Early Parliamentary General Election Bill DebateFull Debate: Read Full Debate
Sir Geoffrey Clifton-BrownMain Page: Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Conservative) - The Cotswolds)
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(10 months, 4 weeks ago)Commons Chamber
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.
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
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.
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.