Amendment 2

Part of Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Bill - Committee – in the House of Lords at 7:00 pm on 25th January 2022.

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Photo of Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood Chair, Sub-Committee on Lords' Conduct, Chair, Sub-Committee on Lords' Conduct 7:00 pm, 25th January 2022

My Lords, I feel part of an endangered species: a Cross-Bencher who fully supports this government Bill. I would also like to go back to where we were before the ill-starred and ill-judged Fixed-term Parliaments Act.

I am against giving the Commons a veto, as proposed in Amendment 3 by my noble and learned friend Lord Judge, who is normally so sagacious but who is wrong on this occasion. This could lead to the same chaos, stasis and problem of September 2019, which the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, has just outlined, when we subjected our Prime Minister—whatever you thought of him then or think of him now—to the humiliation of having to go cap in hand to Brussels to plead for an extension of time to achieve a policy flatly contrary to the one that he wished to put to the country. He could not get a two-thirds majority, and one seriously doubts whether he would have got a simple majority.

The Joint Committee that examined this legislation and reported in March 2021 made plain that, although a minority supported the view outlined by my noble and learned friend Lord Judge and the noble Lords, Lord Lansley and Lord Beith, the majority recognised the danger, which we should avoid at all costs, I respectfully contend.

As to the prerogative power, one can hardly overstress the difference between Prorogation and Dissolution. Prorogation—let one remind oneself—affects the cessation of Parliament and is anti-democratic in the sense that it thwarts the power of Parliament. Our governing, imperative, fundamental constitutional principle is the sovereignty of Parliament; Prorogation thwarts it and leaves the Executive for the duration in uncontrolled power. Dissolution—at the opposite end of the spectrum—is explicitly designed to give the electorate the opportunity to decide who should control our Executive. My noble and learned friend Lord Judge speaks of Dissolution eradicating the decision of the electorate last time around, ditching the democratic vote. Well, of course, in one sense you are getting rid of an existing Parliament, but you are inviting more up-to-date views on what the public—who, as the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, said, really should be controlling all our processes—want and whether they approve the particular policies in the particular circumstances in which Dissolution is sought.

Of course, if you put the Commons in control, although you run into the sort of difficulties that the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, rightly identified, you get rid of the problems that others seem to suggest arise under Clause 3 here. There is no question then, obviously, of the courts’ supervisory jurisdiction. But—and we will come to this point of debate later—I suggest you really do not need to introduce the chaos of a Commons vote in support of Dissolution in order to avoid the risk of introducing the courts into the whole business.