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New Writ (Crewe and Nantwich)

Volume 475: debated on Wednesday 30 April 2008

We now have proceedings on the motion for the writ moved earlier by the Secretary to the Treasury, the right hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Hoon), and objected to. I should tell the House that this is treated as a matter of privilege.

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That Mr. Speaker do issue his Warrant for the Clerk of the Crown to make out a new writ for the electing of a Member to serve in this present Parliament for the county constituency of Crewe and Nantwich in the room of Gwyneth Patricia Dunwoody, deceased.—[Mr. Hoon.]

I rise with sadness and regret to oppose the issuing of the writ for the county constituency of Crewe and Nantwich in Cheshire. In doing so, may I apologise to the Chief Whip, the right hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Hoon)? I do not wish in any way to frustrate the Government in what they are seeking to do.

As the longest-serving Member in the county of Cheshire, and a close friend of the late Mrs. Dunwoody—I worked with her on many issues in Cheshire over many years—I believe that I represent a view held fairly strongly across the House. It appears to me and many others that the issuing of the writ before the funeral of Mrs. Dunwoody means that this matter is being pursued with unseemly haste.

As you know, Mr. Speaker, Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody was hugely respected for what she did in this place. She was a robust, independent socialist who was never frightened to express her view or to stand up for what she believed to be right. She was equally committed to and respected in her constituency and the county of Cheshire as a whole. I merely wish to represent to this House my concern that the writ has been issued before Mrs. Dunwoody’s funeral, next Thursday in St. Margaret’s church here in Westminster, which I shall attend. I wish to register that point. I do not intend to vote against the issuing of the writ, and I hope that Members of the House will not do so.

Ever since I have been here, it has been the tradition that when a colleague dies the party of that colleague moves the writ for the by-election or seeks to persuade Parliament to do so. That has a logic to it, and it is a logic from which my colleagues and I do not dissent. Like the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton), none of us has fully taken in or recovered from the fact that only a couple of weeks ago Gwyneth Dunwoody was here, as robust as ever, and now she is not with us any more.

Without seeking to persuade my colleagues to oppose the decision we are about to take, I would like to register my view that we appear to be going down a road of having by-elections much more speedily after deaths of colleagues. There ought to be a convention at least that the funeral takes place first, and clearly there may be a need for talks between the parties to ensure that we return to a slightly more decent, respectful and honourable process. Of course, there is the question of not wanting to leave a constituency unrepresented for too long, but there are practical issues as well as ones of principle. If a by-election is called quickly, although there is no doubt that we will all—[Interruption.]

Order. Let the hon. Gentleman speak. [Interruption.] Order. Mr. Brennan, please allow the hon. Gentleman to speak.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. If there is a by-election, we will, of course, all engage in it and fight a robust campaign. Inevitably, that will be the case. However, it is not good to have hasty by-elections, even in practical terms. It reduces the opportunity for people to consider whether they wish to be candidates, and for their parties to consider that matter. It reduces the opportunity for people to apply for postal votes so that they can take part in the process, and it reduces people’s ability to take part in the debate about the politics of the constituency and the country.

I hope that we can re-examine the process for and the speed of calling by-elections. I believe that the public would share the view of the hon. Member for Macclesfield that a little more caution and a little less haste is appropriate. However, the Government have made the decision, and so they must have their way and live with the consequences.

I support my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) as a fellow Cheshire Member of Parliament. I know that the sentiments he expressed will be shared by other Cheshire colleagues and hon. Members of all parties.

In almost 25 years, I have never known a writ be moved before a colleague’s funeral. I was dismayed at the discourtesy and insensitivity afforded to Mrs. Dunwoody’s family and her constituency.

When boundary changes took place in 1983, I inherited part of Gwyneth’s former constituency—

I inherited part of Gwyneth Dunwoody’s constituency and I know the high esteem in which she was and continues to be held by her former constituents. Gwyneth Dunwoody was a neighbour, a redoubtable woman and a character. She did not deserve such treatment.

I invited the hon. Lady to give way. She claimed to speak on behalf of the family and said that disrespect had been shown to them. Has she asked the family whether that was their view?

I wish to raise two points in response to those that have been made. The first is about the wishes of the family and the second is about the conventions of the House.

I shall read to the House a statement from the family in respect of the late Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody. They said:

“We fully support the decision to begin the process of electing a new MP for Crewe and Nantwich. Our mother proudly represented this constituency for 34 years, and would not want to see local people go without an MP. She worked tirelessly for local people and recognised there was always more to do. She would want that job of work to continue, as quickly as possible.”

It is a long-standing convention of the House that, when a party loses a member, it decides when to move the writ, which triggers the process that leads to the ensuing by-election.

Crewe and Nantwich has had a doughty advocate for 34 years and it needs a new Member of Parliament. I therefore invite the House to support the motion.

Question put and agreed to.