Amendment 2

Part of Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Bill - Committee – in the House of Lords at 8:15 pm on 25th January 2022.

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Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office) 8:15 pm, 25th January 2022

My Lords, I briefly point out that the definition of “Prorogation” that the Minister has just given does not cover the meaning of what the Prime Minister did in 2019. He might perhaps like to reconsider that definition if he wants to argue that the Prime Minister was behaving within the constitution. A lot of this debate has been about the lack of clarity in constitutional conventions at present and the need for greater clarity. I would be very happy to discuss further with him the revision of the Cabinet Manual to set out clearer definitions of what our conventions are, agreed among the parties and consulting with the committees in both Houses, which is what we need. We lack trust in politics at present and the public has a low opinion of politics and politicians. That is part of the reason why, as the noble Lord, Lord Desai, said, we need to put conventions down on paper. I hope that we will come back to the Cabinet Manual later.

I say rapidly to the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, that we are a parliamentary democracy, and one of the planks on which the 2016 referendum was fought was to restore parliamentary sovereignty. When Parliament began afterwards to divide up into factions within both the major parties—which, after all, was the cause of our difficulties between 2017 and 2019—the Government moved towards an idea of popular sovereignty. If we were to move towards a system of popular sovereignty, as she suggests, we would be moving towards the Swiss model. We would have a much more local democracy, with local as well as national referenda and a Government who were much less able to control anything much from the centre; Switzerland does not have much of a foreign policy as a result. That is a popular democracy. It would be a very different model from our constitutional democracy based on checks and balances between judiciary, Parliament and Executive.

What we risk having is a populist democracy with highly centralised government and a leader with a good deal of financial support behind him—occasionally her, but almost always him—who says that he speaks for the public without actually asking them what they say, who does his best to denigrate any sort of critical or independent media and who thus undermines the whole idea of a constitutional democracy. We have seen that happen in a number of countries in recent years and we do not want it to happen here. That is why we need greater clarity in our constitutional conventions, which is part of what we are concerned with in this Bill. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 2 withdrawn.