I will, as ever, seek to answer as many of the right hon. Lady's questions as possible and as the time allows. However, you will forgive me, Mr. Speaker, if I observe that the right hon. Lady has only one gear— a very high gear. She invited us all to accept that we were speaking of a national crisis, then treated us to a party political rant, with posturing and invective.
The gravamen of the right hon. Lady's remarks was whether it would not be better to defer the elections indefinitely. We all understand that there are some on the Conservative Benches who would like to see the local elections and any general election deferred through this year and well past May 2002. However, there are significant practical reasons why it would not be sensible to delay the unitary and county council elections beyond the date in June or thereabouts. [interruption.] I will explain why, if right hon. and hon. Members will hear me out. It is extremely important.
If we were to defer the elections indefinitely, we would have to do one of two things. We would also have to defer by-elections indefinitely as well. At each four-year cycle of any council, about a quarter of all candidates retire or resign. Most of those, we anticipate, will be willing to serve for a further three, four or, as it happens, five weeks. As they have made their own decision to retire or, in many cases, among all three parties, have been deselected, I do not believe that almost any of them could or would be willing to be nominated for those vacancies. The effect of deferring the elections indefinitely and prohibiting by-elections meanwhile—