Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown contributions to the Early Parliamentary General Election Act 2019

Tue 29th October 2019 Early Parliamentary General Election Bill (Commons Chamber)
3rd reading: House of Commons
Committee: 1st sitting: House of Commons
9 interactions (849 words)

Early Parliamentary General Election Bill

(3rd reading: House of Commons)
(Committee: 1st sitting: House of Commons)
(3rd reading: House of Commons)
(Committee: 1st sitting: House of Commons)
Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Excerpts
Tuesday 29th October 2019

(10 months, 4 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Bill Main Page
HM Treasury
Michael Tomlinson - Hansard

That is one of the key points. Thursday is the traditional day, but it is indeed important to ensure that the civil service is up and running in Northern Ireland, and that is the main reason why I will support this measure if it comes to a vote.

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Portrait Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) (Con) - Hansard
29 Oct 2019, 6:49 p.m.

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to catch your eye. I intend to make a very short contribution to this important debate. I am delighted to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Michael Tomlinson). He is one of the up-and- coming Members, and he has made some useful and telling points.

This is the fourth time Parliament has been asked to hold a general election. The nation has been in schism, unable to do anything worthwhile as the dreadful problem of Brexit hangs over us. I should have infinitely preferred this Parliament to have sorted the Brexit problem out so that we could have left the EU on 31 March, before holding a general election, but the fact is that we have not sorted it out, and we are now in this position.

We are in this position because the coalition Government, under my right hon. friend the then Member for Witney, passed the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, which the Bill seeks to amend. That Act was passed in a very different time. It was passed with the purpose of ensuring that the coalition could not end early, and it was passed in undue haste, without proper consideration of what the consequences might be in a situation in which there was no overall majority in Parliament. I think that one of the first things that whoever gains a majority in the House after the election will want to do is revisit the Act to see whether we want to alter its provisions so that we never get into this situation again.

As I have said, for too long this Parliament has been paralysed. It has been three years and four months since we held the referendum.

Sir Desmond Swayne Portrait Sir Desmond Swayne - Hansard
29 Oct 2019, 6:51 p.m.

Seems longer.

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Portrait Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown - Hansard
29 Oct 2019, 6:52 p.m.

I think that it seems an eternity.

Indeed, 80% of Members voted to trigger article 50, and most Conservative and Labour Members produced manifestos in 2017 in which they pledged to honour the result of the referendum, yet Parliament has still not resolved the matter. I am therefore delighted that we appear to be moving to the likelihood that the House will pass this Bill tonight. The only question that remains—posed by the Opposition’s amendment 2—is whether we will have an election on 9 or 12 December.

My marginal preference is for a Thursday election. As many Members have already said, Thursday elections are a long tradition for a number of very good reasons. Mention has been made of problems with booking halls and rooms that would be big enough for the count, but I think that most competent authorities can deal with that. Indeed, I know from discussions with my local authorities that they have already booked the venues. Those in charge of the schools, halls, libraries, garages, pubs and community centres in which the polling stations will have already been warned and will have already agreed that they can manage an election some time in December.

I take the point about the need to complete Northern Ireland business. I should have thought that we could do that on Thursday if we are to prorogue on that day, but it is vital for it to be completed, because it gives legal authority for public funds to be drawn down.

We can all discuss the pros and cons of the 9th and the 12th, and that is an important part of the debate. I think that there are some pros and cons. The 9th is marginally farther away from Christmas; however, although the venues have already been booked, an election on the 12th would give electoral registration officers a little more time to confirm those bookings, put their staff in place and make other preparations.

The staff do a terrific job during elections. We could not run an election without them. I have talked to them often during the seven elections that have taken place since I was first elected, and I know that they work incredibly hard. They often arrive at 6 in the morning and do not leave until well after the close of the polls at 10 pm. Often in my constituency—I hope no village or parish will take offence at this—the village hall is very draughty and cold, and I have seen them there pretty cold, and I would think they could be, in December, in a pretty cold situation, so I hope that they will have plenty of heaters to keep them warm.

An election now is absolutely essential. We need to resolve by a general election, through a full franchise, and by electing a new Government, a new Parliament, a new Executive, who will have the authority of that general election to resolve the Brexit question once and for all. I sincerely hope that we re-elect a Conservative Government with a good majority, so we can get it resolved.

Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con) - Hansard
29 Oct 2019, 6:58 p.m.

I will preface my remarks about the choice between Monday 9 and Thursday 12 December by simply saying, “Thank God that this House now appears to be resolving the issue.” I say, “Thank God,” as the co-chair of the all-party humanist group, so I perhaps do not have quite the same certainty about the deity as many hon. Members and friends will have, but I think it is incredibly important for us, in our responsibility for all public servants in the United Kingdom and the national interest of the United Kingdom, to resolve the problem between the legislature and the Executive. We have got to a place where ordinary public administration is now extremely difficult to effect because of the uncertainty in this place and the impossibility of the Government actually carrying a coherent programme. So I say, “Thank God” advisedly.

I also say, “Thank God,” Dame Rosie, because of the selection made by you and your colleagues under the Chairman of Ways and Means for this debate, to ensure that it is properly focused on the in-scope issues of the Bill, because obviously the temptation for any piece of legislation to then have attached to it any number of different issues in a Parliament as incoherent as this one in terms of its make-up is self-evident. The discipline brought to our proceedings today is enormously welcome.

I also say, “Thank God,” because of what the selection means for the amendment passed earlier to the programme motion. I managed to miss that vote as I was engrossed in conversation with Baron Williams of Oystermouth about drugs policy and other issues. I was so engrossed in the conversation, and so grateful for getting hold of him after four months to be able to have a conversation with him, that I literally screened the bells out of my mind and so missed that vote. I confess publicly my error and, having thought missing an important vote is impossible for any competent person to do, I put that on the record with due appropriate humility for being so distracted. So there is a godly reason for having been so distracted: the former Archbishop of Canterbury.

I want to put in a word, however, for the poor old electoral registration officers, who will be faced with the challenge of doing an election in pretty short order at a difficult time of year. To ask them then not to go on the customary day of Thursday, and to do it on a Monday instead, will produce all sorts of challenges in terms of their normal availability and polling stations and anything else that would be available on a Thursday customarily. A point was also well made—I have forgotten which colleague did so, but I think that it was made by an Opposition Member—about the need to engage on Sunday to prepare for Monday. Again, we should think to at least some degree about the burden that they will have to carry in preparing for all this.

Then we come to the whole issue of advancing this election by three days. I am as anxious as anybody else to get our governance in the United Kingdom back on a sound footing, so that there is a sound coalition arrangement if a majority is not secured, although I am confident that we would win a majority at a general election. That is obviously part of my enthusiasm for us getting on and getting it done, but no one can take that for granted, as we learned from 2017.

Break in Debate

Crispin Blunt - Hansard
29 Oct 2019, 7:04 p.m.

The hon. Lady makes an extremely powerful point and speaks to the general thrust of my argument, which is that we will be better able to deliver sound public administration if we give ourselves these three extra days. In terms of parliamentary procedure, if there are unconventional measures that the House is agreed upon, it should be possible to get some of them through with an extra 72 hours, but that would not be possible if we curtailed ourselves with an election date of 9 December.

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Portrait Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown - Hansard
29 Oct 2019, 7:05 p.m.

One of the pieces of legislation that my hon. Friend talks about is the Domestic Abuse Bill, on which there is widespread agreement across the House. Does he agree that it should be perfectly possible to agree to get the Bill through either before we dissolve, in the wash-up?

Crispin Blunt - Hansard
29 Oct 2019, 7:06 p.m.

My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. If we have non-contentious legislation, the three extra days will be of enormous help in assisting the tidying up of our processes than would otherwise be the case.

There has been a discussion about students and about whether their being at university on 9 December or 12 December would make a significant difference, and that was dealt with by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Michael Tomlinson). The bulk of universities break up after 12 December anyway. We also know that the National Union of Students ran an extremely successful exercise to mobilise and register the student vote at university, which saw seats come into play that no one could have conceivably expected, such as Canterbury.