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Business Of The House

Volume 319: debated on Wednesday 18 November 1998

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Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 15 (Exempted business),

That, at this day's sitting, the European Parliamentary Elections Bill and the consideration of any Lords Messages and Amendments that may be received may be proceeded with, though opposed, until any hour.—[Jane Kennedy.]

Question agreed to.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. On today's Order Paper there is a business motion in the name of the Prime Minister enabling the House to consider any messages and amendments from the Lords in respect of the European Parliamentary Elections Bill.

Following the Government's defeat in another place, it is open to the Government to bring that Bill back for a fifth time. I understand that there has been a statement in another place, but there has been no statement in this House about the Government's intentions. Will the Home Secretary now explain to the House what he plans to do about the Bill?

As many right hon. and hon. Members will by now be aware, the decision of the House early this evening in respect of the European Parliamentary Elections Bill, which was carried by a majority of this House of 193, was rejected in the other place by a majority of 29.

The European Parliamentary Elections Bill has therefore been lost for this Session. It will be reintroduced in the next Session under the procedures of the Parliament Acts. Even so, to hold the June 1999 European elections under the regional list system, the Bill would have to receive Royal Assent by mid-January of next year. That can happen only with the co-operation of the Opposition parties.

If that co-operation is not forthcoming, the Government will still use the Parliament Acts to secure the Bill's enactment, but that would mean that the new system could not come into effect until 2004.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

It is a matter of procedure, and I want to take your advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Order. I remind the right hon. and learned Gentleman that we are in the middle of a strictly time-limited debate. The statement does not warrant further debate. I hope that he will be brief.

I will indeed be brief, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I refer you to page 308 of "Erskine May", and the passage that states:

"Substantive interventions on points of order made by Ministers may be treated by the Speaker as statements, so that questions may be raised thereon and replies given."
We have had an intervention on a point of order by the Home Secretary, which clearly enables the House, if you give us consent, to ask questions of him. I ask you to exercise the discretion provided in "Erskine May" and enable us to treat that point of order as a statement.

The key word in the passage quoted by the right hon. and learned Gentleman is "may". It depends entirely on the view that the Chair takes. My view is that we should now continue with the time-limited debate.