Sir Alan, I apologise profusely.
It might be convenient if I give the Committee notice-I have already given the Table Office and the official Opposition notice-in respect of new clause 98, in the names of Mrs. Laing and several of her hon. Friends and my hon. Friends, including my hon. Friend Geraldine Smith. It proposes that the counting of votes at the general election should take place within four hours of the close of the poll unless there are exceptional reasons. There was a discussion about that during Justice questions about an hour and a half ago, and I propose to attach my name to the new clause, so that it can be the subject of a vote.
I say to my hon. Friends that my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip is proposing that there be a free vote on the Labour Benches. I would like to add a caveat. As is often the case, the wording of the new clause may need to be revised, but it was the view of the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, my right hon. Friend Mr. Wills and myself that, rather than leaving the matter entirely open until Report, it would be better for there to be a clear text in the Bill that could be amended later if necessary, and that a clear message went out to electoral registration officers now about the intent on both sides of the House.
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