Amendment 6

Part of Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill - Committee – in the House of Lords at 3:30 pm on 15th July 2019.

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Photo of Lord Anderson of Ipswich Lord Anderson of Ipswich Crossbench 3:30 pm, 15th July 2019

The noble Baroness makes another very good point. I refer to 1948 simply to say, first, that prorogation has been controversial in the past, and, secondly, that it pales into insignificance compared with what we are now asked to contemplate.

Those who contemplate prorogation not only are heedless of the sovereignty of Parliament but risk plunging the monarchy into the heart of an intense political dispute. We saw how this could happen in Canada in 2008, when the Governor General, as the representative of the Crown, was required to adjudicate on a request for prorogation that was widely seen to be politically motivated, and only granted it subject to an undertaking given by the Prime Minister. I appreciated the dry understatement of Catherine Haddon of the Institute for Government when she said last week:

“A constitutional showdown between Parliament and the executive of the order of the Civil War is definitely something that the palace would prefer not to be dragged into”— but she made a serious point.

If agreed, these amendments will serve two purposes: the sending of a political message and the sharpening of a legal challenge such as that already mooted by Sir John Major, should it be needed as a last resort. My noble friend Lord Pannick made a powerful case in the Times last month for the proposition that the courts, if invited, would come to the rescue of parliamentary sovereignty, as they did on the basis of the noble Lord’s submissions in the Miller case. Over 30 years, I have learned to bet against the noble Lord only rarely and I would not do so on this occasion. One who has done so is the legal academic Robert Craig, who recently suggested that the courts would decline to intervene because,

“there is no particular statutory provision that would be frustrated by prorogation”.

To the extent that there may be merit in that view—and I accept that absolute certainty in this area is difficult to achieve—that is all the more reason for supporting these amendments.

I regret that it has been necessary to table them in the context of this Bill, but they will put beyond doubt the resistance of Parliament to an undemocratic and profoundly discreditable device. I beg to move.