Business of the House

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:19 pm on 27th March 2019.

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Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Conservative, West Dorset 1:19 pm, 27th March 2019

As my right hon. and learned Friend is not just a former Chancellor, Lord Chancellor and almost everything else, but is also the Father of the House, he will certainly have more experience of this than most of the rest of us put together, and if he cannot think of such a case, I will certainly not be able to. I do not know of such a case. Indeed, simply because of the possibility that people would raise this issue, I did some research to try to find out whether there was any such case recorded by historians, who have longer virtual memories than we have actual memories, and I could not find one.

That suggests that there is a pretty strong precedent that if the House of Commons, in a matter of extreme significance to the nation, passed a resolution expressing a clear view of how to proceed, it would be not unlawful—so far as I know, though that would be a matter for the Attorney General to rule on, not me—but nevertheless very constitutionally unusual for the Government not to accede to that resolution and to proceed in the way that the House of Commons had requested them to. I profoundly hope that if on Monday we find a majority view in favour of a particular proposition, the Government will say, as they ought to say, that they will carry that forward. I am merely protecting against the possibility that they take the view that it is not a binding utterance by the House of Commons. Under those circumstances, we have methods, through legislation, of compelling—undoubtedly by law—an action that otherwise might not occur.