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Timetable
1. Proceedings on Second Reading, in Committee, on Consideration and on Third Reading shall be completed at the sitting this day and shall be brought to a conclusion, if not previously concluded, four hours after the commencement of proceedings on this Motion.

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Questions to be put
2. When the Bill has been read a second time--
(a) it shall, notwithstanding Standing Order No. 63 (Committal of Bills), stand committed to a Committee of the whole House without any Question being put,
(b) proceedings on the Bill shall stand postponed while the Question is put, in accordance with Standing Order No. 52(1) (Money resolutions and ways and means resolutions in connection with bills), on any financial resolution relating to the Bill,
(c) on the conclusion of proceedings on any financial resolution relating to the Bill, proceedings on the Bill shall be resumed and the Speaker shall leave the Chair whether or not notice of an instruction has been given.
3. On the conclusion of proceedings in Committee the Chairman shall report the Bill to the House without putting any Question and, if he reports the Bill with amendments, the House shall proceed to consider the Bill as amended without any Question being put.
4. For the purpose of bringing any proceedings to a conclusion in accordance with paragraph 1 the Speaker or Chairman shall forthwith put the following Questions (but no others)--
(a) any Question already proposed from the Chair;
(b) any Question necessary to bring to a decision a Question so proposed;
(c) the Question on any amendment moved or Motion made by a Minister of the Crown;
(d) any other Question necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded.
5. On a Motion made for a new Clause or a new Schedule, the Chairman or Speaker shall put only the Question that the Clause or Schedule be added to the Bill.
Miscellaneous
6. Standing Order 15(1) (Exempted business) shall apply to proceedings on the Bill at the sitting this day; and the proceedings shall not be interrupted under any Standing Order relating to the sittings of the House.
7. The proceedings on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown for varying or supplementing the provisions of this order shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion one hour after commencement; and the Standing Order No. 15(1) shall apply to those proceedings.
8. Standing Order No. 82 (Business Committee) shall not apply in relation to proceedings on the Bill.
9. No Motion shall be made to alter the order in which any proceedings on the Bill are taken.
10. No dilatory Motion shall be made in relation to the Bill except by a Minister of the Crown.
11. If at the sitting this day a Motion for the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 24 stands over to seven o'clock and proceedings on this Motion have begun before that time, the Motion for the Adjournment shall stand over until the conclusion of proceedings on the Bill.
12. If the House is adjourned at the sitting this day, or the sitting is suspended, before the conclusion of proceedings on the Bill, no notice shall be required, of a Motion made at the next sitting by a Minister of the Crown for varying or supplementing the provisions of this Order.

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Today I have received a written answer from the Secretary of State for Health, who says that he will announce his decision on the closure of a hospital in my constituency "shortly". It turns out that he announced it today and has embargoed the announcement so that he can be photographed in the local newspaper tomorrow with the neighbouring Labour Member of Parliament, who does not have the hospital in his constituency. That seems to me to be an abuse of the House. The decision should have been announced to me

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as the local Member of Parliament. The Secretary of State refused to see me, the person in whose constituency the hospital is, but saw the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Cann), who happens to be a member of his party. In 16 years as a Minister, I never did anything of that sort to a member of the Opposition.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin): Order. I am sorry about the right hon. Gentleman's difficulties, but that is not a matter for me. The right hon. Gentleman has been in the House for a long time; he will know how to proceed.

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Orders of the Day

European Parliamentary Elections Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

7.39 pm

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Jack Straw): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

When I moved the guillotine motion earlier, I said that there was little new to be said about the Bill. As the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan) more eloquently put it, the time for debate is over and the time has come to make a decision. That is the truth of the matter. I have here copies of the Official Report of the debates in the other place and this House on this short--albeit important--Bill. The debates fill many columns. Indeed, we have debated the matter on six or more occasions. We had not only a full day on Second Reading, as we should have done, but three days in Committee on the Floor of the House and a further day on Report and Third Reading.

We were committed at the general election to introducing a proportional system for elections to the European Parliament. So, too, as I said in the debate on the guillotine motion, were the Liberal Democrats. Like everything else in our manifesto and in those parts of the Liberal Democrat manifesto that were coincidental, that proposal received a substantial vote of approval by the British people.

No electoral system is perfect. That was all that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said when, as Leader of the Opposition, he commented on the introduction by the Conservative party of closed lists to the Northern Ireland forum in 1996--I have to remind Conservative Members of their two-faced position on closed lists. The hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) may sigh, as though I should not mention it--

Sir Norman Fowler (Sutton Coldfield): It is tedious.

Mr. Straw: The right hon. Gentleman, unable to think of anything else to say, claims that it is tedious. The moment the Conservatives admit that it was they who first introduced closed lists for an electoral system in the United Kingdom, we can have consensus on the issue and they can recognise the extraordinary position into which they have manoeuvred themselves.

One can understand why the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) was slightly twitchy during the debate on the guillotine motion. As he was speaking, he was no doubt wishing that he had been present at the emergency meeting of the shadow Cabinet that was called to consider a further consequence of the Opposition's extraordinary tactics in seeking to abuse the Salisbury principles and to override the will of the House of Commons. Talk about pushing one's luck too far. The Conservatives have completely overreached themselves--the whole tactic has blown up in their faces.

As I said, no electoral system is perfect, so one has to balance advantages. For reasons that I shall explain, we believe that the closed-list system best balances the advantages for the European Parliament.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): Does the Home Secretary recall that, in debating the measure in the

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previous Session, the leader of the Conservative party and his Front-Bench colleagues regaled us with a great deal of information about the supreme wisdom and judgment of Conservative hereditary peers and, indeed, all Conservative members of the other House? Will he comment on the judgment that they have shown today?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin): Order. The Home Secretary may want to do that, but not here. Perhaps he will do so outside the Chamber.

Mr. Straw: I shall certainly not abuse your authority, Mr. Deputy Speaker--I have known you too long even to try. Before you pull me up, however, I shall say that lawyers know of the doctrine of estoppel. Given what has happened, the argument that those in the other place have shown great wisdom does not entirely lie in the mouths of Conservative Front Benchers.

The European Parliament is different from the Westminster Parliament. The Westminster Parliament exists primarily to sustain a Government and--an honourable function for most of the time--Her Majesty's loyal Opposition. The European Parliament is not an executive body--the Executive is not drawn from it--but primarily a representative body. We believe that it is entirely reasonable that the representatives in the European Parliament--who are, in any case, only one of 15 groups of representatives drawn from all the European Union member states--should be broadly representative of the people of Great Britain. That is better achieved by a system of proportional representation.

As I said on Second Reading on 25 November, and despite the reasonably well-known fact that I see some advantage in first past the post for Westminster, the small number of Members of the European Parliament to which we are entitled--less than 100--and the huge constituencies that we have had to create have meant that that system has failed to achieve a representative result.

I do not think that anyone can seriously argue that the huge constituencies have operated in such a way as to create the connection between the electorate and the elected Member that genuinely is a feature of the system for elections to Westminster. I pay tribute to the work of Members of the European Parliament of all parties, but they themselves say that, given the size of their constituencies and the fact that they have to spend so much time in Brussels and Strasbourg, their ability to make that connection is limited.

The issue that has caused the greatest argument across the Chamber--it is why we are debating the Bill this evening--is the form of the list system. I am glad that, in the dialectical process, we at least achieved unanimity on using in the counting system the divisors invented by our old and now famous friend Victor d'Hondt rather than those invented by Sainte-Lague or even those in the modified version of Sainte-Lague.

For those who, like me, take a real interest in these issues, I add that in America--where there have been great debates about proportional representation systems, even though such systems are not often used there--the d'Hondt and the Sainte-Lague systems have different

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names. One is called Webster, although I cannot remember which one, and I forget the other name. For those who are interested--


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