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'(1) This section has effect, in addition to section 128 (Chief Counting Officers, and counting officers, for referendums) of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (c. 41) ("the 2000 Act"), in relation to the referendum under section 29.
The regions in England comprise the areas specified in the Table in Schedule 1 to the European Parliamentary Elections Act 2002 (c. 24) (ignoring the reference to Gibraltar) as it has effect for the time being.
(5) The Chief Counting Officer may require a Regional Counting Officer to appoint counting officers for relevant areas (within the meaning of section 128 of the 2000 Act) in the region for which the Regional Counting Officer is appointed.
(2) An order under this section may, in particular, apply or incorporate, with or without modification, any enactment or subordinate legislation (whenever passed or made) relating to referendums or elections.
(3) In sub-paragraph (3) of paragraph 17, for the words from the beginning to "sub-paragraph (2)" substitute "Accounts under sub-paragraph (2) shall be prepared in accordance with directions given to the Commission by the Treasury.
(b) for the words from "after" to the end substitute "as may be practicable after the end of the financial year to which the accounts relate or, in the case of accounts prepared in pursuance of a direction under paragraph 17(2)(b), the giving of the direction."'.
"(3A) The returning officer shall take reasonable steps to begin counting the votes given on the ballot papers as soon as practicable within the period of four hours starting with the close of the poll.";
53ZA (1) In a contested election, if the counting of the votes given on the ballot papers did not begin within the period specified in rule 45(3A) above, the returning officer shall before the expiry of the period of 30 days starting with the day on which the poll closed-
(3) Where a statement is delivered to the Electoral Commission under paragraph (1)(b) above, the Commission shall specify in any election report they produce that a statement has been delivered to them under that paragraph in respect of the constituency to which the statement relates.
(4) In paragraph (3) above "election report" means a report under section 5(1) or (2A) of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 in relation to the parliamentary election in question."'.- (Mr. Wills.)
'( ) Section 75(5) of the Race Relations Act 1976 (c. 74) and Article 71(5) of the Race Relations (Northern Ireland) Order 1997 (S.I. 1997/869 (N.I. 6)) apply in relation to rules under subsection (7) above as they apply in relation to rules under subsection (1) above (so far as they would not otherwise apply).
( ) In section 75(5)(b) of that Act and Article 71(5)(b) of that Order any reference to the implementation of rules includes (in particular) a reference to granting (or refusing to grant) exemptions under subsection (10)(b) above.'.
'( ) Subsection (1) has effect subject to any provision that may be made, in an order under section [Conduct etc of referendum], for disregarding alterations made in a register of electors after a specified date.'.- (Mr. Wills.)
"(4) See also section 1 of the Civil Service (Management Functions) Act 1992 under which functions conferred on the Minister for the Civil Service by section 3 of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 may be delegated to the Scottish Ministers etc."
"(4) See also section 1 of the Civil Service (Management Functions) Act 1992 under which functions conferred on the Minister for the Civil Service by section 3 of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 may be delegated to the Welsh Ministers etc."
The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Mr. Michael Wills): Finally, we have reached the end of the Commons stages of the Bill. Since the beginning of its gestation more than two years ago, Parliament and politics have faced new challenges, and the Bill has grown to meet them. Its basic components have remained the same, but, as with a fine wine, it has absorbed elements from its environment to mature into its final expression in the House tonight.
The Bill represents significant constitutional reform. There have been six days in Committee on the Floor of the House, 18 consultations and publications, draft Bills, and several Select Committee reports. Many hon. Members have contributed diligently and tirelessly to improving it as it went on its journey, and I should like to take this opportunity to thank them all.
"much to welcome in the Government's proposals for the civil service"
when it considered the draft Constitutional Renewal Bill. This part of the Bill delivers the Northcote-Trevelyan recommendations of more than 150 years ago. The Joint Committee on the Draft Constitutional Renewal Bill agreed with the Government that
"putting the Ponsonby Rule on a statutory footing, together with giving the House of Commons an effective veto on the ratification of a treaty, is a positive and beneficial reform".
We welcomed constructive comments from both sides of the House as the Bill proceeded. The Government have considered and adopted amendments from my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) on nationality restrictions on Crown employment. We have also given our backing to an amendment tabled originally by the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) and his colleagues, including the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing), to ensure that the counting of votes in parliamentary elections will begin within four hours of the close of the poll. We are very grateful for the support of both sides on this measure.
The Government tabled a further amending provision on Report, as all sides recognised that the original clause needed further amendment to make it technically effective. The new clause provides that a returning officer must take reasonable steps to begin counting the votes on the ballot papers as soon as practicable within four hours of the close of the poll. Where the count does not begin within that specified time period, which may of course be for perfectly understandable reasons, returning officers will be required to submit a report to the Electoral Commission to explain why and to describe the steps that they have taken.
The new clause, which was shared with the Opposition Front-Bench teams, strikes a balance between the strong and clearly expressed view of this House that overnight counts should be the presumption and the need to avoid at this stage the considerable technical changes to electoral legislation that would have been needed to make the original clause 86 effective. Unforeseen circumstances on the night of the count-a major weather condition in a remote constituency, for example-might well mean that no further reasonable steps could have been taken to ensure an overnight count. The approach taken in the new clause allows for that, but the intention is to ensure that returning officers actively consider what action could reasonably be undertaken to achieve an overnight count in as many constituencies as possible. That will continue at the next general election.
I want to make it clear that the new clause respects the independence of electoral returning officers, and I think that everyone in the House respects that. However, I should make it clear that if that independence is exercised at the forthcoming general election in a way that is seen with hindsight to have flouted the clearly expressed wish of this House that there should be a presumption in favour of an overnight count-with the exceptions that I have mentioned-I have no doubt whatever that the new House elected in the next two or three months will return to the issue.
Mrs. Laing: I entirely agree with everything the Minister has just said. May I make it clear that we entirely accept that new clause 37 is superior in form, albeit identical in intention, to the original clause 86? I am grateful to the Minister for coming forward with a better version of the law, but with the same intention. May I make it clear that we entirely support the Minister in saying that the will of this House and of Parliament is absolutely clear? There is no dissent. We trust that those who have the duty to put into action the will of Parliament will do so forthwith.
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