Prime Minister: Dissolution of Parliament

– in the House of Lords at 3:00 pm on 22nd October 2007.

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Photo of Lord Redesdale Lord Redesdale Spokesperson in the Lords (Agriculture & Energy), Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, Spokesperson in the Lords (Energy), Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform 3:00 pm, 22nd October 2007

asked Her Majesty's Government:

When they will give effect to their pledge to consult Parliament about whether the Prime Minister should be required to seek the approval of the House of Commons before asking the monarch for a dissolution.

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, on Wednesday, 10 October 2007, my right honourable friend the Leader of the House of Commons put to the Modernisation Committee of that House the proposal that it should look at the issues around recall and dissolution. I am pleased that the committee has agreed to inquire into this issue. The Government look forward to considering the committee's conclusions in due course.

Photo of Lord Redesdale Lord Redesdale Spokesperson in the Lords (Agriculture & Energy), Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, Spokesperson in the Lords (Energy), Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform

My Lords, I thank the Leader of the House for that reply. I must declare a financial interest: I lost money at the bookies on the date of the next general election. Considering that, perhaps she could think about suggesting to the Prime Minister that he revisit the idea of having fixed-term Parliaments. The Prime Minister said that the reason why he did not call an election—the reason why I lost that money—was that he wanted to fulfil his "vision" for a Parliament. If he had a fixed-term Parliament perhaps he would not need to worry about snap elections and could have five years to fulfil that vision.

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, I have heard many reasons given for fixed-term Parliaments, but making sure that the noble Lord is not relieved of his money is not one which I expected to hear. I commiserate with him, but he will also recall that the Prime Minister was very careful about this. He spoke only when he had made up his mind and made the decision, which was the right one.

Photo of Lord Waddington Lord Waddington Conservative

My Lords, surely the Minister agrees that making dissolution conditional on a vote in the House of Commons would, if it was on a whipped vote, be a fairly meaningless gesture. I should like to see something happen, but if it was on a whipped vote, I do not see that it would be other than a mere exercise in demonstrating one's wish to do something worth while without achieving very much.

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, raises an important issue which the Modernisation Committee may well wish to take into account; namely, the nature of the vote that could be taken in another place. I am sure that the considerations raised by the noble Lord will be part of the committee's deliberations.

Photo of Lord Maclennan of Rogart Lord Maclennan of Rogart Spokesperson In the Lords (With Special Responsibility for Civil Service Reform), Spokesperson in the Lords, Scottish Affairs, Spokesperson in the Lords, Ministry of Justice

My Lords, is it not inherently unfair that one of the participants in the electoral race, namely the Prime Minister, should be responsible for firing—or, as the case may be, not firing—the starting gun?

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, if one is the Prime Minister, one is the Prime Minister, and alongside that role goes the ability to call an election at an appropriate moment. If the noble Lord's party were in power, it would have that opportunity too.

Photo of Lord Richard Lord Richard Labour

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that every Opposition, certainly within my living memory, has always wished to curtail the power of the Prime Minister to call an election at a time of his choosing? Is she also aware that every Government, at least during the course of my political life, has always resisted that temptation? Can she assure me that this Government will do precisely that?

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, I do not sense within this Government any desire to change the position. Of course I entirely agree with my noble friend's comments.

Photo of The Earl of Onslow The Earl of Onslow Conservative

My Lords, is it not ironic that the Liberals—the heirs to the great Whigs of the 18th century and to the Glorious Revolution—who fought for such a long time to make the King's Government subordinate to the House of Commons, do not understand that it is only in the past 30 years that the House of Commons has brought down a Government by a vote of no confidence? That is how it should be, that is how it is, and I hope that it shall always be like that.

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, I feel that the noble Earl is addressing his concerns to the other party. Perhaps when the noble Lord speaks up he will be able to answer that point.

Photo of Lord Rennard Lord Rennard Liberal Democrat

My Lords, does the Minister recall the wise words of the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, when, speaking at the 1992 general election as leader of the Labour Party, he promised that a future Labour Government would legislate for fixed-term Parliaments? Does she not think that it would be more democratic if the decision on the polling day for a general election did not lie simply with the leader of one of the political parties who is able to choose the time of the election according to his perception of the opinion polls? Does she not think that many Labour Party members now agree with the principle of fixed-term Parliaments, given the news that the Labour Party perhaps wasted about £1 million preparing for a general election that did not happen? It should be happening now but is not because the Prime Minister lost his nerve.

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, my right honourable friend did not lose his nerve and the noble Lord has a nerve to suggest that he would. As for reports about finances, I have no idea, but I am sure that they are greatly exaggerated. I am clear that the Prime Minister has a right to call an election when he deems it right to do so.

Photo of Lord McNally Lord McNally Leader, House of Lords, Spokesperson in the Lords, Ministry of Justice, Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords

My Lords, is it not the fact that the Prime Minister became bedazzled and then befuddled by opinion polls? Does the Minister agree that it would be better if all politicians took less notice of these insidious exercises?

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, in my household they are revered as instruments that enable people to make many decisions, and not just in politics. As for my right honourable friend, he certainly was never bedazzled or befuddled.

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen-at-Arms (HM Household) (Chief Whip, House of Lords) 3:06 pm, 22nd October 2007

My Lords, with permission, a Statement entitled "Intergovernmental Meeting: Lisbon" will be repeated by my noble friend Lady Ashton at a convenient time after 3.30 pm.