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Early Parliamentary General Election Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:28 pm on 30th October 2019.

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Photo of Lord Judge Lord Judge Chair, Sentencing (Pre-consolidation Amendments) Bill [HL] Special Public Bill Committee, Convenor of the Crossbench Peers 4:28 pm, 30th October 2019

My Lords, at last this depressing saga is coming to an end—this very depressing failure of the parliamentary system to address a major political crisis.

“even the weariest river

Winds somewhere safe to sea”.

I wish that I had written that myself, but I did not. It was written by a Victorian poet who presumably had no idea that there is a river that does not run somewhere safely to sea, and that is the Okavango. We have been in our Okavango time. Parliamentary processes have dried up in the middle of a political desert, so at last I can strongly support this Bill and we should get on with it.

However, I am going to add something else. We should get on with it unamended in any way, shape or form. But I want to express one reservation that goes back to something I go on and on about: let us be honest with ourselves and not be blind to the reality. We have once again tinkered with constitutional principles. There is a perfectly clear and unequivocal Act of Parliament that is extant and in force as I speak—the five-year Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011. What we have done is to find a creative political device to get around it, but we are leaving it in force. The Act will remain in force whatever we may do with this Bill.

We have spent all the time we have spent because of the existence of the 2011 Act. There should have been a general election when Mrs May lost the major plank of her electoral process when she invited the House of Commons to agree her deal, and she had a humiliating failure. She was turned down flat by the House of Commons, so there should then have been a general election. That is how our constitution is supposed to work, instead of which, we and the other place have been sitting in paralysed impotence doing nothing except arguing about whether we should argue again. Using constitutional devices in this way can, as I have said to the House before, come back to bite us. I know that of course all noble Lords cheer for their sides and that I am lucky not to have a side. I will not even have a vote in the next election any more than will any other noble Lord. But who in this House can honestly say that at the end of this election, we will not end up with a minority Government? That is a very serious possibility.

If it is a possibility, that paralysed Parliament will be governed by the five-year Fixed-term Parliaments Act and we will have the same Parliament until December 2024. There will be a way around it because we will find another device or we will repeat the device we have used this time, provided the minority Government can get a few people on side to push a majority through the House so that, at some stage which is convenient, it may come to an end. That is not the right way to legislate because it is wrong in principle. We should address the five-year Fixed-term Parliaments Act by amending it, repealing it or by doing something to it which means that it will not be in force until 2024. For me, this is a very serious reservation. We have found a way to tinker with the constitution. I welcome that because this shambles has to come to an end, but I do not welcome the fact that we have had to achieve it in this way.