Electoral Fraud (Northern Ireland)

Part of the debate – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:30 am on 16th October 2001.

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Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Shadow Spokesperson (Northern Ireland) 10:30 am, 16th October 2001

I beg to move, as an amendment to the motion

in paragraph (1), to leave out second ``Four'' and insert ``Two''.

Like the Minister, I am a virgin to the Front Bench in such proceedings and it is a great pleasure to have you as Chairman, Mr. Hood. I hope that I will have an advantage over the Minister, because I should be able to communicate with you as neither of us are lawyers. We may not have nationality in common, but the language may be more easily understood.

We want to put on record our principled objection to the timetabling of Bills in this fashion in Committee. The Minister said that there would be sufficient time to debate the Bill, but even with the best will in the world, that is only a guess—perhaps an educated guess shared with members of the Programming Sub-Committee, including my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Mr. Taylor). With the welcome addition of two further opposition parties, there are now five such parties to contribute to its proceedings. It is impossible to tell in advance how long it will take, and four sittings is an educated guess.

My amendment is designed to be helpful and I told the Minister's office about it last week. I understand that this is the first time that a sittings motion could be amended in this fashion, and it is perhaps a product of the lapse of time between the Programming Sub-Committee meeting and our proceedings in Committee.

It is customary to start Committee proceedings at 2.30 pm on Thursdays and, in the normal course of events, to rise at 5 pm. That is a more sensible arrangement in view of the overall parliamentary timetable on Thursdays. My amendment is designed to conform to the usual work of Committees in the House.

The other important consideration relates to the demand for concluding our proceedings by 7 pm. If perchance the Programming Sub-Committee has misjudged how long the Committee will need, my amendment would allow an extra couple of hours to ensure that we finish our proceedings properly. I assure the Minister that I do not expect our proceedings to take that long. My expectation is that proceedings will have concluded by 5 pm on Thursday—for the convenience of all concerned. That explains the purpose of the amendment, which I hope that the Minister will accept. It would allow us two extra hours if required.

The Bill was not opposed on Second Reading, but it is important to debate the detail. If we are still debating the Bill on Thursday afternoon, it would be a pity if it fell victim to the unwelcome consequence of programming—many clauses of other Bills have failed to be debated in sufficient detail in Committee. I hope, therefore, that the Government will accept the amendment and that we shall not start our proceedings on a divisive note when this is a Bill that should be discussed consensually.