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(a) the payment out of the Consolidated Fund of any increase attributable to the Act in the sums so payable under any other enactment;
(b) the payment out of money provided by Parliament of the Secretary of State's expenditure under any provision of the Act relating to compensation.--[Mr. Jamieson.]

Question agreed to.

Bill immediately considered in Committee, pursuant to Order [this day].

It being after Nine o'clock, The Chairman put the Questions necessary for the conclusion of proceedings in Committee, pursuant to Order [this day].

Clause 3

Combination of polls

Amendment made: No. 21, in clause 3, page 2, line 24, leave out first "(1)" and insert "(1A)".--[Mr. Jamieson.]


Northern Ireland: Modification of Election Provisions

Amendments made: No. 22, in page 7, line 36, leave out--
'Schedule 1 to the Elections (Northern Ireland) Act 2001)'
and insert--
'the Schedule to the Elections Act 2001)'.
No. 23, in page 11, line 7, leave out--
'Schedule 1 to the Elections (Northern Ireland) Act 2001)'
and insert--
'the Schedule to the Elections Act 2001)'.--[Mr. Jamieson.]
Clauses 1 and 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause 3, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clauses 4 to 8 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Schedule, as amended, agreed to.
As amended in the Committee, considered.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): We now move to Report stage. Mr. Speaker has arranged for a paper to be available in the Vote Office and it is being circulated. A number of manuscript amendments have been tabled for Report. Copies of the amendments and Mr. Speaker's provisional selection are available, as I mentioned, in the Vote Office and around the Chamber. For the convenience of hon. Members, the numbering refers also to the numbering of amendments on the Committee amendment paper.

New Clause 1

Further postponement of elections until foot and mouth disease under control

'(2A) The Secretary of State may by order made by statutory instrument appoint a day later than 7th June 2001 to which the elections mentioned in subsections (1) and (2) are to be postponed

4 Apr 2001 : Column 425

if he is satisfied that the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease is not under control in a particular local authority area; and different days may be appointed for different local authority areas.

(2B) For the purposes of subsection (2A), the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease is "under control" when:
(a) the standard time between the report of a new case of the disease and the slaughter of the animals in question is 24 hours or less; and
(b) the geographical spread of the disease has been reversed; and
(c) movement restrictions have been lifted from most farms; and
(d) the trend in new cases of the disease is clearly downward.
(2C) An order made under subsection (2A) shall not be made unless a draft of the order has been laid before, and approved by, each House of Parliament.
(2D) An order made under subsection (2A) may include such consequential, transitional or supplementary provision as the Secretary of State considers appropriate, and in particular may include provision for the postponement of a local government election to fill a casual vacancy which falls to be held after 7th June 2001 but before the day appointed in the order.'.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Hawkins: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 1, in clause 1, page 1, line 3, at beginning insert--

No. 2, in page 1, line 6, at beginning insert

Mr. Hawkins: New clause 1 has been deliberately drafted in as similar a form as possible to amendment No. 13, which was not reached in Committee. That further reinforces the argument that the guillotine imposed by the Government was ridiculously short. We did not debate any of the 50 amendments in Committee, and there were still hon. Members who wanted to speak on Second Reading when the wind-up speeches started, despite attempts by right hon. and hon. Members to be brief.

Our new clause suggests that the Secretary of State should by order made by statutory instrument appoint a day later than 7 June 2001 to which the elections mentioned in clauses 1(1) and 1(2) are to be postponed if he is satisfied that the outbreak of foot and mouth disease is not under control in a particular local authority area. Different days may be appointed for different local authority areas.

As I said in my wind-up speech on Second Reading, our view is that there should be four objective tests by which it could be established whether the terrible disease is genuinely under control. We all remember that the Minister of Agriculture suggested that the disease was under control at a very early stage, but he was patently misleading the country. It soon became clear that he had to apologise to all farmers and citizens for making those comments.

4 Apr 2001 : Column 426

The Opposition suggest that four objective tests should be satisfied before a decision can be made. Those tests are set out in subsection (2) of the new clause. First proposed subsection (2)(a) would require that

Sadly, as we have heard, hundreds of thousands of animals are not being slaughtered in time. Often, even those that are slaughtered are not buried in time.

Secondly, the new clause proposes that a decision on elections should be made only if

Unfortunately, we know that the geographical spread is getting wider. Thirdly, the new clause would require that

That condition is certainly far from being fulfilled at the moment, and there is little or no prospect that it will be more likely to be fulfilled in June than at the beginning of May. The fourth proposed test is that

In addition to those provisions, the new clause suggests that the Bill should allow the making of orders that

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): Can the hon. Gentleman explain why a by-election was called in Carlisle after foot and mouth disease was discovered in Cumbria? The Conservative candidate in the election is the agent of the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean).

Mr. Hawkins: I understand that the hon. Gentleman is sensitive about the prospect of further political losses in his constituency. Of course, he represents a city constituency in which, as I recall it, his party made sweeping losses and mine made sweeping gains.

However, we are debating serious proposals that would provide the flexibility that is needed. We know that neither the Prime Minister nor any other Minister can say with confidence that the position on foot and mouth will be any better in early June than in early May. That is why the new clause is so vital. We believe that the Bill should provide the flexibility for the Government to think again.

I know that many hon. Members wanted to speak on Second Reading about the postponement period, but were unable to do so. As this debate is also subject to a ridiculously short guillotine, it is incumbent upon me to be brief. We want a number of questions to be answered, but I anticipate that other hon. Members will want to speak about the new clause and amendments, so I shall conclude my remarks.

Mr. Hilary Benn (Leeds, Central): I want briefly to comment on the new clause, which goes to the heart of the argument about flexibility that featured during our Second Reading debate. I hope that in doing so the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), who is not in his place, will not regard me as a craven lickspittle, which was the phrase he used when we were discussing the allocation of time motion a little earlier today.

4 Apr 2001 : Column 427

As my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Gapes) said on Second Reading, postponement of fixed-term elections is a serious matter that should be contemplated only in very serious circumstances. I think that there is consensus throughout the House that foot and mouth constitutes such a circumstance, especially in some parts of the country. I am afraid, however, that I cannot support the new clause for two reasons.

First, there has to be a balance of judgment about the degree of delay. Although it is proper for consideration to be given to the problems that are created by foot and mouth, there is an argument about normality. One of the powerful cases made by the Opposition in debates and on statements about foot and mouth recently is about the need to return a sense of normality to the rest of the country, particularly for the tourism industry. It is reasonable to weigh up the balance between the problems that foot and mouth creates and the need for normality, given that we are taking a serious step in proposing to postpone fixed-term elections.

The second issue is one of principle, and it is my real objection to the new clause. If we are to defer fixed-term elections, there should be absolute certainty about the date to which we propose to postpone them. I do not think that we should pass legislation that makes it easier for any Government, even one whom I support, to return to the House and say that they wish to postpone the elections further.

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