Amendment 2

Part of Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Bill - Committee – in the House of Lords at 6:30 pm on 25th January 2022.

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Photo of Baroness Taylor of Bolton Baroness Taylor of Bolton Labour 6:30 pm, 25th January 2022

My Lords, I listened carefully to the noble Lord, Lord True, and he is right that this is an important Bill. I very much welcome the repeal of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act—I was never a fan and I am pleased to see it go.

I hesitate to disagree on any occasion with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, but I am not sure that I follow his logic entirely. Maybe that is because of the political experience that some of us have seen and felt when Prime Ministers have not always got these things right and have not always chosen the right minute to have an election. My noble friends Lord Grocott and Lord Rooker will well remember 1978 when Jim Callaghan did not have an election at a time when people thought it might be advantageous and subsequently lost a few months later. Gordon Brown did not have an election in 2009 and subsequently lost a year later.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, is right that this is about the constitutional location of power, but it is also about the role of the Executive and the legislature. Yes, the legislature is there to hold the Government to account—a very important function. If I was in the House of Commons at the moment, having been given a vote by the Fixed-term Parliaments Act I think I would have wanted to hold on to that vote to say whether an election should take place. I thought that that might have been one of the compromises that was reached during the consideration of this Bill by the Government and when the Joint Committee looked at it. I am surprised that the Commons gave up so easily the power to have a say and to sanction the calling of a general election.

It would not necessarily have been a simple thing to do. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, mentioned the two-thirds majority that was clearly just part of the political fix of the original deal between the Conservatives and the Liberals after the 2010 election, and that is a non-starter. However, I wonder whether he would say that the majority had to be 50% plus one of those voting on the issue or 50% of the whole House plus one. What would the Motion be and what would the role of the Speaker be in terms of a tied vote? We have to consider all those arrangements. I do not think it is a simple issue although, had I been in the Commons when this Bill was going through, I would have been very reluctant to give any say whatever in terms of when an election should take place.

I support the approach from the noble Lord, Lord True, that the main objective should be making this Bill as clear and watertight as possible. That is one of the principles that should underpin all the considerations we have about amendments. The Constitution Committee, which I chaired until very recently, said that constitutional legislation should be able to pass the test of time. Clearly, the Fixed-term Parliaments Act was never going to do that, and I think many of us saw that from the outset. Certainly, when we are looking at this legislation, be it on certain other clauses—Clause 3, for example—or indeed the points that have already been made by the noble Lord, Lord Norton, I think that the purpose of our deliberations from now on should be to make sure that there are no loopholes whatever in this legislation so that it can pass the test of time.