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Lord Mackie of Benshie: The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon, obviously has a point here. However, the solution in the Bill is much simpler and also avoids having close-to general elections. The solution of the noble and learned Lord is rather more complicated. Therefore, I should prefer to leave the matter as it stands in the Bill.

Lord Hardie: I understand that the noble and learned Lord's amendment seeks to provide that a parliament elected at an extraordinary general election will sit for a period of approximately three years. It ranges between the periods indicated by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon. By contrast, the Bill provides that, except in one limited circumstance, where a parliament is elected at an extraordinary general election, that does not disturb the pattern of four-yearly cycles set out in the Bill. In other words, regardless of any extraordinary general election, the next ordinary election goes ahead as though there had been no extraordinary general election.

The only exception to that is where the extraordinary general election falls less than six months before the date on which the next ordinary election would have taken place, in which case that ordinary election does

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not take place. However, even in those circumstances, the original four-year cycle still rolls on undisturbed in the future. The effect of that is that in that situation, the parliament in that case may sit for a period slightly in excess of four years.

It may be helpful if I outline why we have provided for that. The Bill as drafted severely limits the attraction to any executive of forcing an extraordinary general election. It makes sure that even if an executive succeeded in forcing such an election, the four-yearly cycle will continue regardless.

As I understand the noble and learned Lord's argument, it is that if a parliament is to be elected, then there is a case for ensuring that it sits for some substantial period and thereby avoiding two elections in quick succession. However, we do not believe that those arguments are persuasive when set against the importance of ensuring that there is as little scope or incentive as possible for the executive to influence the timing of elections.

We appreciate that there may be scope for the rare occurrence, which it is hoped would never happen, of a parliament being elected for a period in excess of six months with another election taking place thereafter. It

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is a question of balance and we have concluded that the balance lies in restricting the scope for the executive to manipulate events to its advantage. Our provision in this part of the Bill, therefore, sits with the other provisions of the Bill which seek to ensure that the date of an election is impartially set. In those circumstances and with that explanation, I invite the noble and learned Lord to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Mackay of Drumadoon: In the fullness of time we shall find out whether or not the balance struck by the Government is correct. Again, it is not a matter of earth-shattering importance and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 33 not moved.]

Clause 3 agreed to.

Lord Carter: I believe that we have certain external imperatives this evening. We are not creating a precedent. I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

        House adjourned at eleven o'clock.

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