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EDITIONS
Monday, 2 April, 2001, 17:18 GMT 18:18 UK
Emergency bill to postpone elections
Home Secretary Jack Straw
Jack Straw tells MPs about emergency legislation
Home Secretary Jack Straw has told the Commons that a five week delay in local elections is an "appropriate response" to the foot-and-mouth crisis.

An emergency bill will be introduced in the Commons on Wednesday to put back voting until 7 June.

It will be rushed through Parliament in what could be an all-night sitting.

Ann Widdecombe
The government is dithering, Ann Widdecombe
Councils which have been working towards the original 3 May date will be compensated for "legitimate and unavoidable" extra costs and candidates' election expenses will be increased by half.

The Conservatives welcomed the delay but suggested 7 June might still be too early for polling if foot-and-mouth was not beaten soon.

Mr Straw said: "Delaying elections isn't a step ever to be taken lightly."

He said the government had responded to the "feelings and sensitivities of people" in the communities most severely hit by foot-and-mouth.

The bill covers elections in 34 English counties, 11 unitary authorities in England and 26 district council areas in Northern Ireland.


Delaying elections isn't a step ever to be taken lightly

Jack Straw
It will be the first time emergency legislation has been used to delay elections in the UK since the Second World War.

"The House will... be aware of the considerable scale of representations which we have received to defer these elections because of the extent of foot-and-mouth disease," Mr Straw said.

"As the prime minister has now made clear, we have listened very carefully to those representations."

In practical terms, polling in May "would be possible and would produce fair results", because postal votes were now available to everyone and telephone canvassing was widespread.

"But, on the other side of the equation, there has been the need for national, and in some areas, local politicians to be focused on the fight against foot-and-mouth disease," said Mr Straw.


Even Cabinet ministers were unaware of what the prime minister and his spin doctors were thinking

Ann Widdecombe
Shadow home secretary Ann Widdecombe said she regretted that the prime minister had not consulted the opposition before making his announcement to journalists in Downing Street on Monday.

"But then, of course, we know that even Cabinet ministers were unaware of what the prime minister and his spin doctors were thinking," she said.

"Today's developments are another chapter in the catalogue of dithering and delay which has characterised this government's handling of foot-and-mouth."

Crisis

She added: "What will the government do if the crisis isn't resolved at that time? Is that date written in tablets of stone?"

Mr Straw replied that, because many local councillors were planning to stand down or retire in May, an indefinite delay risked leaving local communities without representation.

"We have looked very carefully... but there are huge issues where and how you draw the line.

"To postpone the elections indefinitely would literally cause local democracy to grind to a halt, or for the control of councils to pass randomly from one party to another without any reference to the electors as a result literally of acts of God or chance retirements by councillors. That is not acceptable," he said

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Simon Hughes promised support for the bill and for the change of election date.

The decision to postpone elections "clearly reflected a strong national mood and it is clearly in the interests of the country as well," he said.


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02 Apr 01 | UK Politics
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