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Early Parliamentary General Election Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:06 pm on 30th October 2019.

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Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, Deputy Leader of the House of Lords 6:06 pm, 30th October 2019

My Lords, this has been a very constructive and focused debate, and I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to it. Unsurprisingly, we have heard a range of views expressed on all sides of the House about the Bill and the reasons why we find ourselves debating it, so I think that a helpful place for me to start is to return briefly to first base by re-emphasising the key points made earlier by my noble friend the Leader of the House.

Why do we believe that a general election is now necessary? The hung Parliament that we are in, complicated by the divergent views of elected Members across all parties on the most significant political and constitutional issue of our day, has created an impasse. It is an impasse that the Government are clear cannot be allowed to continue.

The withdrawal agreement negotiated by my right honourable friend Theresa May was rejected on three separate occasions earlier this year. The Prime Minister has successfully negotiated a new deal and the other place passed the revised withdrawal agreement Bill at Second Reading. However, by also voting down the Government’s programme Motion, they prevented the progress of that Bill and, hence, this country’s departure from the European Union by 31 October. Then, despite the extension of the Article 50 deadline, conversations held in another place made it apparent to the Government that there could be no certainty, or anything approaching certainty, of the withdrawal agreement Bill receiving parliamentary approval through all its subsequent stages. Therefore, contrary to the contention made by the noble Baroness the Leader of the Opposition, it was not rejection of the programme Motion that brought about this Bill; it was the Government’s realisation that even the three-month extension to 31 January left the fate of the Bill wide open.

The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, said that she accepted that there should be a general election. I wish that she had done so with as much good grace as the noble Lord, Lord Newby. All the main political parties now agree that a general election is needed in order for the British people to have their say, and we earnestly hope to provide a new Parliament with a way forward. So this is a short and simple Bill, which sets the date of the election as 12 December. The general election timetable allows the Northern Ireland Budget Bill to pass before Dissolution, to ensure that the Northern Ireland Civil Service can access the funding it needs to deliver public services and proper governance in the Province.

The 12 December date is important for another reason: it is critical that we do not miss this opportunity to have an election, and a new Parliament sitting, before Christmas. An election on the following Thursday—19 December—would not allow time for the new Parliament to sit before the start of the new year. The noble Lord, Lord Butler, in his intervention, asked me for the earliest date on which Parliament could first sit following the poll. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has stated that if our party were to win the election, he would aim for both Houses to reconvene before 23 December. However, the exact date cannot be set until after Dissolution, when the Sovereign issues a proclamation, so I regret that I cannot more specific.