Early General Election — [David Mundell in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:34 pm on 17th October 2022.

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Photo of Brendan Clarke-Smith Brendan Clarke-Smith The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office 5:34 pm, 17th October 2022

We need to look at interest rates around the world, the strength of the US dollar and inflation rates around Europe. Curbing inflation is important to us, and I will come on to that and what the Chancellor is talking about today.

Families were facing bills of up to £6,000 this winter. Tesco, which has been mentioned a lot today, says, “Every little helps”, but we think we can do better than that, because a little is not enough for many families around the country. That is why we took such decisive action with our comprehensive package, so that families would not face that. It has substantially reduced the expected peak inflation that we might have been looking at. We have supported the families who needed it the most, have been dealing with the tax burden and have cut the national insurance contributions of 28 million people as a result.

Global economic conditions are worsening, so we have had to adjust our programme. That is the sign of a pragmatic Government. We are still going for growth, but need to change how we approach it. The Government are committed to investment zones, speeding up road projects, standing up to Russia and increasing our energy supplies so that we are never in this situation again. We are making it easier for businesses to take advantage of Brexit freedoms, so that they may do things more easily, leading to lower costs, lower prices and of course higher wages. The Government are on the side of hard-working people who do the right thing, and it is for them that we are delivering.

We are putting our great country on to the path of long-term success. We are taking on the anti-growth coalition, from Labour and the Lib Dems to the protestors stopping people going to work by grinding roads and rail to a halt, as we have seen outside today. The Government’s focus is on bringing economic and political stability to the country. That will lower interest rates and restore confidence in sterling. We cannot afford any drift to delay that mission. Therefore, the last thing that we need now is a general election.

The Government have several priorities for the remainder of this Parliament. We will use the power of free enterprise and free markets to level up the country and spread opportunity. We will drive reform and rebuild our economy to unleash our country’s full potential. We will cut onerous EU regulations that smother business and investment.

A mandate is one of the reasons we are in Westminster Hall today. The Conservative party was elected with a majority in 2019. Recently, we have been through a process of electing a leader of our party who is committed to delivering that Conservative programme in government. We face significant global events that have changed our economic circumstances. We cannot ignore the impact of covid or Putin’s deplorable war in Ukraine, which has created much of the economic hardship that has pushed up the price of energy, not just for us but for the world. The Government acted immediately to provide energy support for families who needed it the most by laying out a plan for economic growth.

The UK, as mentioned by Owen Thompson, is a parliamentary democracy and does not have a presidential system. Prime Ministers hold their position by virtue of their ability to command the confidence of the House of Commons. Consequently, a change in the leader of the governing party does not trigger a general election.

The fact that a change in the leader of the governing party does not necessitate an election is well established. There is precedent among both Labour and Conservative Prime Ministers in the past. Indeed, five of the last seven Prime Ministers, including my right hon. Friends the Members for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) and for Maidenhead (Mrs May), Gordon Brown and John Major, began their tenure in office without the need for a general election.

In many cases the next election followed several years after a Prime Minister had been in office. In the post-war era, that has become very common. Gordon Brown was in office for three years before the 2010 election, and John Major for two between 1990 and 1992. Jim Callaghan held office in the 1970s without holding an election, just as Douglas-Home held office for a year without one in the 1960s. Prior to that, Harold Macmillan was Prime Minister for two years before calling an election in 1959. Famously, Winston Churchill’s wartime Administration were in office for five years, in exceptional circumstances, without an election taking place. I could go on. Chamberlain, Lloyd George, Asquith and Balfour are all relevant examples. My point is that Prime Ministers hold their position by virtue of their ability to command the confidence of the House of Commons. There is no requirement for an incoming Prime Minister to call an election immediately on assuming office.