations about the business of the House.

I wish to deal with some of the arguments that have been made by Members representing constituencies in Northern Ireland. The hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) said that the Government were planning to combine the polls in any event and that foot and mouth disease was used to provide just another excuse. That was the burden of his argument. Two separate issues are involved, and I think that he would acknowledge that.

First, we need to take a UK-wide approach to the outbreak of foot and mouth. Therefore, to defer until June elections across the UK seems to us to make sense. As the hon. Gentleman acknowledged, Northern Ireland has not been foot and mouth disease free. There has been one case, but I am sure that everyone wants to keep it at that. He is chairman of the Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development in the Northern Ireland Assembly, so I am sure that he would agree that it is important to take all the necessary precautions to ensure that Northern Ireland remains reasonably free from foot and mouth.

Secondly, although it obviously depends on when my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister calls the general election, there is a case for combining the elections. The argument for combining the two polls relates to the effect on voter turnout. There is evidence that, if two polls are conducted on one day, turnout is higher. Surely that is good for democracy.

Rev. Ian Paisley

The Minister is well aware of the regionalisation in Northern Ireland. The supremo of Europe has declared that we do not have foot and mouth disease in any council area except one. That is the legal position. He should not keep saying that we have foot and mouth disease where we do not. On voter turnout in local government elections, Northern Ireland has a good record on that compared with the rest of the United Kingdom. If the Labour party had all those people turning out to vote, it would not be changing the law.

Mr. Howarth

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the turnout for local elections in Northern Ireland is far better than it is on the mainland, especially in inner-city areas in England and some wards in my constituency. My point is that it could be even higher.

Mr. Robert McCartney

Until Monday, it was a line-ball decision whether the Prime Minister would go ahead with the council elections on 3 May. Northern Ireland has had one outbreak of foot and mouth, and that was a month ago. Is the Minister seriously suggesting that the disease is a relevant consideration for changing the established date in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Howarth

Had the hon. and learned Gentleman exercised a little patience, I would have addressed that issue. However, before I do, let me say that I do not want to exaggerate the problem; I accept that the level of foot and mouth is very low in Northern Ireland. I am simply trying to take notice of what people are saying about keeping it that way.

Mr. Öpik

I apologise for not being present for much of the debate. I have been dealing with problems associated with foot and mouth and have returned because we were assured that the Minister would resolve why the date is to be changed in Northern Ireland. Is he going to explain why so little time has been allocated to discuss such important matters? I have a great deal of sympathy with the concerns of hon. Members who represent constituencies in Northern Ireland. He might have a plausible defence by pleading the problems of foot and mouth, but I am not sure that he can defend the time that has been allocated to discuss it.

Mr. Howarth

Having been candidates, all hon. Members must accept—even if they are not prepared to acknowledge it in public—that people who stand in elections for local government or Parliament need to be clear about the procedures involved. To be honest, if the Bills were not agreed to quickly, we would not have the necessary clarity.

As for foot and mouth in Northern Ireland, let me make the position clear. Only one case has been confirmed there and, as has been rightly said, the export ban has been eased. However, extensive precautions remain in place because of the importance of agriculture to the Northern Ireland economy, where 5 per cent. of jobs are in agriculture compared with only 1.6 per cent. in the UK as a whole. Hon. Members who represent constituencies in Northern Ireland will be aware that the Northern Ireland Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development has called for a fortress farming approach, with movement on and off farms kept to an absolute minimum. In addition, 19 road blocks are in place in and around a 10 km surveillance zone in Newry and Mourne. Although there is a low incidence of foot and mouth in Northern Ireland, the conditions that have been applied have kept it that way. Some severe restrictions on movement are still in place in the Newry and Mourne area.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

I appreciate the Minister graciously giving way, especially as my constituency of Belfast, South is not greatly affected by foot and mouth. Does he acknowledge that the fortress approach is to allow Northern Ireland to maintain its disease-free status? Is he suggesting that if the election were held in Northern Ireland on 16 May, that would spread the disease? It seems to me that the only foot and mouth disease is in the Chamber today, where hon. Members are constantly putting their foot in their mouth as they mix electioneering with legislation.

Mr. Howarth

The hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not get drawn into the implications for his constituency. As he rightly says, it is not affected by foot and mouth, except with regard to the new date for local elections. However, restrictions are in place in Newry and Mourne. Heaven forbid that the situation should get worse in coming weeks—I do not anticipate that—but there could be additional problems.

On the issue raised by the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik), the hon. Member for North Antrim and others have raised concerns about the procedures. All arrangements for colour coding of ballot papers and so on have been considered in great detail, as has the issue of security. I am confident that measures to combat possible confusion will be implemented. In addition, the hon. Gentleman knows that the chief electoral officer goes to great lengths to ensure that ballot boxes are secure. He will continue to do that.

Mr. Grieve

I am finding it difficult to follow the Minister's logic on Northern Ireland. The Prime Minister and the Home Secretary explained the postponement of local elections in England. Their reason was not that it was impossible to have free and fair elections, but that their commitment and heavy involvement in fighting the outbreak made it difficult to concentrate on holding an election. That is not the case in Northern Ireland because the outbreak is not on the same scale.

Mr. Howarth

I can only apologise if the hon. Gentleman has not been able to follow my argument. My simple point is that Northern Ireland has a low level of foot and mouth infection. We intend it to stay that way. Despite yesterday's easement, some restrictions remain in place and the change is desirable.

The Bill has a clear purpose: it postpones for a short time elections that were due to take place next month.

Mr. Hogg

The hon. Gentleman has been good enough to be in the Chamber for most of the debate and will know that I have moved an amendment to consider the matter over two days. Will he be good enough to give the Government's response to that suggestion?

Mr. Howarth

I urge my hon. Friends to reject the amendment.

The reasons for the course of action have been fully and responsibly set out by my right hon. Friends the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister. From a practical perspective, it is possible for the elections to go ahead, but that would not be right in the circumstances. The Government are acting in the best interests of the rural community, the electorate and the nation. I commend the motion to the House.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided. Ayes 185, Noes 320.

Division No. 177] [6.39 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Cash, William
Amess, David Chope, Christopher
Ancram, Rt Hon Michael Clappison, James
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Rushcliffe)
Baldry, Tony
Ballard, Jackie Collins, Tim
Beggs, Roy Cormack, Sir Patrick
Beith, Rt Hon A J Cotter, Brian
Bell, Martin (Tatton) Cran, James
Bercow, John Curry, Rt Hon David
Beresford, Sir Paul Davey, Edward (Kingston)
Blunt, Crispin Davies, Quentin (Grantham)
Body, Sir Richard Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)
Boswell, Tim Day, Stephen
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) Donaldson, Jeffrey
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia Duncan, Alan
Brady, Graham Duncan Smith, Iain
Brake, Tom Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Brazier, Julian Evans, Nigel
Browning, Mrs Angela Fabricant, Michael
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Fallon, Michael
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Fearn, Ronnie
Burnett, John Flight, Howard
Burns, Simon Forth, Rt Hon Eric
Burstow, Paul Foster, Don (Bath)
Butterfill, John Fox, Dr Liam
Cable, Dr Vincent Fraser, Christopher
Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies (NE Fife) Gale, Roger
Garnier, Edward
George, Andrew (St Ives) Nicholls, Patrick
Gibb, Nick Norman Archie
Gidley, Sandra Oaten, Mark
Gill, Christopher Öpik, Lembit
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl Ottaway Richard
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Paice, James
Gray, James Paisley, Rev Ian
Green, Damian Paterson, Owen
Greenway, John Pickles, Eric
Grieve, Dominic Portillo, Rt Hon Michael
Gummer, Rt Hon John Prior, David
Hague, Rt Hon William Redwood, Rt Hon John
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie Rendel, David
Hammond, Philip Robathan, Andrew
Hancock, Mike Robertson Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Harvey, Nick Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)
Hawkins, Nick Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Hayes, John Ross William (E Lond'y)
Heald, Oliver Ruffley, David
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome) Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David St Aubyn, Nick
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas Sanders, Adrian
Horam, John Sayeed Jonathan
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Shepherd, Richard
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot) Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N) Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Jack, Rt Hon Michael Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Jackson, Robert (Wantage) Soames, Nicholas
Jenkin, Bernard Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Johnson Smith, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Spicer, Sir Michael
Spring, Richard
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham) Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Keetch, Paul Streeter, Gary
Kennedy, Rt Hon Charles (Ross Skye & Inverness W) Stunell, Andrew
Swayne, Desmond
Key, Robert Syms, Robert
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater) Tapsell, Sir Peter
Kirkbride, Miss Julie Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Laing, Mrs Eleanor Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Lansley, Andrew Taylor, Sir Teddy
Leigh, Edward Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
Letwin, Oliver Thompson, William
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E) Tonge, Dr Jenny
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Tredinnick, David
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham) Trend, Michael
Llwyd, Elfyn Tyler, Paul
Loughton, Tim Tyrie, Andrew
Luff, Peter Viggers Peter
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Walter, Robert
McCartney, Robert (N Down) Waterson, Nigel
McCrea, Dr William Webb, Steve
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Wells, Bowen
McIntosh, Miss Anne Whittingdale, John
MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Maclean, Rt Hon David Wilkinson, John
Maclennan, Rt Hon Robert Willetts, David
McLoughlin, Patrick Willis, Phil
Madel, Sir David Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Maples, John Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Mates, Michael Yeo, Tim
Maude, Rt Hon Francis Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian
May, Mrs Theresa Tellers for the Ayes: Mr. John Randall and Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown.
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)
Moss, Malcolm
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N) Atkins, Charlotte
Ainger, Nick Austin, John
Allen, Graham Bailey, Adrian
Anderson, Rt Hon Donald (Swansea E) Banks, Tony
Barnes, Harry
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary Barron, Kevin
Ashton, Joe Battle, John
Atherton, Ms Candy Bayley, Hugh
Beard, Nigel Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough) Edwards, Huw
Benn, Hilary (Leeds C) Efford, Clive
Benn, Rt Hon Tony (Chesterfield) Ellman, Mrs Louise
Bennett, Andrew F Ennis, Jeff
Benton, Joe Field, Rt Hon Frank
Bermingham, Gerald Fitzpatrick, Jim
Best, Harold Fitzsimons, Mrs Loma
Betts, Clive Flynn, Paul
Blackman, Liz Follett, Barbara
Blears, Ms Hazel Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Blizzard, Bob Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Blunkett, Rt Hon David Foster, Michael J (Worcester)
Boateng, Rt Hon Paul Foulkes, George
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Fyfe, Maria
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Galloway, George
Bradshaw, Ben Gapes, Mike
Brinton, Mrs Helen George, Rt Hon Bruce (Walsall S)
Browne, Desmond Gerard, Neil
Buck, Ms Karen Gibson, Dr Ian
Burden, Richard Gilroy, Mrs Linda
Burgon, Colin Godsiff, Roger
Caborn, Rt Hon Richard Golding, Mrs Llin
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth) Gordon, Mrs Eileen
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Campbell-Savours, Dale Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Cann, Jamie Grocott, Bruce
Casale, Roger Grogan, John
Caton, Martin Hain, Peter
Cawsey, Ian Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S) Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Chaytor, David Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Clapham, Michael Hanson, David
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields) Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet
Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands) Healey, John
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Clark, Paul (Gillingham) Hendrick, Mark
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S) Hepburn, Stephen
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian) Heppell, John
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge) Hesford, Stephen
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S) Hinchliffe, David
Clelland, David Hodge, Ms Margaret
Clwyd, Ann Hood, Jimmy
Coaker, Vernon Hope, Phil
Coffey, Ms Ann Hopkins, Kelvin
Cohen, Harry Howarth, Rt Hon Alan (Newport E)
Colman, Tony Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Connarty, Michael Howells, Dr Kim
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Hoyle, Lindsay
Corbett, Robin Hughes, Ms Bevertey (Stretford)
Corbyn, Jeremy Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Corston, Jean Humble, Mrs Joan
Cousins, Jim Hutton, John
Cranston, Ross Iddon, Dr Brian
Crausby, David Illsley, Eric
Cryer, John (Hornchurch) Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr Jack (Copeland) Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Jamieson, David
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S) Jenkins, Brian
Curtis—Thomas, Mrs Claire Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)
Dalyell, Tam Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)
Davidson, Ian
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn)
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C) Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Dawson, Hilton Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Denham, Rt Hon John Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Dismore, Andrew Jowell, Rt Hon Ms Tessa
Dobbin, Jim Joyce, Eric
Dobson, Rt Hon Frank Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Donohoe, Brian H Keeble, Ms Sally
Doran, Frank Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Drew, David Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)
Drown, Ms Julia Kelly, Ms Ruth
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Khabra, Piara S Prescott, Rt Hon John
Kidney, David Primarolo, Dawn
Kilfoyle, Peter Prosser, Gwyn
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth) Purchase, Ken
King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green) Quinn, Lawrie
Kumar, Dr Ashok Radice, Rt Hon Giles
Lammy, David Rammell, Bill
Lawrence, Mrs Jackie Rapson, Syd
Laxton, Bob Raynsford, Nick
Leslie, Christopher Robertson, John (Glasgow Anniesland)
Levitt, Torn
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S) Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)
Lewis, Terry (Worsley) Rooker, Rt Hon Jeff
Linton, Martin Rooney, Terry
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C) Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Lock, David Rowlands, Ted
Love, Andrew Ruane, Chris
McAvoy, Thomas Ruddock, Joan
McCabe, Steve Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)
McCafferty, Ms Chris Sarwar, Mohammad
McCartney, Rt Hon Ian (Makerfield) Sedgemore, Brian
Shaw, Jonathan
Macdonald, Calum Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
McFall, John Shipley, Ms Debra
McGuire, Mrs Anne Short, Rt Hon Clare
McIsaac, Shona Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
McKenna, Mrs Rosemary Skinner, Dennis
Mackinlay, Andrew Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
MacShane, Denis Smith, Angela (Basildon)
McWalter, Tony Smith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)
McWilliam, John
Mahon, Mrs Alice Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Mallaber, Judy Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury) Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Soley, Clive
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Spellar, John
Martlew, Eric Squire, Ms Rachel
Maxton, John Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Meacher, Rt Hon Michael Steinberg, Gerry
Merron, Gillian Stevenson, George
Michael, Rt Hon Alun Stewart, David (Inverness E)
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley) Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Miller, Andrew Stinchcombe, Paul
Mitchell, Austin Stoate, Dr Howard
Moffatt, Laura Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Moonie, Dr Lewis Straw, Rt Hon Jack
Moran, Ms Margaret Stringer, Graham
Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N) Stuart, Ms Gisela
Morris, Rt Hon Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley) Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Mountford, Kali Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Mowlam, Rt Hon Marjorie Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Mudie, George Temple-Morris, Peter
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck) Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Murphy, Rt Hon Paul (Torfaen) Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Naysmith, Dr Doug Timms, Stephen
Norris, Dan Todd, Mark
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton) Touhig, Don
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks) Trickett, Jon
O'Hara, Eddie Truswell, Paul
Olner, Bill Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
O'Neill, Martin Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Organ, Mrs Diana Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Palmer, Dr Nick Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Pearson, Ian Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Pendry, Rt Hon Tom Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Perham, Ms Linda Tynan, Bill
Pickthall, Colin Vis, Dr Rudi
Pike, Peter L Walley, Ms Joan
Plaskitt, James Ward, Ms Claire
Pollard, Kerry Wareing, Robert N
Pond, Chris Watts, David
Pound, Stephen White, Brian
Powell, Sir Raymond Wicks, Malcolm
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E) Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen) Worthington, Tony
Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy) Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Wills, Michael Wright, Tony (Cannock)
Winnick, David
Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C) Tellers for the Noes: Mr. Jim Dowd and Mr. Greg Pope.
Wood, Mike
Woodward, Shaun

Question accordingly negatived.

Main Question put.—

The House divided. Ayes 318, Noes 179.

Division No. 178] [6.54 pm
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N) Clwyd, Ann
Ainger, Nick Coaker, Vernon
Allen, Graham Coffey, Ms Ann
Anderson, Rt Hon Donald (Swansea E) Cohen, Harry
Colman, Tony
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary Connarty, Michael
Ashton, Joe Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Atherton, Ms Candy Corbett, Robin
Atkins, Charlotte Corbyn, Jeremy
Austin, John Corston, Jean
Bailey, Adrian Cousins, Jim
Banks, Tony Cranston, Ross
Barnes, Harry Crausby, David
Barron, Kevin Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Battle, John Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr Jack (Copeland)
Bayley, Hugh
Beard, Nigel Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Curtis—Thomas, Mrs Claire
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough) Dalyell, Tam
Benn, Hilary (Leeds C) Davidson, Ian
Benn, Rt Hon Tony (Chesterfield) Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Bennett, Andrew F Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Benton, Joe Dawson, Hilton
Bermingham, Gerald Denham, Rt Hon John
Best, Harold Dismore, Andrew
Betts, Clive Dobbin, Jim
Blackman, Liz Dobson, Rt Hon Frank
Blears, Ms Hazel Donohoe, Brian H
Blizzard, Bob Doran, Frank
Blunkett, Rt Hon David Drew, David
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Drown, Ms Julia
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Bradshaw, Ben Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Brinton, Mrs Helen Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Browne, Desmond Edwards, Huw
Buck, Ms Karen Efford, Clive
Burden, Richard Ellman, Mrs Louise
Burgon, Colin Ennis, Jeff
Caborn, Rt Hon Richard Field, Rt Hon Frank
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth) Fitzpatrick, Jim
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Fitzsimons, Mrs Loma
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Flynn, Paul
Campbell—Savours, Dale Follett, Barbara
Cann, Jamie Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Casale, Roger Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Caton, Martin Foster, Michael J (Worcester)
Cawsey, Ian Foulkes, George
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S) Fyfe, Maria
Chaytor, David Galloway, George
Clapham, Michael Gapes, Mike
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields) George, Rt Hon Bruce (Walsall S)
Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands) Gerrard, Neil
Gibson, Dr Ian
Clark, Paul (Gillingham) Gilroy, Mrs Linda
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S) Godsiff, Roger
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian) Golding, Mrs Llin
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge) Gordon, Mrs Eileen
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S) Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Clelland, David Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Mackinlay, Andrew
Grocott, Bruce MacShane, Denis
Grogan, John McWalter, Tony
Hain, Peter McWilliam, John
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale) Mahon, Mrs Alice
Hall, Patrick (Bedford) Mallaber, Judy
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE) Marsden Paul (Shrewsbury)
Hanson, David Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Healey, John Martlew, Eric
Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N) Maxton, John
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich) Meacher, Rt Hon Michael
Hendrick, Mark Merron, Gillian
Hepburn, Stephen Michael, Rt Hon Alun
Heppell, John Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Hesford, Stephen Miller, Andrew
Hinchliffe, David Mitchell, Austin
Hodge, Ms Margaret Moffatt, Laura
Hood, Jimmy Moonie, Dr Lewis
Hope, Phil Moran, Ms Margaret
Hopkins, Kelvin Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Howarth, Rt Hon Alan (Newport E) Morris, Rt Hon Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Howells, Dr Kim Mountford, Kali
Hoyle, Lindsay Mudie, George
Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford) Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Murphy, Rt Hon Paul (Torfaen)
Humble, Mrs Joan Naysmith, Dr Doug
Iddon, Dr Brian Norris, Dan
Illsley, Eric O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead) O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough) O'Hara, Eddie
Jamieson, David Olner, Bill
Jenkins, Brian O'Neill, Matin
Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle) Organ, Mrs Diana
Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield) Palmer, Dr Nick
Pearson, Ian
Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn) Pendry, Rt Hon Tom
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C) Perham, Ms Linda
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak) Pickthall, Colin
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S) Pike, Peter L
Jowell, Rt Hon Ms Tessa Plaskitt, James
Joyce, Eric Pollard, Kerry
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Pond, Chris
Keeble, Ms Sally Pound, Stephen
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston) Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth) Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree) Prescott, Rt Hon John
Khabra, Piara S Primarolo, Dawn
Kidney, David Prosser, Gwyn
Kilfoyle, Peter Purchase, Ken
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth) Quinn, Lawrie
King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green) Rammell, Bill
Kumar, Dr Ashok Rapson, Syd
Lammy, David Raynsford, Nick
Lawrence, Mrs Jackie Robertson, John (Glasgtow Anniesland)
Laxton, Bob
Leslie, Christopher Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)
Levitt, Tom Rooker, Rt Hon Jeff
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S) Rooney, Terry
Lewis, Terry (Worsley) Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Linton, Martin Rowlands, Ted
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C) Ruane, Chris
Lock, David Ruddock, Joan
Love, Andrew Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)
McAvoy, Thomas Ryan, Ms Joan
McCabe, Steve Sarwar, Mohammad
McCafferty, Ms Chris Sawford, Phil
McCartney, Rt Hon Ian (Makerfield) Sedgemore, Brian
Shaw, Jonathan
McDonagh, Siobhain Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Macdonald, Calum Shipley, Ms Debra
McFall, John Short, Rt Hon Clare
McGuire, Mrs Anne Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
McIsaac, Shona Skinner, Dennis
McKenna, Mrs Rosemary Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
Smith, Angela (Basildon) Truswell, Paul
Smith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale) Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch) Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Smith, John (Glamorgan) Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent) Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Soley, Clive Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Spellar, John Tynan, Bill
Squire, Ms Rachel Vis, Dr Rudi
Starkey, Dr Phyllis Walley, Ms Joan
Steinberg, Gerry Ward, Ms Claire
Stevenson, George Wareing, Robert N
Stewart, David (Inverness E) Watts, David
Stewart, Ian (Eccles) White, Brian
Stinchcombe, Paul Wicks, Malcolm
Stoate, Dr Howard Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Straw, Rt Hon Jack Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Stringer, Graham Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Stuart, Ms Gisela Wills, Michael
Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury) Winnick, David
Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S) Wood, Mike
Taylor, David (NW Leics) Woodward, Shaun
Temple-Morris, Peter Worthington, Tony
Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W) Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W) Wright, Tony (Cannock)
Timms, Stephen
Todd, Mark Tellers for the Ayes: Mr. Jim Dowd and Mr. Greg Pope.
Touhig, Don
Trickett, Jon
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Donaldson, Jeffrey
A[...]ess, David Duncan, Alan
Ancram, Rt Hon Michael Duncan Smith, Iain
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Evans, Nigel
Baldry, Tony Fabricant, Michael
Beggs, Roy Fallon, Michael
Berth, Rt Hon A J Feam, Ronnie
Bell, Martin (Tatton) Flight, Howard
Bercow, John Forth, Rt Hon Eric
Beresford, Sir Paul Foster, Don (Bath)
Blunt, Crispin Fox, Dr Liam
Body, Sir Richard Fraser, Christopher
Boswell, Tim Gale, Roger
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) Garnier, Edward
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia George, Andrew (St Ives)
Brady, Graham Gibb, Nick
Brake, Tom Gidley, Sandra
Brazier, Julian Gill, Christopher
Browning, Mrs Angela Gillan, Mrs Cheryl
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Gray, James
Burnett, John Green, Damian
Burns, Simon Greenway, John
Burstow, Paul Grieve, Dominic
Butterfill, John Gummer, Rt Hon John
Cable, Dr Vincent Hague, Rt Hon William
Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies (NE Fife) Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie
Hammond, Philip
Chope, Christopher Hancock, Mike
Clappison, James Harvey, Nick
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh) Hawkins, Nick
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Hayes, John
Heald, Oliver
Collins, Tim Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Cormack, Sir Patrick Heathcoat—Amory, Rt Hon David
Cotter, Brian Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas
Cran, James Horam, John
Curry, Rt Hon David Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Davey, Edward (Kingston) Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Davies, Quentin (Grantham) Jack, Rt Hon Michael
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice) Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Day, Stephen Jenkin, Bernard
Johnson Smith, Rt Hon Sir Geoffery Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Ross, William (E Lond'y)
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham) Ruffley, David
Keetch, Paul Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Key, Robert St Aubyn, Nick
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater) Sanders, Adrian
Kirkbride, Miss Julie Sayeed, Jonathan
Laing, Mrs Eleanor Shepherd, Richard
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Lansley, Andrew Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Leigh, Edward Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Letwin, Oliver Soames, Nicholas
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E) Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Spicer, Sir Michael
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham) Spring, Richard
Llwyd, Elfyn Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Loughton, Tim Streeter, Gary
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Stunell, Andrew
McCartney, Robert (N Down) Swayne, Desmond
McCrea, Dr William Syms, Robert
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Tapsell, Sir Peter
McIntosh, Miss Anne Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Maclean, Rt Hon David Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Maclennan, Rt Hon Robert Taylor, Sir Teddy
McLoughlin, Patrick Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
Madel, Sir David Thompson, William
Maples, John Tonge, Dr Jenny
Mates, Michael Tredinnick, David
Maude, Rt Hon Francis Trend, Michael
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian Tyler, Paul
May, Mrs Theresa Tyrie, Andrew
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute) Viggers, Peter
Moss, Malcolm Walter, Robert
Nicholls, Patrick Waterson, Nigel
Norman, Archie Webb, Steve
Oaten, Mark Wells, Bowen
Öpik, Lembit Whittingdale, John
Ottaway, Richard Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Paice, James Wilkinson, John
Paisley, Rev Ian Willetts, David
Paterson, Owen Willis, Phil
Pickles, Eric Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Portillo, Rt Hon Michael Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Prior, David Yeo, Tim
Randall, John Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Rendel, David
Robathan, Andrew Tellers for the Noes: Mr. Peter Luff and Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown.
Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)

Question accordingly agreed to.


That the following provisions shall apply to the proceedings on the Elections Bill and the Election Publications Bill [Lords]