Local Elections

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:31 pm on 2nd April 2001.

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Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe Conservative, Maidstone and The Weald 3:31 pm, 2nd April 2001

No wonder Labour Members do not want to hear these important questions. [Interruption.] No wonder they do not want to be challenged on the profoundly inadequate handling of a national crisis.

Will the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary, who have both claimed that there are no practical impediments, recognise that in Devon and Cumbria, which are particularly badly affected, there are many candidates who are farmers? How are they supposed to press their candidature if they cannot move about?

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that there is a clear case for flexibility in the proposed legislation, and that to fix a date of 7 June in the Bill would be both inappropriate and premature? Does he accept that the legislation should be framed around taking the necessary powers to set a new date, because it is clear that it would not be responsible to fix the date now? Might it not, indeed, be right for local elections in some areas that have been particularly affected to be delayed longer than the one month that the legislation would allow—[Interruption.]

I am afraid that the attitude on the Government Benches shows how seriously Labour Members do not take what is going on in the countryside, and how little respect they have for the people who are asking these questions—the people who are affected.

As the Home Secretary will appreciate, his announcement raises several extremely important legal and practical issues. What about the closing of nominations for the local elections, which is due to take place at midday tomorrow? I understand that before the right hon. Gentleman's statement, the Home Office had been telling local authorities that the deadline would be extended into May. Do the Government intend that the deadline should be so extended, and if so, for how long? How will they bring that about, given that there will be no legislation in place by tomorrow, when the deadline expires?

Will the right hon. Gentleman say something about literature printed in good faith by candidates who believed the Government's previous firm assurances that the elections would take place on 3 May? Will those candidates be compensated for their expenditure on that literature—[Interruption.]