Clause 24 - Omission of reference to Maundy Thursday

Electoral Administration Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 6:30 pm ar 15 Tachwedd 2005.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

I seek some guidance from the Ministers. The clause appears to mark an innovation in drafting because there does not appear to be any operative element to it. It simply describes what is elsewhere in the Bill. I wonder whether that is a deliberate innovation or whether the clause has some consequence of which I know nothing.

Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Minister of State (Department of Constitutional Affairs), Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

I am not quite sure that I understood the hon. Gentleman's point. It may or may not be addressed in what I am about to say. I will explain why we are arguing that the clause should stand part of the Bill by explaining what it does. It removes Maundy Thursday, which, as hon. Members will know, is the day before Good Friday, from the list of days that are not deemed to be countable days for the purposes of elections.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

That is my problem. I have nothing against removing Maundy Thursday from the list of countable days and if I can avoid the rest of the speech that the Minister prepared in case there were any objections, I shall be delighted. I am simply saying that the clause does not remove Maundy Thursday from the list; part 4 of schedule 1 does that. Apparently, all that the clause does is draw attention to another area of the Bill.

Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Minister of State (Department of Constitutional Affairs), Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

We have to have complicated drafting—[Interruption.] For goodness' sake. I will resist the temptation for us all to be in a lather of agreement about this issue, because the other place might want to know that we have considered it. Potentially, it touches on religious issues because Maundy Thursday will be a countable day, as opposed to a non-countable day, and it is the day before Good Friday. So, I ask hon. Members to bear with me.  

Under electoral law, Maundy Thursday is included in the list of days—it includes Saturday, Sunday and bank holidays—that are to be disregarded for the purposes of the electoral timetable. Traditionally, Maundy Thursday was a holiday for public servants. However, Maundy Thursday is a working day for the majority of people involved in the election process, including voters, electoral administrators, candidates and political parties. Elections often take place in May, and Maundy Thursday will often arise during the campaign. To help make the electoral timetable more straightforward and intelligible, and to avoid any confusion, the Government have agreed that there is no longer any need for Maundy Thursday to be included in the list of days to be disregarded for the purposes of the election timetable.

I am conscious that it has been pointed out that the change could mean that a general election might be held on Maundy Thursday, which is a very important day in the Christian calendar. Although that is unlikely to happen in practice, I should make it clear that the provision implements a recommendation of the Electoral Commission arising from its review of election timetables in the United Kingdom. The Electoral Commission published a consultation paper as part of its review, which was sent to all registered political parties, including Christian parties such as the Christian Peoples Alliance. No representations were received from Christian groups, or anyone else, opposing the Maundy Thursday proposal. Maundy Thursday has already been removed as a ''non-day'' in Scotland for elections to the Scottish Parliament and Scottish local elections.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

That did not answer my question, but perhaps the Minister will write to me in due course.

Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Minister of State (Department of Constitutional Affairs), Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

When I write to the hon. Gentleman, I will say that this is not an unusual drafting method in cases where it is more appropriate for the technical detail to be set out in a schedule.

Photo of Edward O'Hara Edward O'Hara Llafur, Knowsley South

Order. That is the point I was going to make. As I understand it, the schedule contains the substance but it must refer to a clause—in this case, clause 24.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

Mr. O'Hara, I am most grateful for your guidance and I agree with it, but normally there is some operative sense in the clause. In other words, the clause says that something will happen and the schedule says how. This clause does not do that, but I do not want to detain the Committee any longer.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 24 ordered to stand part of the Bill.