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Queen’s Speech - Question

– in the House of Lords at 2:54 pm on 3rd September 2019.

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Photo of Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Labour 2:54 pm, 3rd September 2019

To ask Her Majesty’s Government when they expect to announce a date for the next Queen’s Speech.

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, the Government have announced that the next Queen’s Speech will be on 14 October.

Photo of Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Labour

It was a prescient Question, was it not?

Will the noble Earl, who is known for his integrity and honesty, confirm that Parliament normally goes into recess for party conferences, so that committees can sit and Questions can be tabled, and that Prorogation is normally prior to a Queen’s Speech and usually less than a week? So a Prorogation of five weeks, with no opportunity for parliamentary scrutiny of the Executive, is both unprecedented and unconstitutional.

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I am a little surprised by the position taken by the noble Lord, in view of his previous call for a new Session. He was quite insistent on that point earlier in the year. However, it is impossible for me to be unaware that there are differences of view on these matters, and I have no desire to raise the temperature of the water in any way. However, the number of sitting days lost as a result of the Prorogation is only a handful. The important question surely is whether Parliament will have sufficient time after 14 October to express its view on a revised Brexit deal, if we achieve one, or on the preparations for no deal if we do not—and the Government are absolutely clear that sufficient time is available.

Photo of Baroness Smith of Basildon Baroness Smith of Basildon Shadow Leader of the House of Lords, Shadow Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

I think the noble Earl will recognise that that view is not widely shared.

Before I respond, perhaps I may pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, for his work. We will miss his dignity, wit and humour at the Dispatch Box.

Noble Lords:

Hear, hear.

Photo of Baroness Smith of Basildon Baroness Smith of Basildon Shadow Leader of the House of Lords, Shadow Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

My Lords, we all understand that any Prime Minister, particularly one who has been selected by less than 1% of the population during a crisis, would want a new Queen’s Speech to set out the objectives and the tone of his Government. But if this shutdown—which, as the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes said, is what it is—starts next Monday, it will last for five long weeks. Five days would have been better. So we have a Secretary of State who will not confirm that he will obey the law, and a Prime Minister whose first Question Time will be his only one in three months. We hear that MPs—even Cabinet Ministers—face being sacked if they do not agree with the Prime Minister. Why is this Prime Minister so frightened of scrutiny?

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, he is not. Let me be clear. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister believes strongly that Parliament must have time to consider further the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union, and to hold the Government to account. Parliament will return in good time before the European Council, and it will be sitting for two and a half weeks before exit day, which will allow ample time for debate in both Houses.

Photo of Lord Newby Lord Newby Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords

My Lords, I join the noble Baroness in paying tribute to the dedication, skill and good humour of the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, and to his support for the traditions of parliamentary democracy.

Noble Lords:

Hear, hear.

Photo of Lord Newby Lord Newby Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords

Does not the Minister, like me, find it extraordinary that none of his Front-Bench colleagues, many if not most of whom shared the view of the noble Lord, Lord Young, has shown the same degree of principle?

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Young, to whom I too pay tribute for his exemplary service to this House and to the Government, has made clear that he has special personal reasons for taking the action that he has taken, and that he would not expect any of his colleagues to follow his example. I do not believe that I am misrepresenting him.

Photo of Baroness Hayman Baroness Hayman Crossbench

My Lords, the noble Earl said that we were losing only a few sitting days. From that, should I conclude that the scheduled sitting days next week will actually take place? May I also ask him to reflect on the fact that sitting days are, as the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, said, not the same as days on which Parliament is in session, when committees can sit and Parliament can be recalled? I am sure that I am not alone in remembering occasions when Parliament has sat during party conference season.

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, if the noble Baroness will allow, I think it is appropriate for me to leave it to my noble friend the Chief Whip to answer questions on the order of business this week and next. He will be making a business Statement immediately after Questions and it is right that we turn our attention to those matters at that point.

Photo of Lord Tyler Lord Tyler Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Constitutional and Political Reform)

My Lords, the noble Earl implied that a recess is comparable to Prorogation. Will he now acknowledge that this is an absurd pretence from No. 10, because it is not the same thing? For example, the length of a recess can be quite different in the two Houses. Your Lordships’ House can sit and continue its work even if the Commons is in recess; that is not the case with Prorogation. Please will he now acknowledge that the ignorance and disdain of the current occupants of No. 10, as far as parliamentary matters are concerned, is a matter of really serious concern to your Lordships’ House?

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

Let me apologise to the House—I did not mean to imply that there was an equivalence between a recess and a Prorogation. The noble Lord is absolutely right that they are two distinct things. The technical position is that once Parliament has been prorogued, it cannot be recalled. A recall of Parliament can happen only when Parliament is in Recess or adjourned—so to that extent the noble Lord makes a very good point. My point was slightly different, as I hope he will appreciate.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Labour

My Lords, does the noble Earl accept that the unwritten constitution that we have depends on Prime Ministers actually doing the right thing? Given the current Prime Minister, has the time not come for us to have a written constitution?

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

The answer to that question is not in my brief—but no doubt the noble Lord, with his ingenuity, can produce some very interesting proposals in that direction.

Photo of Baroness Deech Baroness Deech Crossbench

The Minister will have noticed that the House is united in wanting plenty of time to discuss the momentous events that lie ahead of us. Does he therefore not agree that any attempt to rip up the normal rules of procedure and rush through important legislation in a matter of hours, without permitting people to say what they should and allowing this House to give such a Bill the proper scrutiny for which the House is famous, would be unacceptable?