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I shall do my best to comply with the hon. Lady's request, and if we cannot get the documents, I shall ask my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary to give her a more detailed response. My clear recollection is that the parties were consulted about the bringing into force of parts of that Act, and we consulted about the orders. In any case, I shall get back to the hon. Lady about that.
Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): Will the Home Secretary tell the House how the new wording "promoting of a candidate" helps to enhance the electorate's understanding of the documents? What was wrong with the old wording "printed and published by"?
Mr. Straw: Some people may say that there was nothing particularly wrong with the old wording. It was put to the House that we should make it clearer on whose behalf--[Interruption.] I shall give the hon. Gentleman an explanation if he wants one, otherwise I shall not bother to take interventions and we shall just plough on. It is quite straightforward.
The formula "printed and published" has been used for locally produced publicity for decades, and works satisfactorily. In material printed and published on behalf of a candidate, it is obvious who the candidate is. The new provisions aim to deal with two problems. First, in material published on behalf of third parties, it is not always obvious on whose behalf it is published. The material may attack a candidate, or it may ask people to vote for candidates who support one proposition rather than another. The second matter, which was not dealt with under the Representation of the People Act 1983, concerns nationally produced material.
Mr. Straw: Bob Cryer was an infinitely better parliamentarian than the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth). As I remember, at the time the right hon. Gentleman had taken the Queen's shilling and with that a Trappist vow of silence to obey the Whips, so we did not have anarchist interventions from him.
I took representations on the new provisions that have been brought into force. I can tell the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton that letters were sent to a variety of people consulting them on the orders. A letter dated 12 December 2000 was sent to Mr. Stephen Gilbert in the Conservative party and to equivalent people in other parties. [Interruption.] I gather from the hon. Member for Buckingham Mr. Bercow that he is a great man, so at least we know he exists and that some people have a high opinion of him. That makes it even more odd that he was not able to impart that information to the shadow Leader of the House. Anyway, I had representations about the effects of the proposals.
At this point, I must declare an interest. At about the time when representations were being made by the national parties, I was going through my cellar and my attic in Blackburn, and came across a large stock of posters, some dating back to the 1980s.
The posters bore messages such as "We back Jack", "Get Jack back" and "Let's back Jack". They have always worked in the past, and I look forward to their working in the future. We have been careful never to put a time or a date on the out-slips. We have not gone quite so far as going to collect them back--[Interruption.] They do in other parts of Lancashire, according to my Parliamentary Private Secretary, who I am pleased to see is with us again. I thought it ridiculous, however, for us to be prevented from using such messages by a technicality. I am sorry that the arrangements were introduced in the way that they were; I did not spot the error and neither did my officials, but nor, it must be said, did the other parties.
Mr. Bercow: The Home Secretary's tutorial on succinct slogans for deployment in Blackburn is doubtless very illuminating, but I am rather more concerned about the deplorable way in which he has rewritten history. Is he unaware that--to name but one example--my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) has emphasised several times that when he was a Minister in the last Government, he did not even consider talking to either the Leader of the House or the Government Chief Whip about the possibility of a guillotine motion until debate on the Bill for which he was responsible had lasted for at least 100 hours?
Mr. Straw: I think it was 80 hours, but we can argue about that. There was a convention, but it was sometimes left in abeyance when the Conservatives were in power. Moreover--I have a list here--it was extremely rare, certainly after my right hon. Friend the current Prime Minister had become Leader of the Opposition, for any Bill to be guillotined. That was because the Opposition changed the way in which they behaved.
There was no necessity for the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border to consult the Leader of the House or anyone else about a guillotine when I was shadow Home Secretary, because, with two exceptions, the welter of Home Office legislation contained no Bills that we forced to a guillotine. We sensibly agreed a timetable, in a much shorter time than 80 hours.
Yes, we had our disagreements about Bills. Some were very strong disagreements; in other cases we may have agreed with the overall purpose of the Bill, but disagreed with parts of it. We got on with things and did the business, however, and we represented our constituents better than we would have done by keeping ourselves here until the small hours and making life incomprehensible to the voters. The two exceptions that I mentioned were the guillotine on the Bill that became the Prevention of Terrorism (Additional Powers) Act 1996, which I agreed to because I was supporting the then Home Secretary--others may have thought that those powers were not necessary--and the guillotine on what became the Firearms (Amendment) (No. 2) Act 1997, which was
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich): I confess that I am now totally bewildered. We are discussing a timetable on the Elections Bill. May I enter a little caveat? I disagree with everything that the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) says, but in this instance he has a point. It is terribly important that the House of Commons should not rush through legislation without being clear what it is doing. Does my right hon. Friend accept that some of the Bills that he has mentioned, particularly that on prevention of terrorism, are clear examples of what happens when this House accepts legislation in one day? It then has to spend considerable time amending it.