Seventh Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation
Monday 30 April 2001
[Mrs. Ray Michie in the Chair]
Draft Scottish Parliament (Elections Etc.) (Amendment) (No. 2) Order 2001
The Minister of State, Scotland Office (Mr. George Foulkes): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Scottish Parliament (Elections Etc.) (No. 2) (Amendment) Order 2001.
May I say, Mrs. Michie, what a pleasure it is to serve once again under your distinguished chairmanship?
The order amends the Scottish Parliament (Elections Etc.) Order 1999, which makes provision for the conduct of elections and the return of Members to the Scottish Parliament. The order changes the timetable for proceedings to fill a vacancy in a constituency seat of the Scottish Parliament to align it with the minimum notice required for elections to the United Kingdom Parliament.
Mr. Bill Tynan (Hamilton, South): Very sensible.
Mr. Foulkes: As my hon. Friend says, it is a sensible proposal.
The provisions will make it easier to hold an election to fill a vacancy in a constituency seat in the Scottish Parliament on the same day as a United Kingdom Parliament general election or by-election. The present arrangements to combine elections to the Scottish Parliament with Scottish local government elections will continue unchanged; those elections are on fixed dates that are known in advance.
It is anticipated that there will be some by-elections to the Scottish Parliament at the time of the next United Kingdom general election. It would be convenient for them to be held at the same time as the general election, whenever that might be called. We all know that, if faced with a number of elections, the electorate would prefer to vote on the same day. We need only look to voter turn-out for evidence of that.
The Scottish Parliament (Elections Etc.) Order 1999 would not enable polls on the same day if the general election were to be called, as it could be, at notice that is less than the shortest period presently required for notification of by-elections to the Scottish Parliament. As matters stand, the relevant returning officer has to publish notice of an election to the Scottish Parliament no sooner than the 28th working day before the date of the poll and no later than the 21st working day beforehand; the same timetable as for Scottish local government elections.
However, the writ for a general election to this Parliament can be issued up to 17 working days before the poll and, for by-elections, only 14 working days. If an election is needed to fill a constituency vacancy in the Scottish Parliament at or near the time of an election to this Parliament, voters in Scotland may be faced with two elections within a short time of each other, with all the added inconvenience and expense that that would involve.
The changes brought about by the order will not apply to the timetable for general elections to the Scottish Parliament; the broad link with local government elections in Scotland is retained. Nor will the proposed changes alter the returning officer's earliest date for publication of the notice of elections. However, the latest date for publication will now match the last date allowed for calling an election to the United Kingdom Parliament. Similarly, the same earliest date has been retained for the delivery of nomination papers, but the last date for delivery of those papers will now be the same as that in the timetable for an election to this Parliament.
The simple change proposed in the order will allow returning officers maximum flexibility if it is beneficial to hold elections to the Scottish Parliament and to Westminster at the same time.
Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield): I am sorry to interrupt the Minister in full flow but I hope that, before he sits down, he will tell the Committee a little about the history of the order and how we come to be considering it in this way this afternoon. I understand that, in drafting terms, it has not been free of difficulty from the point of view of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. I would also be grateful if he were to touch on its relationship to an earlier orderthe Scottish Parliament (Elections etc.) (Amendment) Order 2001to which it is said to be unrelated. I would like to understand whether the matter has been proceeded with efficiently or not.
Mr. Foulkes: I am satisfied that the matter has been proceeded with efficiently. I am prepared to answer questions during the Committee's proceedings about any of the issues raised by the hon. Gentleman. I was, however, about to conclude by saying that the Electoral Commission has been consulted on the order, as required by the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, and it is content with what is being proposed. I commend the order to the Committee.
Mr. Grieve: I am happy to speak briefly this afternoon, on the basis of the assurance that the Minister has just given that he will, in replying, touch upon the procedural aspects of the order.
The order is welcome. It is uncontentious and presents no difficulties. It is sensible to tie in the procedure for by-elections to the Scottish Parliament with that for general elections to this House. I do not wish to dwell on those personalities who may benefit from the order. There may be one or two in the House who will find it to their advantage. Nevertheless, it is sensible and we do not take issue with it.
I hope that the Minister will forgive me if I flag up the question of the order's history. I am a member of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. Last week, that Committee was presented with a range of orders, some of which were to be considered by this Committeewhich generally concerns itself with Scottish mattersand others that did not appear to come within the Scotland Office remit. In particular, it was drawn to my attention that the order had had a chequered history in terms of its presentation and laying before the House. The Minister will know more about that than I do, but I would be grateful to understand how it is that the order has come to be considered in this way, when we considered a similar order very recently.
I would also like to know whether, when the order was laid, it came in for any criticism from the officers of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, from those who advise the Speaker or from Speaker's counsel, in respect of improper drafting. I do not wish to say any more about that; I think that the Minister knows what I am talking about. I have flagged that matter up, and he has generously said that he will deal with it fully, so I will not take up any more of the Committee's time.
Mr. Foulkes: The hon. Gentleman said that he agrees in principle with the order. He said that it was sensible, and he is absolutely right. The Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments considered it, and offered no comment upon it. I cannot, therefore, understand his comments. It is confirmed that no criticisms were made in terms of improper drafting. One technical amendment was made during the course of the consideration. It was not substantive or serious, and there were no problems.
The hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) sees problems where none exist. I am absolutely satisfied that the matter was dealt with properly. The order is now in a form that will benefit a number of people. It will be of benefit to the political parties, to this Parliament and to the Scottish Parliament. Above all, it will be of benefit to the electorate in any constituency where there might be a by-election. It will enable them to have that by-election at the same time as a general election, without any difficulty in terms of issuing the notice of the election. That is a very sensible way to proceed.
Question put and agreed to.
That the Committee has considered the draft Scottish Parliament (Elections Etc.) (Amendment) (No. 2) Order 2001.
The following Members attended the Committee:
Committee rose at twenty-one minutes to Five o'clock.
Michie, Mrs. Ray (Chairman)
Atkinson, Mr. Peter
Clarke, Mr. Eric
Robertson, Mr. John
The following also attended, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(2):
Godman, Dr. Norman (Greenock and Inverclyde)