European Parliamentary and Local Elections (Pilots) Bill

[back to previous text]

Mr. Heath: In the hon. Gentleman's slightly perverse logic, a sensible point is trying to emerge.

Column Number: 42

Had he succeeded in defeating the programme motion before the House yesterday, the previous programme motions would still have held and the Committee would have had to finish its considerations at 4.45 this afternoon.

Mr. Wilshire: That is giving in to the inevitable. As I said on Tuesday—I will not repeat it because it is on the record and you will say that I cannot make the same speech twice, Mr. Cook—that is exactly the problem that the Liberal Democrats are regularly faced with. They bow to the inevitable or change their policy from one day to the next.

Guillotines are wrong in principle. We made the argument on Tuesday, and the Government have had to accept that they are wrong. Who knows how much time will be needed? The Government are defeated on a Tuesday and instead of replacing the amount of time lost on Tuesday, they immediately concede that they were wrong in their original guillotine. They have said, ''We have lost time. We'll give you your time back and we'll give you more.''

Sir Teddy Taylor: That point is terribly important for the future and for democracy. Is my hon. Friend saying that when we have the next Conservative Government, which may well come quite soon, we shall never impose a guillotine on anything? As someone who has fought hard on some European issues and found my speeches contracted, I would say that it is a wonderful new policy and a great breakthrough for democracy. I hope that my hon. Friend will confirm that no future Conservative Government will ever impose a guillotine. That would be a great triumph for democracy, and make me feel that my time had been well spent.

Mr. Wilshire: Policy on these matters is made by the leader of the party. I am sure that when we have a new leader, my hon. Friend will ask what his policy is on such matters. The only thing I can say at the moment is that the hon. Gentleman and the Committee know what I believe to be right. I have been on these Committees over the past 17 years, and I can remember often being lectured by Labour Members on the inequities of guillotines, because they never believed in them. Lo and behold, they are now the arch users of them.

Pete Wishart (North Tayside): This part of the popular front stands firm on the issue of guillotine motions. We shall support the hon. Gentleman in the Division. We also oppose guillotine motions as a matter of principle, unless we see a compelling reason why it should be put in place. He can rely on my support.

Mr. Wilshire: That is music to my ears. The hon. Gentleman may or may not know that I have a soft spot for the SNP—[Interruption.] There is a far better reason for that than party politics. When pairing was allowed, my pair was a member of the SNP, so I have a soft spot for the party and fond memories.

Despite what the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome says, I believe that guillotine motions are wrong in principle.

Sir Teddy Taylor: Is my hon. Friend standing?

Column Number: 43

Mr. Wilshire: My hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Derek Conway) said that his poodle might be standing. If there were to be a contest, the hon. Gentleman's poodle would do far better than I would. Even if I were proposed, I would not find a seconder, so I am not standing.

In principle, guillotines are wrong. It prejudges what will happen in the Committee. We do not know at the outset what issues will emerge. We do not know what mistakes we shall find in the drafting. From my experience of other Committees, there is usually at least one. We do not know what the debates will yield. How can we say at the beginning that we need four sittings? My opposite number thought that four sittings were enough. We were never told why, and I pointed out that I was against that, but four sittings it was. Immediately we had trouble, we were offered more. The principle that there is not enough time is already established. The reason why I shall vote against the motion is that I have no confidence that the new number of sittings is adequate. On that basis, the principle must be upheld. If Labour Members believe in democracy and proper scrutiny of the Government of the day—of any political persuasion—they will vote with us.

Question put:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 11, Noes 6.

Division No. 2]

Brooke, Annette Davies, Geraint Drew, Mr. David Harris, Mr. Tom Heath, Mr. David Lazarowicz, Mr. Mark
Leslie, Mr. Christopher Prentice, Bridget Robertson, John Taylor, Ms Dari Turner, Mr. Neil

Blunt, Mr. Crispin Duncan, Mr. Peter Hawkins, Mr. Nick
Taylor, Sir Teddy Wilshire, Mr. David Wishart, Pete

Question accordingly agreed to.

Mr. Wilshire: On a point of order, I have been told off many times for taking off my jacket before the Chair has given me permission to do so. That is what I wanted to ask you, Mr. Cook. I have suffered for half an hour.

The Chairman: I accept the implied rebuke. Two hon. Members have pre-empted the event, but I am pleased that the female members of the fraternity have not set such a bad example. Hon. Members may divest themselves of their upper garments if they feel uncomfortable. We have enjoyed some fun, but we must get on to the real meat of our business.

Clause 1

Piloting conduct at European

and local elections

Amendment moved [28 October]: No. 17, in

    clause 1, page 1, line 6, leave out paragraph (b).—[Mr. Hawkins.]

10 am

The Chairman: I remind the Committee that with this we are taking the following amendment: No. 22, in

    clause 2, page 2, line 6, leave out 'must' and insert 'may'.

Column Number: 44

Mr. Hawkins: Under the benevolent chairmanship of your co-Chairman, Mr. Benton, I spoke for about 20 seconds on this group of amendments before we rose at 11.25 am on Tuesday. We have indicated that we will seek to divide the Committee on amendment No. 18, but we will not get to that Division until after dinner because we must first deal with amendment No. 17.

To return to the thread, I was probing with amendment No. 17 because although all Members have enormous respect for the parliamentary draftsman, the meaning of subsection 1(b) is not clear, even after rereading it. Even if the Minister clearly explains what subsection 1(b) is intended to mean, I will still feel that the phraseology of the drafting is what is politely referred to as infelicitous. It is certainly unclear—I call it ''Yes, Minister'' drafting. The use of the word ''order'' in paragraphs (a) and (b) is worthy of the writers who provided the wonderful scripts for Sir Humphrey Appleby, the permanent secretary played by the late, great Sir Nigel Hawthorne, who was a wonderful actor. If he had read out such verbiage, he would have got a round of applause from the studio audience.

I hope that the Minister will listen to this serious point because his attention does not seem to be fully engaged. I hope that he will go back and talk to his advisers. If he cannot accept the proposal today, perhaps he will examine on Report whether it is possible to replace clause 1(1)(b) with slightly clearer wording. That is all that I am asking for. I am sure that he will have a brief explaining exactly what paragraph (b) is intended to mean, but I do not think that an ordinary member of the public would understand it at face value. It is confusing. The word ''order'' appears far too many times in the provision. It appears three times: twice with one meaning and once with another.

As I have said on many occasions, I am a strong supporter of the Plain English Campaign, with which I have been working for years. The Government, and those who advise them, should always look at the models provided by the campaign. I hope that the Minister will understand that this is a genuine probing amendment. I am trying to be constructive and do not wish to detain the Committee for long, but I think that we could reconsider the provision and produce clearer wording. I did not propose an alternative because I was genuinely mystified about precisely what it was intended to mean.

Mr. Harris: I am not a lawyer, and, like the hon. Gentleman, I read the paragraph with a completely blank stare and little understanding of it. However, he may be wrong on one point. Laws by their nature cannot be written in plain English. He is a lawyer and must know that the language used by the draftsmen must encompass specific legal terms. Asking for the provision to be written in plain English is not particularly relevant.

Mr. Hawkins: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's support. It is helpful to know that he is looking at the provision as blankly as I am. The fact that somebody from the Government Back Benches is similarly mystified suggests that I may be on to

Column Number: 45

something, and it may help to persuade the Minister that the provision could do with rewriting.

I disagree with the hon. Gentleman, however, to some extent. In the eleven and a half years that I have been in the House, I have worked with the Plain English Campaign on quite a few occasions. I have looked in particular at the kind of proposals that it has made for improving some of the most complex legislation that this House has passed—that was many years before I became an MP. When I was working as a lawyer, one of the fields in which I specialised for a number of years was particularly arcane and involved some of the most complex statute law in the Consumer Credit Act 1974. An academic of great renown, Professor Goode, drafted the original Act, but, from the minute that it was introduced in 1974, it was criticised by many practitioners for being too complex. For many years before I became an MP—from the time when I first studied law in the mid–1970s—practitioners were saying, ''Statutes like this have got to be drafted more simply if they are going to be understood by the public.''

Of course, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart is right. There are certain words that have a clear legal meaning, and, as a lawyer, I want to see those words used correctly. However, there is no reason why minds should not be concentrated—that it what Committee stages are all about—on making the law as clear as possible, while not ignoring the significance of legal terms of art.

Previous Contents Continue

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2003
Prepared 30 October 2003