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Early Parliamentary General Election Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:05 pm on 30th October 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal 4:05 pm, 30th October 2019

My Lords, I am pleased to open the Second Reading debate. While this Government did not want an election, this Parliament has not been able to agree a way forward on the major political issue facing the country. The purpose of this Bill is to allow the public to have their say and to give the other place the mandate to resolve this deadlock.

Earlier this year, the other place voted three times on the withdrawal agreement negotiated by my right honourable friend Theresa May and, on each occasion, rejected it. Subsequent cross-party talks to seek a compromise also failed to agree a way forward. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister negotiated a new Brexit deal, which did win the support of a majority in the other place at Second Reading. However, MPs were unable to agree a timetable for the passage of the withdrawal Bill so, once again, this has meant that the other place has been unable to progress the required legislation.

I share the frustration of many around this House. We have sat and watched over the past few months while the House of Commons has repeatedly been unable to achieve consensus on a way forward. However, a December election has now been supported by the leadership of all major parties in the other place. This presents a chance to resolve the impasse that this country has endured for too long. The Government have tabled this short Bill to set 12 December as the date of the next general election. If it passes, this Parliament will dissolve 25 working days before the date of the poll. The Bill sets the date of the election in law and removes the discretion to set the polling day which otherwise exists under the early elections provisions in the Fixed-term Parliaments Act. The date of 12 December allows time for the Northern Ireland budget to pass before Dissolution, which is necessary so that the Northern Ireland Civil Service can access the funding it needs to deliver public services. The date also maintains the convention that general elections are held on a Thursday, which this country has followed since the early 1930s.

As noble Lords will be aware, only one amendment to the Bill was passed in the other place yesterday. The Government tabled an amendment to address the concern raised by the Scottish National Party, which was to ensure that the registration deadline for the election in Scotland was the same as that of the rest of the country. The effect of the amendment is to remove the St Andrew’s Day bank holiday from the calculation of time in relation to the deadline for registering to vote. It will instead be classed as a normal working day, but only for this election and only for limited purposes in relation to the electoral register. This will allow for a comprehensive UK-wide communications campaign by the Electoral Commission to advertise the deadline and ensure that all those in the UK who are eligible to register can do so within the same time period.

This Bill passed Third Reading in the other place by a majority of 418, and I think we can agree that the level of cross-party support for it there at this time was significant. Having an election will allow us all to put our case to the public, to give them the opportunity to decide how they want to move forward, and to ensure that the new Government have time to act before 31 January 2020.