General Election (Leaders’ Debate) Bill

Mike Wood: Does my hon. Friend feel that, on the occasions when there is an opportunity to ask difficult questions of the Prime Minister, she is generally more discomfited by questions from the Leader of the Opposition or from himself?

 

Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

That is a very good intervention, but time does not allow me to respond to it. [Laughter.]

On 1 January 2018 there were 27.02 million TV households in the United Kingdom. That is a staggering number. Given that we can now access television through our computers, tablets and phones—this goes back to the point made by Karen Lee about younger people—TV debates enable leaders of all parties to reach a massive audience and inform the public. I can see few reasons why parties would not want their leaders to reach so many households. If a party does not want its leader to do a debate, it must not have any confidence in that leader.

That takes me on to the next point of the Bill: I propose that it be compulsory for party leaders to participate in debates, and that they cannot nominate someone else to participate in their place. One reason for that is that they, not their deputy, will run the Government if their party wins the election. Let me take the House back to the 2017 general election, when there was supposed to be a televised leaders’ debate between the seven largest parties in the House of Commons. The leader of the Conservative party failed to take part and, in her place, my right hon. Friend Amber Rudd was the substitute. She clearly could not represent the views of the whole Conservative party; in fact, I might argue that she represents the views of a minority in the Conservative party. Either way, she certainly was not going to be the next Prime Minister. I felt that was an insult to the fellow leaders, who had put in the time and effort to attend the debate. Debates under my Bill would not allow leaders to shirk their responsibilities.

One crucial part of my Bill is that the television debates would be exactly that: they would be debates, designed by the commission to ensure that they did not just involve the reading out of prepared statements and questions from a moderator. They would involve the party leaders questioning one another, debating directly with one another and challenging one another—a proper debate. As Oliver Cromwell might have said, we want to see our party leaders, warts and all.