Amendment 2

Part of Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Bill - Committee – in the House of Lords at 6:45 pm on 25th January 2022.

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Photo of Lord Beith Lord Beith Liberal Democrat 6:45 pm, 25th January 2022

This is an issue which divided the Joint Committee. The view expressed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, was the view of a minority of the committee of which I was a member, whereas the majority did not want to go into this territory. We had a great deal of discussion about it, but the report records, unusually, that there was a clear difference of view.

I support the idea that there should be a House of Commons vote. Even though I previously supported ensuring that the prerogative power remained a personal prerogative, partly in case this amendment was not carried but also because the two are not inconsistent with each other, it would be even more inconceivable that the monarch should refuse a Dissolution if it had the clear authority of the House of Commons behind it.

A further benefit of having a House of Commons vote on Dissolution is that it makes it quite clear the ouster clause that we will debate later would be unnecessary. The courts would not interfere with a decision taken by Parliament. We can return to that topic later, but we might as well put it on the table now, because it is a powerful argument for having a House of Commons vote. I therefore support what has been said by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, and the noble Lord, Lord Lansley.

There are circumstances in which a Prime Minister might be told that it would be embarrassing for the monarch to have to be asked because a Dissolution might be refused. That would include a re-run of an election that had just taken place. Let us imagine a situation where one party is known to have substantial resources and seeks a re-run of the election, because it is just about the largest party but does not have a majority. There are a variety of such circumstances. In their response to the committee, the Government quite sensibly said that it was impossible to speculate—I am not quoting exactly—about the many different possible situations that could arise, and it is not very fruitful to do so. We merely recognise that there are possibilities.

While so much is said about the failings of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act—I know that it has faults, but the two-thirds majority issue was probably the only significant fault in the legislation—we have to recognise that most democracies in any way comparable to ours have a fixed term for Parliament and that the Joint Committee said:

“The Fixed-term Parliaments Act very clearly fulfilled its immediate political purpose. Not only did the Parliament last the full term, so did the Coalition Government that was formed at the beginning of it.”

I simply say to the other parties that they should be careful what they wish for. The time may come when they seek to form a Government with others and both sides need some guarantee that the Government will not be torpedoed early in its existence.