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Dr. Jenny Tonge accordingly presented a Bill to prohibit the sale of spray paint to minors; to authorise local authorities to require people subject to community service orders to undertake the removal of graffiti; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 20 July, and to be printed [Bill 81].
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. We will shortly debate a motion tabled by the Leader of the House on the business of the House, but before we can sensibly do that we need to have an idea of the terms of the timetable motion. I have just been to the Vote Office. It does not yet have the timetable motion, so we do not know its terms. That is a peculiar state of affairs, not least because the Leader of the House announced the timetable motion yesterday. May I suggest that it would be best for us to adjourn our debate until the timetable motion is in the Vote Office?
Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have a copy of the Elections Bill, which has just been delivered an hour late to the Vote Office. The opening paragraph relates to explanatory notes, which will be prepared by the Home Office and published "as Bill 80--EN." We have been to the Vote Office, and although we shall debate the Bill shortly, no explanatory notes are available. [Hon. Members: "We'll discuss it tomorrow."] Hold on; I believe that, since the Bill has been published today, it is important to publish the explanatory notes, too. Could you advise the House on that, Mr. Speaker?
Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your guidance on what appears to be a growing phenomenon of parliamentary truancy whereby hon. Members--I am sorry to say that they are principally Labour Members--bunk off rather than turn up to ask the questions that they have tabled. Given that that is discourteous to the House, I ask you, in the words of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, with which I am sure you are familiar--
We made draft copies of the Bill available to principal Opposition spokespeople yesterday evening to give them extra time to consider its provisions. I hope that hon. Members will perceive the motion as a common-sense measure and endorse it.
Mr. Nicholas Winterton: As the Minister knows, I have raised a point of order on the explanatory notes. Does he not accept that they would be helpful to hon. Members? Can he suggest when they will be available? If amendments are to be tabled before Second Reading, the explanatory notes would be helpful, especially to Back-Bench Members, who do not have the advantage of large offices to advise them. They help hon. Members to determine the sort of amendments they may table.
Mr. Clarke: The hon. Gentleman is right to say that hon. Members will benefit from explanatory notes. I assure him that we will provide them as soon as possible. The motion that we are considering covers only the procedural question of whether amendments can be tabled in advance of Second Reading.
Mr. Hogg: The Minister has heard my point of order on the timetable motion. If he was in a position to disclose a draft copy of the Bill to my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench, why was not he in a position to place a timetable motion in the Table Office? When can we expect it to be there?
Mr. Clarke: I give the right hon. and learned Gentleman the same commitment as I gave to the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton). I shall use best endeavours to ensure that we make it available as quickly as possible.
Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I was trying to catch the Minister's eye earlier to query whether he had said that the main Opposition parties had been given copies of the Bill yesterday evening. One has to bear in mind that there are other Opposition parties too. I wonder whether the Northern Ireland parties had a copy of the Bill yesterday evening, because I was not aware of it, and the Bill specifically affects Northern Ireland.
Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. A promise was made yesterday that we would receive a draft copy, because most of the Bill has to do with Northern Ireland. That promise was not kept: my party did not get a copy until this morning,
Mr. Charles Clarke: Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Would it be in order for me to apologise to hon. Gentlemen from the Northern Ireland parties? I do not know why what happened did happen, and I apologise. As both the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) and the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) have said, the Bill very much affects their part of this country; they were entitled to see it, and I apologise that they did not have it earlier.
Mr. Martin Bell (Tatton): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I put the case for the many independents in local Government? Surely they are entitled to as much consideration as the candidates from the regular political parties.
Given the representations that we have just heard in the form of points of order, Mr. Speaker, I wonder whether I could begin by saying something that I was going to ask you about. I collected the Elections Bill from the Vote Office after Question Time at 3.30; it was an hour late and, as we have heard, there are no explanatory notes to go with it at the moment--
Mrs. Browning: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I said that the Bill was late because earlier in the day I had asked the people in the Vote Office when they had been notified that it would be delivered to them. I was told that it was expected to be there by 2.30. That is why I suggested that it was an hour late.
Mr. Speaker: Order. Perhaps the hon. Lady will take my word for it: I heard the Bill being presented earlier today, and it could be placed in the Vote Office only after it was presented before the House.
I would like to make a helpful suggestion, because clearly we are dealing with matters of great concern to Members in all parts of the House. I appreciate the fact that those on the Conservative Front Bench received a draft copy of the Bill last night, and we are very grateful
In view of the representations that you have just heard in the form of points of order from other parties whose representatives did not receive a draft copy, Mr. Speaker, are you prepared to advise the House of whether you will accept manuscript amendments until a late stage, just before we begin our proceedings on the Bill tomorrow afternoon? Many Members will not wish to draft their amendments until they have had sight of the explanatory notes.