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Prorogation Recall - Question

– in the House of Lords at 3:02 pm on 3rd September 2019.

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Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative 3:02 pm, 3rd September 2019

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the powers available to recall Parliament during a prorogation in the event of a national or international crisis.

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

My Lords, once Parliament has been prorogued it cannot be recalled. However, the sovereign, acting on the advice of Ministers, may issue a new proclamation setting an earlier date for the beginning of the new Session.

Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative

I thank my noble friend for that Answer and welcome the tone of his replies to the previous Question. I also add my tribute to my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham. Speaking from these Back Benches, I can say that he was universally liked and admired; his calm unflappability set an example to us all. I share my noble friend Lord Howe’s desire to lower the temperature and to obviate the need for rushed legislation. But if each House of Parliament were to pass a resolution requesting a rearrangement of the Prorogation and its dates, would not the Government be well advised to take that advice?

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

My Lords, I repeat my tribute to my noble friend Lord Young, alongside my noble friend Lord Cormack. We shall miss him on the Front Bench. Clearly, if both Houses of Parliament were to take a view on any particular matter and address that proposal to the Prime Minister, it would be quite wrong for the Government to ignore such a request. I am sure that any such decision, if reached, would receive close attention from my right honourable friend.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

Does the Minister agree with the following statement in the Commons Library briefing:

“Long prorogations … can give rise to fundamental questions about whether the Government of the day still commands the confidence of the House of Commons and therefore whether it can legitimately continue to govern”?

Has he had access to the paper on the impact of a no-deal Brexit which the Daily Mail tells us the Government have now decided not to publish and which says that we are heading towards an entirely foreseeable, major national crisis in our economy and society within the next eight weeks if we crash out with a no-deal Brexit? Would he regard that as the sort of depth of crisis which required Parliament to be recalled?

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

My Lords, I have not had access to that paper. My noble friend Lord Callanan will give an update on Brexit preparations and take questions on those matters this afternoon, so I suggest that the noble Lord puts his question to my noble friend.

Photo of Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

The noble Earl said earlier that we would come back for a Queen’s Speech on 14 October, which would give sufficient days to discuss this important issue. However, No.10 was yesterday briefing that, should the elected House of Commons have the audacity to take over business in the other place and put through a Bill, an election would be called—unusually—on a Monday, 14 October. That would probably mean that we would not sit for about a week after that. Does the noble Earl think that that would be sufficient time to discuss Brexit and all its implications?

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

I do not want to sound glib but let us see what happens. There are strong reasons for the parties in the other place which are very exercised on these matters to show restraint. I think that the Prime Minister would say that he would be the last person to want a general election.

Noble Lords:

Oh!

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

He believes strongly that the focus must now be on obtaining an acceptable deal from the EU Commission and being given time to do that. He is clear that there is a strong chance that he will be successful.

Photo of Viscount Hailsham Viscount Hailsham Conservative

My Lords, there are at least four members of the Cabinet who during the leadership election protested strongly against Prorogation in the present circumstances, and there are many members of the Cabinet who are calling for the deselection of Conservative Members of Parliament for voting against the Government when they themselves have done that on many occasions in many months. If this were the conduct of Labour Ministers under Mr Corbyn, how would my noble friend the Minister characterise such conduct? Would he use the words “hypocrisy”, “double standards”, “outrageous” and “deplorable”? If not, why not?

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

It is very easy in a situation such as this for us to resort to colourful words to describe it. I personally regret the degree of emotion that has entered this debate. It is perhaps not surprising, but feelings run high—my noble friend is entirely right. I do not wish to add any animus to that situation.

Photo of Baroness Smith of Newnham Baroness Smith of Newnham Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Defence)

My Lords, it has been suggested that it would be unfortunate to try to push legislation through Parliament inappropriately quickly, but if the Prime Minister is looking for a deal which would not come until on or after 17 October, would we not need to amend the 2018 withdrawal Act? Is there time for that? Does the Minister envisage an opportunity for Parliament to amend that legislation appropriately?

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

The technical position would be that, if a deal is reached, a withdrawal agreement Bill would be introduced, hopefully for approval by Parliament. We are absolutely clear that there is time to do that. There may be a need to obtain the consent of Parliament to sit at rather unusual hours to do that, but we are clear that it can be done.

Photo of Lord Lansley Lord Lansley Conservative

My noble friend will recall that the 30 days referred to in the press conference at which the Prime Minister spoke with Chancellor Merkel expire on 21 September. Can he explain by what means this House and the other House might look at any proposals brought forward by the British Government and comment on them?

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

My noble friend makes the point that during Prorogation it is impossible to do that. The point I was making earlier was that, once Parliament reconvenes, there is in fact ample time for it to consider any proposals that may be on the table.