Amendment 2

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

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Labour 7:00 pm, 25th January 2022

My Lords, before I comment specifically on the amendment in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, I think that both the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, have misread what happened in 2019. What happened then would have happened had this amendment been passed, which was that a clear majority in Parliament voted for a general election—fact. On three occasions, they voted for a general election. A general election would have occurred under the terms of this amendment.

If I may say so, the politics of it are fairly obvious. If a Motion comes from a Prime Minister that there should be a general election, which is what this amendment suggests, the Government may not even have a majority, as the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, suggested; there may be people opposed to the Government’s policies generally on their own Benches, and they may not get a majority of their own people, necessarily. But it is almost impossible for an Opposition to vote against a general election. It kills the whole point of being an Opposition. What is an Opposition for if not for saying, “We’ve got a rotten Government, and it is time the people turned them out”? The Labour Opposition at that time sat on its hands, but politically, though I cannot go into all the legal ramifications, it is impossible to imagine a Prime Minister with a majority in Parliament—and he or she would not be the Prime Minister if that were not the case—calling for a simple parliamentary majority, which is all that is required, in order to hold a general election and Parliament throwing it out. That is for the birds; it really is. It would be politics turned upside down.

I think the amendment from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, just nails it. I agree with it absolutely, partly because, when in doubt, you should opt for the simple solution, and there is nothing simpler than a simple majority. We get into all sorts of trouble, as other Members have said, when we require a two-thirds majority or an artificial majority. The public know what a majority is and, let us face it, the real fact of life is that a majority in Parliament—this is as close to Dicey as anyone could be—is power in the land, apart from on the day the general election is held. If Parliament tries to do things that do not have majority support, the majority has all sorts of ways of asserting its support.

A Prime Minister who decided that he or she wanted a general election would be able to get one via this mechanism. This is why I am stunned, frankly, that the Government do not accept it. It meets what the Government want to do, as far as I can see. It restores a situation in which a Prime Minister can get a general election. I am in favour of that; I have said that repeatedly. I support the Government’s objective to enable that to happen so that you do not have the chaos that occurred at the end of the 2017-19 Parliament.

Of course, a simple majority in the Commons has huge additional advantages as well, one of which I have already referred to: it completely removes the monarch from having to make political decisions, or the most significant political decision anyone could make, which is whether to consult the people. I cannot see how there is any way that a monarch would say to a Prime Minister armed with a majority in Parliament and requesting a general election, “No, you may want one, but you can’t have it. Up theirs to the majority in Parliament.” No monarch is going to say that. It is obvious.

As far as I am concerned, though I do not whether I would carry all the lawyers in the House with me, it has the added advantage of keeping the lawyers out of politics as well, which has been a cause of some concern and been rather problematic on a number of occasions that I could refer to, although that would be out of order. We would not need the dreaded ouster clause we are going to talk about shortly. A majority in Parliament is the jewel in the crown: it can do what it wants, mercifully, in our constitution, and more often than not it is far and away the best way of making decisions.

I recognise what an odd situation we are in and what an odd situation this amendment is proposing: we, the unelected House of Lords, are suggesting to the recently elected House of Commons that they should have this power and not give it away for the monarch to decide. I am in favour of simple arguments and simple solutions. A simple argument is that the history of the British constitution is the slow attrition of power by Parliament—or, more specifically, by the House of Commons—away from the monarch. And this House of Commons, which I respect as I do all elected bodies, has decided to reverse this process: “We think this is too big a decision for us to make, and we need to hand it back to Her Majesty so that she can decide when it is convenient for the British public to exercise their democratic right to vote.”

I find it difficult to find a credible argument against the proposition in this amendment. It keeps the monarch out of trouble; it keeps the judiciary out of trouble; it gives the Prime Minister what the Prime Minister wants and is entitled to have with his or her majority in Parliament; and the Government get what they want. What is not to like about it?