Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Bill

(Committee stage)
Chris Clarkson Excerpts
Monday 13th September 2021

(1 month ago)

Commons Chamber

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Cabinet Office
Maria Miller Portrait Mrs Miller
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My right hon. Friend makes a really important point. New clause 1 deals with the particular issue of the election campaign itself, but there is also the additional period of time that we colloquially call the wash-up, which can last for days or weeks, and it feels like months sometimes. Such a body of work could look at not only what is prescribed in legislation, but more broadly. I will go on to some of the issues I think we face by having overly long campaigns, of which I do not think there has been sufficient scrutiny.

However, before I do that let me say—and I am struggling to remember when you were elected, Mr Deputy Speaker—that I was elected in May 2005, as I am sure you remember, and when that general election was held the total length of the campaign was 23 days. It felt a lot longer for some of the reasons pointed out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Elmet and Rothwell (Alec Shelbrooke). At the last general election it was a total of 36 days, and indeed in 2015 it was 37 days, so almost two weeks longer than when I was elected. My right hon. Friend talked about some of the issues facing new candidates, who have perhaps had to give up their work and are not being paid. It is not without an impact, yet so little work has been done to consider what the impact is.

Chris Clarkson Portrait Chris Clarkson (Heywood and Middleton) (Con)
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I was a new candidate at the last election, and I can absolutely attest that it was a wearying experience, as it is for the electorate. Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that that piece of work also needs to study the effect on the likelihood of people to turn out to vote? I think Brenda from Bristol spoke for us all when she said, “Oh no, not another one”.

Maria Miller Portrait Mrs Miller
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Of course, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. He has a wealth of knowledge on these issues, as I know from having served on a Bill Committee with him.

We are talking not only about the impact on people standing for election. By lengthening our campaigns by almost two weeks, a number of other issues start to come into play. There is two weeks less scrutiny of Government by this place, which is not an inconsiderable issue that we should look at, yet it is not part of a scheme of work to consider all of these different issues. There is the fact that purdah gets longer not just at national level, but at local level, so fewer decisions are being made by local government for longer, and in stifling decision making that also has an effect that is not being captured. There are not inconsiderable impacts on our economy with the potential risk to our economy, depending on the economic circumstances we face at the particular time. Indeed, there is the risk of an outside actor interfering in our democratic process. The length of elections matters to returning officers—that is for sure—but there are many other issues that we should be considering that it is not clear are being brought into play at the moment.