Eleanor Laing MP

14 Oct 2010 11:56:37

A small Conservative rebellion took place on Tuesday over the date of the AV referendum

by Paul Goodman

It's worth keeping an eye on the progress of the NAME bill - the measure that paves the way for a referendum on AV and a reduction in the number of Commons seats.

On Tuesday evening, Bernard Jenkin argued that the May 5 poll date should be moved - because some parts of the country are voting on that day while others aren't.

He said -

"The real reason for avoiding the combination of polls with referendums is fairness. Whatever the merits of combining referendums with elections throughout the referendum constituency, all voters should at least be treated the same. It is obvious from the date on the table at the moment that voters are being treated differently in different parts of the country."

He also attacked the Electoral Commission's volte-face on the matter -

"The quality of the commission's consultation and research has been lacking, which probably reflects the fact that most of its people have changed since 1992. However, the fundamental point about the paper is that it does not address substantively any of the arguments advanced in 2002 in favour of separate polls."

Edward Leigh, Julian Lewis, Eleanor Laing and Nick Boles also spoke from the backbenches during the debate, and the following Conservative MPs voted against the Government:

  1. Peter Bone
  2. Chris Chope
  3. Philip Davies
  4. Philip Hollobone
  5. Bernard Jenkin
  6. Dr Julian Lewis
  7. Mark Reckless
  8. John Redwood
  9. Richard Shepherd

Earlier this year, this vote, long-expected, was mooted to mark substantial number of Conservative MPs voting against the Government.

6 Mar 2010 11:56:38

Is General Election Night as saved as we thought?

SaveElectionNight graphic A month ago, Jack Straw accepted a new clause tabled by the Conservatives to the Constitution and Governance Bill which enshrined in law that returning officers were duty bound to count the votes at general elections within four hours of the close of poll, i.e. on the Thursday night. It seemed that General Election Night had been saved from the returning officers seeking to delay counting until the Friday.

Mr Straw said at the time - and Eleanor Laing for the Conservatives accepted - that the wording of the clause would probably have to be amended.

And so it was during proceedings on report stage of the bill last week, in a way that - as Iain Dale has already noted this morning - appears to give a vast amount of leeway to retuning officers who want to count the following day.

The original version of the new clause stated that guidance on the exceptional circumstances for which a Friday count would be permissible would be drawn up by the Justice Secretary in consultation with the Electoral Commission - and subject to approval by the Common and Lords as secondary legislation.

However, my understanding is that since these measures in the bill are only due to be passed in the so-called "wash-up" period immediately prior to Parliament's dissolution before the general election, there would be no parliamentary window to approve that secondary legislation.

As such, the Government's new clause 37 in the bill still states that:

"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."

but the guidance will be issued by the Electoral Commission rather than the Justice Secretary and not subject to parliamentary approval. Furthermore, if the votes are not counted on the night, the returning officer will have 30 days to publish a statement explaining why this was not the case.

The will of Parliament is absolutely clear on this in favour of Thursday night counts. The immediate onus is therefore now on the Electoral Commission to ensure that its guidance reflects that and is robust  in outlining that counting must take place on the night unless there are very exceptional and/or unforeseen circumstances.

Continue reading "Is General Election Night as saved as we thought?" »

8 Feb 2010 11:57:34

The amendment that would Save General Election Night has been tabled in the Commons

SaveElectionNight graphic As promised by Eleanor Laing last week, the Conservatives have tabled an amendment to the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill which would Save General Election Night by setting in statute a requirement for Returning Officers to count votes at general elections on the night.

It proposes that counts could only be delayed if there are "exceptional circumstances" - and that these would have to be defined by the Justice Secretary and be subject to approval by Parliament.

Tomorrow's proceedings on the committee stage of the Bill will most likely be dominated by the Government's proposals on electoral reform, so I do not presently know what likelihood there is of the issue being properly debated and/or voted on.

If it is put to the vote, I would certainly hope that all the 220 MPs from across the House who signed the original Save General Election Night early day motion would stick to their word and back it.

I will let you know if I get any more news later.

The full text of the amendment (New Clause 98) is as follows:

Counting of votes in parliamentary elections

Mr Dominic Grieve
Mrs Eleanor Laing
Mr Eric Pickles

To move the following Clause:—

(1) The Representation of the People Act 1983 is amended as follows—

(2) In Schedule 1 (Parliamentary elections rules), in paragraph 44, after sub-paragraph (1) insert—

“(1A) The counting of votes in a parliamentary election shall start within four hours of the close of the poll, save in exceptional circumstances.

(1B) The Secretary of State shall, after consulting the Electoral Commission, prepare draft guidance on the definition of “exceptional circumstances” for the purposes of sub-paragraph (1A).

(1C) The draft guidance prepared under sub-paragraph (1B) may not be issued unless a draft has been laid before, and approved by both Houses of Parliament.”.

Jonathan Isaby

4 Feb 2010 15:42:43

Eleanor Laing signals that she will table amendments to the Government's Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill in a bid to Save General Election Night

SaveElectionNight graphic Yesterday saw an adjournment debate in the Westminster Hall chamber initiated by Labour MP David Cairns on "the accountability of returning officers", which enabled MPs to discuss the Campaign to Save General Election Night.

There were more than a dozen MPs present for the debate - far higher than usual for proceedings in Westminster Hall - and there were contributions from co-founder of the Save General Election Night Campaign, Labour MP Tom Harris, and also from Conservative chairman Eric Pickles, who highlighted the figures he recently obtained showing how few postal votes get submitted on polling day - thereby rubbishing the excuse given by some returning officers for delaying the count.

It was a debate which very much found a consensus in favour of Thursday night counts, as shadow Justice Minister, Eleanor Laing, summed up:

Picture 14 "Knowing the result of the general election is not comparable to waiting until Sunday to see who wins Strictly Come Dancing. It is matter of importance to everyone, whether they know it or not... Simply changing how our general elections are run for the administrative simplicity of some returning officers who are accountable to no one is unacceptable. So, what can we do about it? First, let us make it clear that the assumption should be that the count should take place at the close of the poll unless the returning officer can publicly justify his actions in deciding otherwise. In some places that will be easy and in some places it will not. Returning officers have made decisions that they have not been required to justify. Let us now ask them to justify their actions publicly. There has been no update to the precise law on returning officers' duties since the 1872 Act.

"The Minister knows very well that the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill has been amended and expanded considerably over the past few weeks, and the Opposition have agreed with much of the expansion that the Government have brought forward; we have co-operated with it. I am considering bringing forward an amendment to the Bill on Report to deal with the matter. It would be far more effective, however, if the Government did that. I give an undertaking that, if the Minister brings forward such an amendment on Report, he will have our support."

Michael Wills, the Justice minister replying, accepted that there was a consensus view in favour of Thursday night counts, but stopped short of accepting the idea of amending the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill, preferring to suggest it would be a matter for discussion after the general election:

Picture 15 "There is clearly a consensus across the House that all those responsible for delivering the count need to do everything in their power to deliver it overnight. I agree with that from a personal perspective. As the Minister responsible for elections, I have no role in directing EROs to do anything at all, and I want to ensure that everyone understands that I respect their independence.

"However, if any are still considering not holding overnight counts, I hope that they will read the record of this debate and reflect carefully on the strength of feeling. At the very least, if they decide not to hold an overnight count, they will have to have extremely good reasons. Whatever happens, they can expect to be rigorously scrutinised, and should realise that this House will take the matter forward after the next election. I have no doubt at all that that is the conclusion that everyone will draw from the strength of feeling in this debate, and I am extremely grateful to everyone who has contributed to it. I have no doubt that it will move the policy on in some way or other in the future."

Warm words from the minister, but not good enough. I very much hope that Eleanor Laing will table an amendment to the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill and that MPs get a chance to vote on the issue.

Read the full debate here or watch it here via BBC Democracy Live.

Jonathan Isaby

3 Mar 2009 15:48:02

James Duddridge clashes with Bob Spink over political donations

James_duddridgeBob Spink, erstwhile Tory and MP for Castle Point, rather upset some of his former Conservative colleagues yesterday during a debate on the Political Parties and Elections Bill, including James Duddridge (right).

MPs were debating raising the threshold for public donations to parties from £200 to £500.

Mr Spink intervened:

"An amount of £200 is not seen as an insignificant sum, and £500 is a considerable sum. Why is he pushing the matter so far? Why is a 250 per cent. increase proposed, which can only reduce transparency for local people? People in Castle Point want to know who is funding the Castle Point Tories and Castle Point Labour party. Those people may be developers or businesses; they may have a vested interest in what goes on in local government and in this place.

...

I was making a point about the Minister’s attitude towards the Conservative amendments. I would be more sanguine about the amendments if I did not know the Conservative party’s track record in driving a coach and horses through election law and the public test of what is acceptable—for instance, by taking money from people who do not pay tax in this country to fund marginal constituencies by £20,000, £30,000 or £40,000 a year before the election is even declared. I do not want to give the Conservative party any loophole through which it can jump; nor do the public and nor do those in the media, who are watching us carefully in the House."

Rochford & Southend East MP James Duddridge put the boot in:

"For example, I was considering making a £50 donation, having met Rebecca Harris, the Conservative candidate in Castle Point. That would have been below the £200 threshold. I am actually incredibly proud of wanting to make that donation, and I think that I shall increase it to £201, so that it can go on the record, as part of the attempt to bring greater democracy and accountability to Parliament, rather than having to wait until the threshold goes up to £500 to make the same point. That would also be an awful lot more expensive for my pocket. So Castle Point Conservatives can expect a £201 donation from me as a result of this debate.

Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest) (Con): We all want to make a donation.

James Duddridge: This seems to be quite popular. Perhaps I will arrange a whip-round after the debate."

There are good arguments on both sides in regard to raising the threshold for donations being made public. But it's a bit rich for Bob Spink to pour cold water over a party which he was a member of until recently.

What is clear is that any donation to the outstanding Rebecca Harris's campaign would be money well spent. She is a constant reminder that some people really are motivated to become MPs by a desire to serve the public and, although she'd be the last person to agree, she is fearsomely bright.

Tom Greeves

7 Jun 2008 08:21:12

Tory MPs "say no" to votes for sixteen year-olds

Tory MPs speak against Julie Morgan MP's Private Members' Bill in favour of lowering the voting age to sixteen.

Brooks Newmark: "One of the big challenges is that it is hard enough to get 18 to 21-year-olds to vote, yet they too, at an earlier stage, called for more representation and wanted a say in politics? Surely we should focus our energies on trying to figure out how we are going to motivate them to get voting instead of continually trying to lower the age limit."

Nigel Evans: "There has to be a dividing line somewhere, and one could argue that it could be 17, 16, 15, 14 or 12, but 18 seems to be the appropriate voting age in the vast majority of places in the world."

Christopher Chope: "Her Bill is not even supported by members of the United Kingdom Youth Parliament, who, when they met in the other place in May and were asked to vote on what they regarded as the three most important issues to campaign on this year, declined to vote in favour of this proposal because they thought that there were three other issues of greater importance?"

Greg Knight: "Most 16-year-olds have the mental capacity to vote. The problem lies in the fact that many of them have not been educated at school about our democratic system. It is a problem of education, rather than of the mental incapacity or immaturity of a 16-year-old."

HarpermarkMark Harper: "By saying that someone becomes an adult at 18 and someone below that age is a child, we are not, in any sense, disparaging children; we are simply saying that a line has to be drawn. Let us follow the hon. Lady’s argument to its logical conclusion. If we were to move the line for voting to 16, would we not implicitly be saying that there was something not worthy or not appropriate about 14 and 15-year-olds voting? There would be no logical reason not just to drop the voting age all the way down to zero. The fact is that there must be a line somewhere, and wherever it is drawn there will be people on the wrong side of it who have the maturity to take such a decision. The right place for that line to stay is at 18... If we are to say to young people that we do not think that they are sufficiently responsible or competent to take a decision about driving a motor car, using a firearm, consuming alcohol or buying cigarettes, it would be extraordinary to say at the same time that we think that they are mature enough to make a decision about the future of our country and about people who might deploy our armed forces. We know how the Liberal Democrats feel about the decisions made by the Government about committing our armed forces. Those are important and serious decisions, and I cannot see how it would be wise to say that a young person under 18 could not consume alcohol but could vote for a Government who could authorise the use of force in an armed conflict. That is completely inconsistent."

Eleanor Laing: "My main argument against the Bill concerns the question of rights. Correctly, we often discuss rights in this House, but whenever we create a right, there must be a corresponding responsibility. If there is no responsibility, then there is no right, because rights without responsibilities are meaningless. By giving people the right to vote, we are also conferring on them the burden of the responsibility to vote. I argue that 16 and 17-year-olds are gradually given plenty of responsibilities as they move on through life and grow up. It is not right to pile on all those responsibilities at once. Children of younger age groups have to be protected and 16 and 17-year-olds still have to be nurtured and helped along the way while they gradually make the transition from childhood to adulthood."

Jackson_stewart Stewart Jackson attacks LibDem Lynne Featherstone for comparing the issue to women's campaign for the vote: "The hon. Lady is making a completely fallacious comparison. Women were imprisoned, and, in some cases, they were tortured and they died. They sacrificed their own lives and chained themselves to parts of this building to secure, rightly, the universal franchise for both genders. That bears no comparison with whether a 16-year-old or a 15-year-old can be bothered to fill in a form so that they can vote in 2008."

Exchange between Julie Morgan MP, sponsor of the Bill, and Mark Harper:

Julie Morgan: "The phrase “no taxation without representation” has been used by many groups struggling for political rights over the years, but it applies no less to 16 and 17-year olds working and paying tax who are denied the vote, because there is no age limit on paying income tax and national insurance. Tax is taken on full or part-time work including tips and bonuses, and the most up-to-date figures show that 548,000 16 and 17-year-olds are in some form or employment."

Mark Harper: "The fact is that many children, far younger than 16, pay indirect taxes on the money that they spend. Is the hon. Lady suggesting that a 10-year-old who goes to buy a CD on which VAT is payable should get the vote?"

Julie Morgan: "I do not think that that is a valid intervention."