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9.2 pm

Debate interrupted (Programme Order, this day).

The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No. 83E).

New Clause 24

Regional Counting Officers

'(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.

(2) The Chief Counting Officer for the referendum must appoint a Regional Counting Officer for each region in Great Britain.

(3) For the purposes of this section the regions are as follows-

East Midlands;



North East;

North West;

South East;

South West;

West Midlands;

Yorkshire and the Humber;



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.

(4) Each Regional Counting Officer must, as respects the votes cast in the region for which the officer is appointed, certify-

(a) the total number of ballot papers counted, and

(b) the total number of votes cast in favour of each answer to the question asked in the referendum.

Where two or more forms of ballot paper are used in the referendum, a separate number must be certified under paragraph (a) in relation to each form of ballot paper used.

(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.

(6) To the extent that counting officers are appointed by virtue of subsection (5), the duty of the Chief Counting Officer under section 128(3) of the 2000 Act is discharged.

(7) A reference to a counting officer in sections 33 to 35 (except the reference in section 34(5)) includes a reference to a Regional Counting Officer.'.

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New Clause 25

Conduct etc of referendum

'(1) The Secretary of State may by order make whatever provision he or she considers expedient-

(a) for and in connection with the referendum under section 29;

(b) for and in connection with the combination of the poll at the referendum with the poll at an election or at another referendum (or both).

(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.

In this subsection "subordinate legislation" has the same meaning as in the Interpretation Act 1978 (c. 30).

(3) An order under this section-

(a) may include provision creating criminal offences;

(b) may make supplementary, incidental, consequential, transitory, transitional or saving provision;

(c) may make different provision for different purposes (including different areas).

(4) The power to make an order under this section is exercisable by statutory instrument.

(5) The Secretary of State must consult the Electoral Commission before making an order under this section.

(6) An order under this section may not be made unless a draft of the statutory instrument containing the order has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.'.

New Clause 26

Electoral Commission accounts in relation to specified matters

'(1) Schedule 1 to the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (c. 41) (the Electoral Commission) is amended as follows.

(2) For sub-paragraph (2) of paragraph 17 substitute-

"(2) The Commission-

(a) shall prepare accounts for each financial year, and

(b) if directed to do so by the Treasury, shall prepare accounts in relation to any matter specified in the direction."

(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.

Directions under this sub-paragraph may".

(4) In sub-paragraph (1) of paragraph 18-

(a) for "for any financial year" substitute "under paragraph 17";

(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."'.

New Clause 37

Parliamentary elections: counting of votes

'(1) Schedule 1 to the Representation of the People Act 1983 (c. 2) (parliamentary elections rules) is amended as follows.

(2) In rule 44 (attendance at counting of votes) after paragraph (5) insert-

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"(6) In making arrangements under this rule, the returning officer shall have regard to the duty imposed on him by rule 45(3A) below."

(3) In rule 45 (the count)-

(a) after paragraph (3) insert-

"(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.";

(b) after paragraph (7) insert-

"(8) The Electoral Commission shall issue guidance to returning officers on the duty imposed by paragraph (3A) above."

(4) After rule 53 insert-

"Counting of votes: statement by returning officer

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-

(a) prepare and publish a statement giving the information specified in paragraph (2) below, and

(b) deliver it to the Electoral Commission.

(2) The statement must-

(a) specify the time at which the counting of the votes given on the ballot papers began,

(b) describe the steps taken under rule 45(3A) above, and

(c) explain why the counting of the votes given on the ballot papers did not start within the period specified in rule 45(3A) above.

(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.)

Brought up, and added to the Bill .

Clause 8

Special advisers code

Amendment made: 35, page 5, line 22, at end insert-

'(4A) Subject to subsection (4B), a special advisers code must provide that a special adviser may not-

(a) authorise the expenditure of public funds;

(b) exercise any power in relation to the management of any part of the civil service of the State;

(c) otherwise exercise any power conferred by or under this or any other Act or any power under Her Majesty's prerogative.

(4B) A special advisers code may permit a special adviser to exercise any power within subsection (4A)(b) in relation to another special adviser.

(4C) In subsection (4A)(c) "Act" includes-

(a) an Act of the Scottish Parliament;

(b) an Act or Measure of the National Assembly for Wales;

(c) Northern Ireland legislation.'.- (Mr. Wills.)

Clause 22

Power to impose new nationality requirements

Amendments made: 36, page 12, line 35, leave out subsection (12) and insert-

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'( ) 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.'.

Amendment 37, page 13, line 1, leave out 'limits any power' and insert 'affects-

(a) section 82 of the Police Reform Act 2002 (c. 30),

(b) section 41(3A) of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 (c. 32), or

(c) any power'.- (Mr. Wills.)

Clause 27

Section 24 not to apply to certain descriptions of treaties

Amendment made: 38, page 14, line 36, leave out 'section 788 of the Income and Corporation Taxes Act 1988 (c. 1)' and insert

'section 2 of the Taxation (International and Other Provisions) Act 2010 (c. )'.- (Mr. Wills.)

Clause 30

Entitlement to vote

Amendment made: 39, page 16, line 32, at end insert-

'( ) 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.)

Clause 64

Salary protection for members of tribunals

Amendment made: 40, page 35, line 41, leave out paragraph (b).- (Mr. Wills.)

Clause 80

Powers of National Assembly for Wales: Auditor General for Wales

Amendments made: 41, page 43, line 11, leave out from '14.1' to end of line 12.

Amendment 42, page 43, line 37, at end insert-

'(4) In section 94(6)(a) of, and paragraph 6Z of Schedule 5 to, the Government of Wales Act 2006 (c. 32) for "paragraphs 1 to 6" substitute "paragraphs 1 to 6A".'.- (Mr. Wills.)

Clause 86

Amendment made: 57, page 48, line 37, leave out clause 86.- (Mr. Wills.)

Clause 90

Extent, commencement, transitional provision and short title

Amendment made: 43, page 50, line 11, leave out paragraph (d) and insert-

'( ) the provisions of this Part other than section [Electoral Commission accounts in relation to specified matters]'.- (Mr. Wills.)

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Schedule 2

Consequential amendments and transitional provision relating to Part 1

Amendments made: 44, page 58, line 37, leave out sub-paragraph (4) and insert-

'(4) For subsection (4) substitute-

"(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."

(5) Omit subsection (9).'.

Amendment 45, page 60, line 11, leave out sub-paragraph (4) and insert-

'(4) For subsection (4) substitute-

"(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."

(5) Omit subsection (10).'.- (Mr. Wills.)


Amendments made: 46, line 6, after 'generally' insert

'; to make provision about the accounts to be prepared by the Electoral Commission'.

Amendment 89, line 6, after 'generally' insert

'; to make provision relating to the counting of votes in parliamentary elections'.

Amendment 47, line 22, at end insert

'; to amend the Public Records Act 1958 and the Freedom of Information Act 2000'.- (Mr. Wills.)

Third Reading

9.3 pm

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.

As far as possible, we have tried to proceed on the basis of consensus. The Public Administration Committee, for example, found

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

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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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