It’s safe to say it has been an eventful week in British politics. On Tuesday last week, on the steps of Downing Street, Theresa May announced her intention to hold an early General Election. The announcement took many by surprise given numerous assurances over the last few months that no early General Election would take place. The following day, Parliament approved the PM’s call and voted 522 to 13 in support of the early election – achieving the 2/3 majority required.
So, what happens now?
Parliament will enter a period called ‘wash-up’. Wash-up, is essentially the last few days of a Parliament before a General Election, where the Government attempts to pass its outstanding bills. It can be a somewhat frenetic period, especially if the Government has a large number of Bills it needs to fast-track. Parliament formally has to dissolve (break up) 25 working days before polling day. With polling day now set for 8 June, that means that the last day Parliament can sit is Tuesday 2 May. Whether the Government will require all of this time to pass the Bills they want is yet to be seen, with the timetable of parliamentary business only announced up to Thursday this week. In the past ‘wash-ups’ have been known to go to the wire.
Why the rush?
Currently, there are 15 active Government Bills before Parliament, which are at various stages in their lifecycles. Bills can often take months to pass so as to allow adequate scrutiny, and have to pass through a number of stages in both the House of Commons and House of Lords in order to reach Royal Assent. Royal Assent is the stamp of approval given to a Bill by the Queen (which is really just a formality) after both Houses of Parliament have decided it should become law. Of the 15 Bills mentioned above, a number are in the later stages of this process, whilst some are only at a relatively early stage.
What will become of the Higher Education and Research Bill?
What we may see over the next week is the Government prioritising some Bills and sacrificing others to the legislative graveyard. Furthermore, in order to make sure those priority Bills pass within the short timescale, there may have to be some concessions. One such Bill which might require concessions is the Higher Education and Research Bill. Among other things, the Bill establishes United Kingdom Research & Innovation (UKRI) which the Society believes has real potential to help the UK scientific community continue to flourish and deliver substantial benefits to the country.
The Society has been actively engaged in the progress of the Bill and in amendments that have been made along the way. It is just about to enter Ping Pong in the Commons. Ping Pong occurs when there is disagreement between the House of Lords and the House of Commons, and (as the name suggests) amendments bounce between the two chambers until there is agreement. The Higher Education Policy Institute have put together an interesting analysis of what may become of the Higher Education and Research Bill.
What is Purdah?
You may hear the term Purdah being thrown around between now and polling day. Purdah began on Friday last week, and is the pre-election period where specific rules and restrictions apply to the Civil Service. When describing Purdah, Sir Jeremy Heywood (the head of the Civil Service) said “The key principle to keep in mind is that we should do everything possible to avoid any activity that could call our political impartiality into question and to ensure that public resources are not used for party-political purposes”. Over the Purdah period, the Government should refrain from making any major announcements, particularly ones which a different potential Government may wish to change.
During this period, there are also limitations on what organisations are able to do so as not to unduly influence the election. To see whether your organisation’s activities are affected by this, visit the Electoral Commission website.
Polling day and beyond
Between now and 8 June there will be plenty going on. Battle buses of all colours will be travelling the length and breadth of the country, letterboxes will be bulging with election material, and politicians kissing babies and holding small animals will dominate the news bulletins. When the dust settles on 9 June and all of the votes have been counted, we can begin to look forward. If a single Party holds a majority of seats, you can expect its leader to enter Downing Street that day and begin forming their new Government.
Parliament itself won’t return for a few weeks after that. Assuming it follows a similar timetable to the last election in 2015, it should return in the week beginning 19 June. The first week will largely be packed full of administrative tasks, including the swearing in of all elected members, and the election of a Speaker. After this, the new Government will outline its plans in a Queens Speech. Assuming this also follows a similar timetable to 2015 this might occur on 28 June. Some of the other early business they will need to tie-up in the new Parliament is the election of Select Committee Chairs – for example the Chair of the Science and Technology Committee.
Parliament should then be back in full swing when it returns from the summer recess in September (before another short break for Party Conference Season).