Dial P For Purdah

Parliament will dissolve just after midnight on 6 November 2019, allowing the required 25 working days before a general election on 12 December. In accordance with the Prime Minister’s 28 October statement the new Parliament will first meet “before 23 December.”

So we will have a period of “purdah” from 6 November to 12 December. What does that mean in practice? Well because, elections come around so frequently these days, my 21 April 2017 blog post Parliament, Purdah, Planning remains pretty much up to date.

Central government

The blog post sets out the Cabinet Office guidance issued the day before start of the 2017 election period. Updated guidance will probably be issued in the next few days but I don’t expect major changes. It included the following:

During the election period, the Government retains its responsibility to govern, and Ministers remain in charge of their departments. Essential business must be carried on. However, it is customary for Ministers to observe discretion in initiating any new action of a continuing or long term character. Decisions on matters of policy on which a new government might be expected to want the opportunity to take a different view from the present government should be postponed until after the election, provided that such postponement would not be detrimental to the national interest or wasteful of public money.”

It will be interesting to see if there will be a final spurt of decision letters being issued in the next couple of days (so far just the Secretary of State’s overturning on 31 October 2019 of the Mayor of London’s direction of refusal for proposals by Harrow School, awarding costs against the Mayor, ouch).

If a consultation is on-going at the time this guidance comes into effect, it should continue as normal. However, departments should not take any steps during an election period that will compete with parliamentary candidates for the public’s attention. This effectively means a ban on publicity for those consultations that are still in process.

As these restrictions may be detrimental to a consultation, departments are advised to decide on steps to make up for that deficiency while strictly observing the guidance. That can be done, for example, by:

– prolonging the consultation period; and

– putting out extra publicity for the consultation after the election in order to revive interest (following consultation with any new Minister).

Some consultations, for instance those aimed solely at professional groups, and that carry no publicity will not have the impact of those where a very public and wide-ranging consultation is required. Departments need, therefore, to take into account the circumstances of each consultation.”

Wouldn’t it have been nice if there were plenty of consultations underway!

As for public Bills, they automatically fall from the date of dissolution – so farewell the Environment Bill. It will be for the new Parliament to determine whether to reintroduce it and in what form.

Local government

So how does this period of purdah affect local government activity? For the purposes of the Government’s code of recommended practice on local government publicity this is a period of “heightened sensitivity”.

Local authorities should pay particular regard to the legislation governing publicity during the period of heightened sensitivity before elections and referendums […]. It may be necessary to suspend the hosting of material produced by third parties, or to close public forums during this period to avoid breaching any legal restrictions.

During the period between the notice of an election and the election itself, local authorities should not publish any publicity on controversial issues or report views or proposals in such a way that identifies them with any individual members or groups of members. Publicity relating to individuals involved directly in the election should not be published by local authorities during this period unless expressly authorised by or under statute. It is permissible for local authorities to publish factual information which identifies the names, wards and parties of candidates at elections.

In general, local authorities should not issue any publicity which seeks to influence voters…”

However, it is important to note that, as set out in the Local Government Association’s 2017 guidance Purdah: A short guide to publicity during the pre-election period, the election is not an excuse not to determine planning applications:

Local government sometimes views this period as a time when communications has to shut down completely. This is not the case, and the ordinary functions of councils should continue, but some restrictions do apply, by law, to all councillors and officers.”

Planning Inspectorate

During the purdah period, I do not expect the Planning Inspectorate to be issuing any decisions or reports in relation to controversial proposals which may be used for electoral advantage by any party.

Going to be nice and quiet isn’t it?

Simon Ricketts, 1 November 2019

Personal views, et cetera

Author: simonicity

Partner at boutique planning law firm, Town Legal LLP, but this blog represents my personal views only.

One thought on “Dial P For Purdah”

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