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Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I would like to support the hon. Gentlemen who have spoken. It is a great source of difficulty to us not to have the Northern Ireland Grand Committee meeting in Northern Ireland, which is because Social Democratic and Labour party Members are refusing to co-operate.

Mr. Speaker: I do not want to be drawn into that particular argument. Obviously, as a parliamentarian, I want to see the democratic institutions being used throughout the United Kingdom. The matters that the hon. Gentlemen have raised, however, are not within my powers. I know, however, that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has been present in the Chamber, and will have heard the concerns expressed by Members from the parties concerned.

David T.C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will be aware that last November the then Secretary of State for Health ordered a report into serious allegations that the British Pregnancy Advisory Service had been encouraging women to go to Spain to undergo abortions after 24 weeks. That report has now been completed and is with the current Secretary of State for Health. In response to several written questions about when that report will be published, however, she will only say that it would be inappropriate to comment further. Because of that, the Table Office refused to accept any further questions about the matter. Can you advise new Members how we can encourage Ministers to maintain the commitment to openness and transparency that they often trumpet, and how we can persuade them to publish the report and answer questions about it?

Mr. Speaker: The matter that the hon. Gentleman raises is not a matter for me, except to say that his more senior colleagues will help him to draft more and more questions and to seek an Adjournment debate, on which a ballot takes place and on which I have discretion, but I make no promises. He must pursue those matters as a Back Bencher.

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your guidance as to whether you have had an indication from the Foreign Secretary that he wishes to make a statement to the House about the size and composition of his ministerial team. Given the enormous importance, on which Members throughout the House agree, of tackling global poverty on the one hand, and the fact of the G8 summit at Gleneagles on the other, is not it extraordinary that the Minister exclusively responsible for Africa and answerable to this House has been sacked and replaced by a Minister who is not exclusively responsible for Africa and who is not answerable to this House?

Mr. Speaker: The sacking of Ministers is absolutely nothing to do with me.
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International Development (Anti-Corruption Audit)

Mr. William Cash, supported by Mr. Edward Leigh, John Bercow, Mr. Peter Lilley, Sir George Young, Mr. Lindsay Hoyle, Mr. Laurence Robertson, Mr. Jeffrey M. Donaldson, Nick Harvey and Mr. Shailesh Vara presented a Bill to amend section 7 of the International Development Act 2002 to require the imposition of conditions relating to internationally supervised audit on assistance: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 14 October, and to be printed [Bill 40].

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Representation of the People (Amendment)

12.39 pm

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): I beg to move,

Obviously, I should begin by declaring a recent interest in this subject. May I also say to you, Mr. Speaker, and to Members in all parts of the House, how grateful I have been for the welcome that I have received on my delayed return to the House? Although I realise that that welcome has been genuine, it has also been partly prompted by the fact that every Member knows that there but for the grace of God could he or she have gone. I seek to save any colleague in any part of the House from having to face the sort of long ordeal that I had to face in May and June. I am grateful to the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs both for her helpful encouragement and for her presence here today.

I shall explain briefly why I seek to bring in the Bill. On 1 May I became the victim of a law drawn up in an era when most election contests were either straight fights or three-cornered ones, before the proliferation of candidates that is now so common in almost every constituency.

There are four main defects in the law. First, the party affected by the death of the candidate has no chance either to field a substitute or to withdraw from the election. Secondly, the law does not distinguish in any way between candidates. If any one of the Prime Minister's 14 opponents had died, right up until the declaration of his result, he could not have been elected on 5 May. And if Catherine Taylor-Dawson of the Vote for Yourself Rainbow Dream Ticket party had died, there would have been chaos in Wales. She obtained one vote—presumably her own—in Cardiff, North, but she also stood in all three other Cardiff seats, polling a total of less than 300 votes in all four. If she had died, Cardiff would not have been represented in the House at all—and I remember the day, in 1974, when the Government had an overall majority of four. Colleagues should reflect briefly on the consequences of such an action. And what if a single candidate stood against every Member for the Cabinet and then committed suicide? [Hon. Members: "Any volunteers?"] Those are all practical possibilities.

Thirdly, the length of the delay is surely inordinate. Twenty-eight days after the proof of death the writ is reactivated, which gives a minimum of seven weeks' delay before the new election.

Fourthly, new entrants are allowed into the field. Although the new election is supposed to be, and indeed legally is, part of the general election, new candidates who had not signified their original intention to stand are allowed to enter.

My Bill does not propose to allow dead candidates to be elected, as in the United States, but I propose that the party affected by the death should have the choice of withdrawing or substituting a candidate, and that if necessary, a delay of 72 hours would be allowed for the reprinting of ballot papers.
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I am also suggesting that the law should not apply to any independent candidate. An "independent" candidate—three of the Prime Minister's opponents were designated merely by that word—is by definition sui generis, unique, so if such a candidates dies, that is the end of the matter; nobody can substitute. That should not hold up an election. The law should not apply to any party that polled less than 10 per cent. in the constituency concerned at the previous general election, or less than 5 per cent. nationally, if the party did not contest the constituency concerned. That would solve the problem of maverick or mischievous candidates bringing constitutional chaos to the country. I also suggest that no candidate should be allowed to stand in more than one constituency.

My final main proposition is that the delay between the death and the new polling day should in no circumstances be more than 28 days. Last time such a thing happened was in 1951, and in those days the law said that no more than 14 days should pass. Perhaps that timing was a little tight, but 28 days should be ample even for a major party to find another candidate.

Finally, no new candidate who had not signified an intention to stand in the original election should be allowed to stand in the rescheduled election. Nor should any major party be allowed to substitute its original candidate without the certification of the returning officer that the reason is a genuine and acceptable one. I had a new Labour opponent and I am not suggesting that the reasons for the substitution were anything other than genuine and entirely acceptable, but I do not believe that substitution should be automatically allowed.

As it stands, the law at the moment qualifies for Mr. Bumble's famous description that the law "is an ass". It needs changing because the case that I have illustrated has brought to wider public attention what can be done by mischief makers or malevolent people. I am most anxious that, before the next general election, we should have tidied up the law.

What I am proposing is a partial repeal of that worst of all laws—the law of unintended consequences. I very much hope that all Members on both sides of the House will feel able to join me and my distinguished sponsors and give the measure a fair wind.

Question put and agreed to.

Sir Patrick Cormack: Before I formally read out the list of supporters, I want to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant), to whom I am most grateful for having the opportunity to present my Bill today.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Sir Patrick Cormack, Mr. Alan Beith, Sir Menzies Campbell, Mr. Robin Cook, Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody, Michael Fabricant, Chris Grayling, Mr. Austin Mitchell, Mr. Mark Oaten, Rev. Ian Paisley, Ms Gisela Stuart and Sir George Young.

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