Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Bill DebateFull Debate: Read Full Debate
Cat SmithMain Page: Cat Smith (Labour - Lancaster and Fleetwood)
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I am afraid I have not got time to give way; I need to draw my remarks to a close. I look forward to the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr being able to say more about his amendment, which he has not yet had a chance to do. It would be rather good at this point if the Committee heard from others, rather than me. I draw my remarks to a close. I hope I have covered all the points on the new clauses, the schedule and the amendments. I commend the Bill as a whole, unamended, to the Committee.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the new clause is a much more effective way of keeping the courts out? The ouster clause is a bit like a red flag or saying to someone, “Don’t think of an elephant”—they will think of an elephant. It is saying to the courts, “You can’t touch this,” which would be a charter for clever lawyers and clever judges to start to think, “Where can we start to look at this?” rather than using the long-established, age-old way of deciding matters: a vote here in Parliament.
I will not debate the points of politics with the hon. Lady. On her comments about using Parliament for Dissolution, we have had all of that. There are probably few Members of the public watching us in the Chamber tonight, but they certainly watched what happened in 2019. Surely when we have a Chamber in stalemate, the Government should be able to resign. She will recall how her then leader stood on Parliament Square to say that the Government should resign but then came in here and stopped them from resigning, which was incredible. Surely when Parliament is deadlocked, as it was then, the Government should be able to resign and that should just happen, not be stopped by Parliament.
I rise to speak in particular to new clause 1 in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr Goodwill), my hon. Friends the Members for North West Cambridgeshire (Shailesh Vara), for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Aaron Bell), for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) and for Calder Valley (Craig Whittaker) and a number of others. It is well supported. As the Minister set out, this is an important Bill. I had the privilege of serving on the Joint Committee on the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act, where we heard the most extraordinary body of evidence about the last 10 years. I must say that it was overwhelmingly in support of the Government’s direction, which should take us back to the status quo ante position so eloquently outlined by the Minister. However, the evidence sessions also revealed a number of gaps—things that the Bill might do but does not—particularly on general campaigns and their lengths.
The Minister talked about the importance of a clear and easily understood scheme, and I completely agree. Elections are incredibly important parts of our democratic process—the pillar of the process in many ways—and should be clear and easily understood. However, as I alluded to in my intervention, the length of general elections is neither clear nor easily understood, and one must dive into the mice type to find out what the rules are.
The legislation says that elections should be 25 days in length, but that is not actually what it means: it is 25 days plus high days and holidays, and in essence that means an awful lot longer.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
I thank hon. and right hon. Members on both sides of the House for their careful scrutiny of the Bill throughout its passage, and I thank you and your colleagues for your chairmanship, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I am also grateful to all those who contributed in Committee and on Second Reading, and I particularly thank those who served on the Joint Committee on the Fixed-term Parliaments Act and on the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, whose expert scrutiny has informed our approach and improved the Bill.
We have been fortunate to have had an enriching debate today, including on the conventions that underpin the Dissolution of one Parliament and the calling of another. As I mentioned earlier, that dialogue will continue through the remaining stages of the Bill as it passes out of the elected House and goes into the other place. During its passage, the Government have at all times listened with care to the concerns raised and the thoughts posed, and I reassure the House that this is a focused, careful Bill that will return us to the long-standing constitutional arrangements that have served successive Governments and Parliaments and have ensured effective, responsive, accountable politics in which the voters are supreme. All the flexibility encapsulated in that is essential to our parliamentary democracy. This Bill restores that constitutional balance, and I commend it to the House.
I bid this Bill well as it passes to the other place. On behalf of other members of the Joint Committee, I particularly thank the Minister for her incredible hard work throughout the passage of the Bill, despite the other challenges she was facing at the time. I personally thank her for her words in response to new clause 1. I look forward to talking to her further about the research she has undertaken to do on the length of elections.