Clause 4 — Power to Vary date of Ordinary General Election

Part of Orders of the Day — Government of Wales Bill — [3rd Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 6:56 pm on 30th January 2006.

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Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, The Secretary of State for Wales 6:56 pm, 30th January 2006

I greatly appreciate the way in which the hon. Lady moved the amendment. She made some important points.

Clause 4 enables the Secretary of State to change the date of an ordinary general election. However, it must be considered as a reserve power that would come into play only when it was necessary to deal with short-term emergencies, such as foot and mouth disease.

I am concerned that extending the variants to three months either side of the first Thursday in May would give too great a margin of discretion. It could arouse suspicion that a Secretary of State was seeking to move an election date in a way that was politically advantageous to the Government.

The current provision is carried forward from the Government of Wales Act 1998, so the Bill simply re-enacts it. It would cover, for example, circumstances in which the nation was thrown into mourning close to the election date. A more prolonged crisis, which raised the question of whether the election should be postponed, would, and should, be a case for emergency legislation. I do not believe that a power for the Secretary of State to vary an election date by three months should sit on the statute book, because people could claim that it would be used for nefarious purposes, perhaps by a Secretary of State, who, unlike me, was unscrupulous.

I ask the hon. Lady to withdraw the amendment.