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Early Parliamentary General Election Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:28 pm on 30th October 2019.

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Photo of Lord Lea of Crondall Lord Lea of Crondall Labour 5:28 pm, 30th October 2019

My Lords, the point has been made, but I would like to put it in a slightly different way: I think it is scandalous that something called the Fixed-term Parliaments Act can be used in this way, where we have a Bill with a clause that more or less says that, notwithstanding the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, we will have an election right now and, by the way, does not say in Clause 2 “and hereby repeal the Fixed-term Parliaments Act”. That makes no sense. It was said right at the start of this debate by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, that this was an extraordinary way to proceed.

Secondly, I would like to reflect on the same point that was made by my noble friend Lord Whitty. Unless one believes in miracles—most people do not—the idea that a general election will now help bridge the divide between the two halves of our split country is not credible. To bridge the divide, something substantive would need to be on the table: for example, that we would leave the EU but stay in the single market with an arrangement, which is not impossible because some of the EFTA countries do exactly that under the EEA; that we would carry on with the free movement of workers, perhaps with some change to the boundaries of that; and that we would keep to the dynamics of regulatory alignment for technical standards, which we need because Europe is the biggest economy in the world—bigger than the United States and bigger than China—and it is a single factory floor. Those of us who worked in the trade union movement and people in the Labour Party at the moment often make this point and are generally solidly, certainly in the private sector, in favour of staying in the EU. How can that come over in a general election when the big lie, in the era of Trump, not only will not bring the people together but increase the amount of anger.

Something has to change fundamentally. I think the man in the moon—or the woman in the moon—would say, “You have to find some substantive agreement in the middle, or this will lead to more and more cynicism”. This will already be an election based on doubling the level of cynicism of any previous one. There are the two money trees. One side says, “We will spend £500 billion on this”; no, we will not. The other side then says, “We will spend £600 billion on this”; well, jolly good. I know that in Brazil and Argentina elections are always like that, but since when are our elections like that? The best are being driven out in this way, in which the electorate are treated as lacking in intelligence. This destroys public trust and confidence. Those people who believe what is being said along these lines have to get up and keep on saying it.

By the way, with reference to the statue of Oliver Cromwell, I am one of those campaigning for a statue of Jo Cox to be put outside on College Green. Very few women are represented in the stonework around the Palace. As she was in campaigning mode—as I am now, as it were—she was murdered for doing that. Of course, she was very firmly committed to our staying in Europe, but it could have happened to either side. We need more recognition that this is how British politics should be. We should not be tearing ourselves apart, so we have to look to that outcome.

Finally, I would like to reflect on the approach of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach. On this side, I add my thanks to him for his courtesy—not deserved by some of us—in the course of his time as Chief Whip. We should build on that sort of good will, as was called for by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham.