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 Lisvane Lord Lisvane Crossbench 6:45 pm, 25th January 2022

My Lords, I had added my name to Amendment 2 in the name of noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, but unfortunately it has not made it on to the Marshalled List that I have. I hope that is not an expression of editorial disapproval.

I congratulate the noble Lord on his ingenuity in bringing Prorogation within the scope of our discussions. As the Minister will know, I was a little sceptical about the view that Prorogation was outside the scope or relevance of the Bill. That was on two grounds. First, it was said that Section 6 of the 2011 Act excluded Prorogation. Of course, it may have excluded it, but what is excluded can be added by amendment.

The second ground of my scepticism was the intimate relationship between Dissolution and Prorogation. It is by no means unknown for Parliament to be dissolved while prorogued; I have not looked at the figures, but this may be the majority of cases in recent decades. Even if we go back to the relatively short period—the business period, as it were—of Prorogation after wash-up, there will be a period of time when the House of Commons cannot take a decision of the sort envisaged by my noble and learned friend in his Amendment 3. So I suggest that, although this may not be crucial, it is probably a useful procedural mechanism or precaution.

I raise the next point with considerable diffidence because it relates to the drafting of Amendment 3. I see that, in proposed new subsection (1B), Parliament “will” be dissolved—not “shall”. I was going to apologise for my pedantry, but I never have before, so I do not think I am going to start this evening. “Will” is an expression of will but, of course, once the House of Commons has enshrined that in a resolution, it takes on an executive character, so “shall” is probably more appropriate.

It is essential that, if we go down this road, there is a form of words in the statute, if that is the eventual view of Parliament. Whether a particular Motion falls within the statutory requirements cannot be left to the interpretation of the chair. It seems to me that that would put an unbearable strain on Article 9 and would lead us all down a path that we would not wish to traverse.

The noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Bolton, asked what would happen if there were a tied vote. I immediately agree that conventions and precedents are not as tight a constraint as statutory provision, but I am in no doubt that, if there were a tied vote, the Speaker of the day’s attention would be brought to the decision of Speaker Denison in 1867, when he said that major matters of public policy should be decided by a majority of the House, not “merely”—he used that word—on the casting vote of its presiding officer.