Letter: Date juggling

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The Independent Online
Alan Watkins chides other journalists for "being no good at sums" yet bases his column on a false figure ("Precarious balance of power before the showdown", 15 December). A vacancy in the House of Commons should be filled by the "writ being moved within three months" of the vacancy. Hence it is necessary to give the party holding the seat three months less a day to move the writ. Then must be added the three weeks of campaigning. Mr Watkins bases his sums on the vacancy being "filled" within three months. The writ should be moved by 4 February for a by-election on 27 February. Of course, the Tories could (and should) move it earlier - the new Register date of 16 February not causing any practical problem.

Mr Watkins should have read the fifth guideline of the recommendation by the 1973-74 Speakers' conference, which states: "In the fifth year of a Parliament, some relaxation of these guidelines should be allowed, in order if possible to avoid by-elections being held immediately before a general election".

Jeff Rooker MP

House of Commons