Amendment 1

Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Bill - Report – in the House of Lords at 11:41 am on 9 February 2022.

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Lord Judge:

Moved by Lord Judge

1: Clause 2, page 1, line 9, at end insert—“(1A) The powers referred to in subsection (1) shall not be exercised unless the House of Commons passes a motion in the form set out in subsection (1B).(1B) The form of motion for the purposes of subsection (1A) is “that this present Parliament will be dissolved.””

Photo of Lord Judge Lord Judge Convenor of the Crossbench Peers

My Lords, in the recent Committee debate I undertook to reread Hansard because I particularly wanted to address the views expressed by those who disagreed with this amendment. I have done so. I continue to respect those views but I do not share them. I am going to urge the House that understandable reasons should give way to compelling ones.

The arguments focused largely on the merits or demerits of the amendment, but in a sense what we were discussing does not really matter because, as I hope I made clear in my reply to the debate, it is obviously not for this House to decide the issue; it is for the other place to do so. It is a decision for the elected Chamber, and we are not elected.

The purpose of the amendment is simple: the objective is to offer the other place an opportunity to reflect again on this hugely important constitutional Bill and see whether it may have second thoughts. If the second thoughts lead the other place to the same view, so be it: that will be its view, and we must accept the view of the elected Chamber. However, I intend to abide by whatever decision is made by it after what I hope may be a fuller consideration of the merits or demerits of the arguments both ways—much fuller than it was, given the somewhat peremptory way in which this entire Bill was dealt with.

We have become habituated—have we not?—to the steady, apparently unstoppable accumulation of power in No. 10 Downing Street, and we have done so while simultaneously the authority and weight of Parliament itself, and the House of Commons in particular, have been diminishing. It is astonishing to think that we are now proposing to resurrect the medieval concept of the prerogative, the concept on which the divine right of kings was based. King James, and King Charles just across the road, will be laughing as they turn in their graves. The king lost his head in part because he kept dissolving Parliament.

I wonder whether any noble Lords heard Oliver Cromwell thinking of stepping off his plinth outside; I thought I heard a movement or two, but he has gone back. Cromwell, having been a great parliamentarian, decided that Parliament was not doing what he wanted, so Parliament was “purged”—an interesting thought and an interesting use of words. At that stage in our history, Parliament had obtained, through the Long Parliament, the right to dissolve Parliament. Cromwell did not dissolve it because he did not have the power to do so; he simply purged it. What are we doing resurrecting an ancient power in the 21st century?

My concern is this. This amendment is about the ultimate source of power in our constitution, today and probably for the next 50 years. Where does it rest, is the question we were asking? But the real question is where should it rest? We are enacting a statute, and whether the prerogative is being revived or not, the statute will govern whatever it is that governs our processes. I ask the question again: where should this ultimate power of dissolution rest? Before the prerogative is revived, surely we must take time just to be certain that reviving the old way is the best way.

There are understandable arguments about the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, which made Parliament indissoluble—I hope that is the right word—or not subject to Dissolution, without a two-thirds majority. This amendment proposes that it be a bare majority of those Members of the House who vote. The Act itself was tested to destruction during the Brexit shambles. I understand the argument that there should be an Executive control and that it is necessary for efficient government, but is this really the best we can do in 2022?

Whatever the position was in 1950, the idea that the sovereign can, in response to the Prime Minister who advises or requests—what a wonderful argument that has been—a Dissolution, refuse it, is completely inconceivable; it is beyond the fairies. We cannot have the monarch turning down the elected Prime Minister’s request for Dissolution without becoming utterly enmeshed in party politics.

As to the courts, I strongly believe, as a former judge, that this has nothing to do with the courts. The courts should not and do not have any jurisdiction to interfere with proceedings in Parliament. Article 9 remains firmly in its place and is surely an encouragement to us to allow the issue to be resolved by the other place.

There is something more profound. Should not the voice of the elected Chamber be heard? We live in a modern democracy: why should it not be heard? Why should it be compelled into silence on the very issue of its own existence? Why should not a simple majority of those Members of the other place who choose to vote be regarded as worth having as some curb on a Dissolution power that would otherwise be put in the hands of a single individual who happens, for the time being, to be our Prime Minister? Why should so much power be restored to our Prime Minister, whoever he or she may be? He or she, whether for political advantage or otherwise—and largely, of course, it will be for political advantage—but in truth on a whim, would be vested with the constitutional authority to override, or threaten to override, a point to which I will come back, every single vote cast in the last general election by a single vote of their own. For a modern democracy, that does not sound very wise, does it?

I repeat that the modest purpose of this proposal is merely to send this fundamental constitutional issue back to the other place for time to be given there for a further and mature reflection on the merits or the demerits of the amendment. That is all I am asking. I should have pursued this amendment anyway, but since the other place finished its discussion, I want to raise it as a somewhat alarming event.

I made it clear in Committee that this was not about the current Prime Minister and his troubles. I raised the issue in the debate on the Queen’s Speech, when he was riding pretty comfortably high in the polls. But a few days ago, after members of his own party expressed dismay at current events, the then Leader of the House threatened them with a general election to bring them into line.

I have based what I regard as a very distasteful suggestion to have to make on the words actually spoken by the leader, and the careful and, as far as I have been able to ascertain, unchallenged analysis of the noble Lord, Lord Finkelstein, in the Times last week. He refers to the Leader of the House’s actual language, when he said:

“my view is the change of leader requires a general election”— we all know what that is about. The noble Lord’s observation was:

“The motive for this statement was transparent … The motive was to frighten rebellious MPs with the prospect of losing their seats in an ill-timed election.”

That is a threat—to use the power that it is hoped and assumed by the leader that we would let through at great speed.

For today’s purposes, I urge that the other place be allowed to decide what it made of the merits and demerits of the argument and of that astonishing threat—that an uncurbed Dissolution power might indeed be open to such unexpected misuse. The threat itself was a misuse, and this unconstrained power should not be restored to the Executive. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Lansley Lord Lansley Conservative 11:45, 9 February 2022

My Lords, I have signed once more on Report this amendment, along with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, and I entirely agree with what he just said to the House. That is partly in the light of the debate in Committee, which compellingly reinforced the need to send this issue back to the other place to be reconsidered, and for it to make the final decision, as the noble and learned Lord says.

I say to colleagues, not least on this side of the House, that the Conservative Party’s manifesto in 2019, which we are implementing, said:

“We will get rid of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act.”

This legislation, including Amendment 1, will do that. So the Conservative manifesto commitment will be met. The question, of course, is what we put in its place.

My noble friend on the Front Bench will have his chance to say so, but he has said that the purpose of the Bill is to restore the prerogative power, or the status quo ante. I have to say that it still feels like generals fighting the last war—they are fixed on the events of the autumn of 2019, and, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, has amply illustrated, we are not in the situation of the end of 2019 and we may never be again. If one looks at the events of the autumn of 2019, one sees that three times the Prime Minister sought a general election and failed to secure a two-thirds majority but in each case secured a simple majority. The proposition, which seems to be at the heart of the Government’s approach, is that this Bill prevents gridlock, but in my view a simple majority of the House of Commons would, in almost all circumstances, also prevent such gridlock.

More to the point, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, said, is the question that the other place has to answer: should this once again be an executive decision of the Prime Minister of the day, regardless of the view of the House of Commons? I will not go on at length, but I repeat my view that the Prime Minister exercises the responsibility to request a Dissolution by virtue of the fact that he or she commands a majority in the House of Commons. If a Prime Minister loses the confidence of the House of Commons, by what right do they go to the palace and seek a Dissolution? In the circumstances in which a Prime Minister loses the confidence of his or her own party, and of the House of Commons by extension, there may be, and often has been in the past, an opportunity for a new Administration to be formed who enjoy the command of a majority in the House of Commons. Under those circumstances, it seems to me that it would not be right to seek a Dissolution.

The noble and learned Lord referred to what Mr Rees-Mogg said. I am a former Leader of the House of Commons and I believe that the job of the Leader of the House of Commons is to explain the Government’s thinking to the House and explain the House’s thinking to the Government. On this occasion, the latter did not happen. The House was not in a mind to have a Dissolution and an election and I do not think that the Leader of the House was reflecting any view in the House of Commons to that effect. It was, therefore, a threat—an unconstitutional threat, since the Fixed-term Parliaments Act currently applies and such a threat could not be given effect unless and until this legislation passes into law.

My point is that we should give an opportunity not to restore the prerogative in the form in which it existed in the past but to qualify it by reference to what is the reality of our constitution—that sovereignty rests in the sovereign in Parliament, that that must be reflected by a majority in the House of Commons and that therefore a request for an election should be backed by a simple majority in the House of Commons. Anything other than those circumstances would be an illegitimate request and contrary to the view of Parliament.

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Labour

My Lords, I mentioned in Committee and I mention again to the House now that I have always been a strong critic of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act and I was pleased when the Government decided to do away with it. But I find myself in a strange position now of being pleased that they have introduced the Bill but disappointed with it, because it is a messy and—for the reasons that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, said—counterintuitive solution, in that it is moving power back to the monarch. It is a messy solution to a problem that was particular, in most respects, to the 2017-19 Parliament and which, as the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, said, we are now trying to repair or prevent from happening again.

My message is simply that the shenanigans of the 2017-19 Parliament were a result, more than anything else, of the 2011 Fixed-term Parliaments Act, which this Bill will repeal. We need not worry about that kind of problem again because it is incredibly unlikely—impossible, I would say—that we will see those sets of circumstances recurring. Of course, the main reason why the Government could not get a majority for a general election—a facility that I strongly believe should be available to a Government—was the requirement for a two-thirds majority. On each occasion when Boris Johnson went to Parliament and asked for a majority, it gave him one, but not a two-thirds majority.

The solution being offered by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, is beautiful in its simplicity. It solves all the problems with one mighty bound. The main problems of this Bill—or rather, the problems that it does not resolve—are the possible interference by the judiciary, the possible politicisation of the role of the monarch and the argument that we can all have about what the Dissolution principles should be, which a lot of the debate in the Joint Committee was about. With one mighty bound we are free, if we say that you need a majority in the House of Commons. It prevents—for ever—any possibility of the monarch again being involved in this most political of decisions and of saying to a democratically elected Prime Minister, “No, sorry, I’m the monarch; you think you should go to the people, but I’m telling you that you can’t.” It is inconceivable that that could happen and, if it did, it would be a constitutional crisis of a magnitude that we have not so far seen. You get rid of all that area of debate and problem. You also get rid of this ugly ouster clause, to which we will come in a moment. The courts are kept out of it because no court is going to challenge a majority verdict of the House of Commons. With a simple majority in the House of Commons, it is job done. The courts and the monarch are out of it.

There is also the saga about the Dissolution principles. I understand them, but they are messy. Do we imagine that a Prime Minister could go to a monarch and there would be circumstances in which the monarch would say no? As I said, that is inconceivable; they are the most contrived set of circumstances. The best argument that I have heard—I might as well give my opponents the best argument—is that it would be outrageous if a Prime Minister, immediately after he or she had lost a general election, were to go to the monarch and say, “I want another election immediately”. I suppose that anything is conceivable; it is conceivable that we will be hit by a meteorite during the general election. None the less, the chances are slim of a Prime Minister losing a general election and many colleagues, including Cabinet members—while other Members of the House of Commons have only held on by a slim majority and just made it back to Parliament—and then saying to them all, “Right, folks, we’ve done it once, let’s let them hit us again.” It is inconceivable that a Prime Minister, under those circumstances, would call for a general election.

In any case, in an unwritten constitution, of which I am so fond, you simply cannot pretend to cross the t’s and dot the i’s right the way through. I am trying to be helpful to the Government. There is a simple solution to this messy Bill, which is ugly in terms of the detail but not, as I said, on the fundamental principle. If you require a simple majority, you do away with the Dissolution principles, a politicised monarch and the interference of the judiciary. That is game, set, match and tournament.

Photo of Lord Howard of Lympne Lord Howard of Lympne Conservative 12:00, 9 February 2022

My Lords, I apologise that I was not present during the Committee stage. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, knows that I have great respect for him. We enjoyed working together in opposition to the Government’s Internal Market Bill. He was courteous enough to ask me my opinion of his amendment before he put it down. I told him that I would be unable to support it. The reason is the answer to the question that he posed during his remarks, to which my noble friend Lord Lansley purported, but failed, to give an answer, which is: what happens if there is, as there could be—and no one in your Lordships’ House can suggest that there could never be—a revival of the circumstances in the House of Commons between 2017 and 2019? The position was that the Government could not properly govern because they did not have a majority for many of the things that they wanted to do. The House of Commons did not want them to govern and so was content with that stalemate position and that hobbled Government, which did no good whatever to Parliament or the country.

I do not understand why this is referred to as a messy Bill. It is a perfectly straightforward Bill, which seeks to restore the position as it was before the Fixed- term Parliaments Act. The Act was necessary for the course of the coalition Government, but it should never have been made permanent. I very much regret that I did not vote for an amendment in your Lordships’ House that would have made it temporary.

Photo of Baroness Taylor of Bolton Baroness Taylor of Bolton Labour

Would the noble Lord acknowledge, as my noble friend has proved, that, in the circumstances about which he is talking, the Government had a majority for an election? Therefore, this amendment would not have created the difficulties that he is suggesting.

Photo of Lord Howard of Lympne Lord Howard of Lympne Conservative

The noble Baroness and her friends cannot possibly give an assurance that a circumstance will not arise not precisely the same as that which occurred between 2017 and 2019 but in which a simple majority could not be obtained for an election, because a majority of the House of Commons was content to stymie and hobble the Government and keep them in place in that paralysed state, which was what we saw in that unhappy time.

Photo of Lord Reid of Cardowan Lord Reid of Cardowan Labour

The noble Lord seems to be missing the fundamental fact that the problems to which he referred took place under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, which required a two-thirds majority. This Bill gets rid of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act. The circumstances that occurred in 2017-19, as the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, pointed out, cannot recur in absence of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act.

Photo of Lord Howard of Lympne Lord Howard of Lympne Conservative

With respect to the noble Lord—he knows I have great respect for him—I do not think that he was listening to what I have just said in answer to his noble friend. All this Bill does is to replace the bar of the two-thirds majority which the Fixed-term Parliaments Act provided with a slightly lower bar, but there is still a bar and it is perfectly conceivable that we could have a House of Commons in which the Government did not have a majority.

Photo of Baroness Smith of Basildon Baroness Smith of Basildon Shadow Leader of the House of Lords, Shadow Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office, Constitutional and Devolved issues)

I am listening to the noble Lord with care and I think that there is a fundamental flaw in his argument. On that basis, does he not accept that a simple majority is used for every piece of legislation in the House of Commons? Why should calling a general election be any different? A simple majority is a sensible bar and a sensible test of whether the country should have an election.

Photo of Lord Howard of Lympne Lord Howard of Lympne Conservative

The answer to the noble Baroness is this: if legislation is put before the House of Commons and it fails because there is no simple majority for it, there is a simple answer—the legislation fails. You do not have a situation that could go on for years in which a Government remain in office in a state of paralysis because that is what a majority of the House of Commons wants. That is the mischief that would arise in relation to this Bill.

Photo of Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Justice)

But why should a Prime Minister who cannot get a majority of the House of Commons for an election be entitled to a Dissolution?

Photo of Lord Howard of Lympne Lord Howard of Lympne Conservative

Because our Government need decision. If you have a situation in which you have paralysis in the House of Commons, it is in the national interest that this should be resolved. The way in which it has traditionally been resolved and would now be resolved again if this Bill were passed would be by the Prime Minister asking Her Majesty, the monarch, to exercise the prerogative to provide a general election, which would resolve that paralysis.

I will say one more thing on Clause 3, because I do not want to trouble your Lordships again. The noble Lord, Lord Grocott, said that the ouster clause was completely unnecessary because no court would ever challenge the decision of a majority of the House of Commons. Had the noble Lord been present on Monday, he would have heard your Lordships’ House debate a number of occasions in which the courts had challenged legislation passed by a majority of the House of Commons. I am afraid that the noble Lord’s reliance on the reticence of the courts in these matters is considerably misplaced, particularly having regard to their decision on Prorogation. For that reason, Clause 3 is absolutely essential.

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Labour

We are talking about a resolution of the House of Commons. Can he give any circumstance —we are not talking about legislation; we are talking about resolution—where a resolution of the Commons was overturned by the courts or was even regarded as being justiciable by the courts?

Photo of Lord Howard of Lympne Lord Howard of Lympne Conservative

The noble Lord talks about a resolution, but what he previously said was that the courts could not be imagined challenging any decision that obtained a majority in the House of Commons. It was to that observation that I replied. There are many examples and I refer him to the Hansard of Monday’s debate.

Photo of Lord Butler of Brockwell Lord Butler of Brockwell Crossbench

My Lords, I rise briefly to support my noble friend’s amendment, but with reservations. My reservation is that which has been put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Howard. It is not inconceivable that a Government could be hamstrung by failing to get a majority in the House of Commons and could not get their programme through. I believe that there should be restraints on the improper use of the power to dissolve. We are all agreed that it should not be the sovereign and there are dangers in it being a resolution of the House of Commons. That is why I will argue for the removal of Clause 3 so that in the last resort there can be resort to the courts.

Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative

My Lords, the removal of Clause 3 would be the second-best option. The noble Lord, Lord Butler, knows that I was sympathetic when he raised this point at Second Reading. Like my noble friend Lord Howard, with whom I frequently agree but not today, I apologise for not being here in Committee. I was attending a farewell dinner for a friend who had given some 20 years’ service in his post and I felt that, as I had spoken at Second Reading, I could reserve what I wanted to say for Report. I strongly support what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, said, in his balanced, measured and eminently sensible speech.

To give unfettered power to any individual is a very serious thing indeed. I believe that it is important that this House today gives the other place an opportunity—an opportunity that it did not take when the Bill was with it. It is important because things have moved along quite a lot, not least with the intemperate, frankly bullying and certainly unconstitutional threat of Mr Rees- Mogg, which was one of the worst utterances that I have heard in my 50 years in Parliament from any leader or indeed any senior Minister of the Crown.

We know—I know from personal experience—that you do not need a general election if there is a change of Prime Minister. Harold Wilson resigned in 1976 and was replaced by Jim Callaghan. The election in which Mrs Thatcher had her triumph came three years later. Mrs Thatcher retired—or left—and was replaced by John Major without a general election. David Cameron, contrary to his promise to carry on, a few hours after the referendum result indicated that he was going and was replaced by Mrs May without either a general election or a party election for a leader. Those are historic facts. I believe that it is very important that the House of Commons should have a say in this.

I agree very much with what the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, said about the Fixed-term Parliaments Act and I bid it farewell without any sadness. Although my noble friend Lord Howard is right in a theoretical sense that of course anything can happen—we can all think of extreme things happening—I honestly do not believe that it is at all likely that you would not get a majority in the House of Commons, perhaps a slender one, one way or the other.

I do not think it is right that a Prime Minister, particularly a beleaguered one, should be able to threaten his parliamentary troops to plunge the country into uncertainty merely because he is in personal difficulties. Not one of us knows what is going to happen in the coming weeks and months—and even days—but what is important is that there should be a seemly transition that does not compromise the integrity of the sovereign, particularly in this year of all years, and a clear opportunity for the House of Commons to decide whether it wishes to plunge the country into a general election or not.

All this modest and sensible amendment does is give that chance to the other place. Because of the changed circumstances of very recent times, and because this was not properly debated in the other place at an earlier stage, I believe we have a duty to do this. We equally have a duty to accept whatever the Commons says when it votes on the equivalent of the Judge amendment, because the elected House is where the proper power in our constitution lies. We have a constitutional position and a duty that we exercise quite often to say “Please think again”. I can think of nothing more important on which to ask the opinion of the House of Commons than the amendment that is now before us.

Photo of Lord Pannick Lord Pannick Crossbench 12:15, 9 February 2022

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Howard, raised a concern that there might be a Prime Minister who is unable to govern and to secure a majority for a Dissolution. There is a constitutional solution to any such problem, should it occur—that such a Prime Minister should resign and let someone take over who is able to command a majority in the House of Commons.

Photo of Viscount Stansgate Viscount Stansgate Labour

My Lords, the House does not need or want a history lesson, but over hundreds of years power has been reclaimed from monarchs by Parliament and the necessary transfer of power from Prime Ministers to Parliament. There is an imbalance in the balance of power between the legislature and the Executive, but it turns out that repealing the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, which I think everyone in this House agrees should go, is more difficult than was imagined. We are an unelected House, but I can think of no better use of my vote today than to vote for Amendment 1 and allow the House of Commons to consider the matter properly and to reach its view, as the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, said. People disagree as to the nature of future constitutional circumstances but I am very proud of the fact that I have a vote that can send this amendment to the House of Commons and I, for one, will be content with whatever the House of Commons decides it wishes to do.

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

My Lords, I oppose this amendment. How beguilingly it is put. What could be more tempting than simply to say, “Vote in favour and all you are doing is giving the House of Commons another opportunity to discuss it”? We really ought to consider whether the case in favour is sufficiently powerful to take that unusual step, tempting as it may be. It is certainly not every day of the week that I find myself in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Howard, and I agree, too, with my noble friend Lord Butler that this solution to the problems that have been identified today is not a good one.

I respectfully remind the House that although the matter took only a little time in the House of Commons, the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act Joint Committee pointed out in paragraph 86 of its careful and thorough report that there was only a minority in favour of giving the House of Commons by Motion a veto over a proposed Dissolution, as this amendment would do. It ended:

“The majority considers it a change which would only have a practical effect in a gridlocked Parliament, which could mean denying an election to a Government which was unable to function effectively, and which might therefore be counter to the public interest.”

Of course I recognise that, under this proposed amendment, a two-thirds majority would drop to 51%. However, as the noble Lords, Lord Howard and Lord Butler, pointed out, a hung Parliament could well reproduce the sort of stasis and chaos at which we arrived back in the summer of 2019.

I do not pretend to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Butler, on the next amendment, but this is a different point entirely. Given that, there should be a guardian against the sort of abuse that the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, suggested could occur in the way of the prime ministerial prerogative of Dissolution; I suggest Brenda of Bristol.

Photo of Lord Newby Lord Newby Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords

My Lords, I am not quite sure I know how to follow that last remark. I have put my name to this amendment for the reasons so eloquently given by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge. Like him, I carefully read the considered and lengthy response of the noble Lord, Lord True, to the equivalent debate in Committee. The noble Lord set out to make our flesh creep about the consequences of this amendment. I shall deal with three of his arguments, one of which has already been dealt with today.

First, the noble Lord said that, if this amendment were passed, the chance of zombie Parliaments would remain high. As we have already heard, the last Parliament was a zombie Parliament to the extent that the Fixed-Term Parliament Act requires a two-thirds majority. Without that, it would not have been. The noble Lord, Lord Howard, said, “Ah yes, but there will be other circumstances in which such a zombie Parliament could obtain”. The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, has explained the first next step if a Prime Minister were unable to win a majority. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Howard, is asking us to entertain as plausible the possibility that, if nobody could form a Government, Parliament would decide that it wished to continue in existence without there being a credible Government. This is completely implausible to me. I cannot foresee circumstances in which such a situation would obtain for more than a very short period—a day or two at most. The noble Lord did not set such circumstances out. I do not believe that this amendment makes zombie Parliaments more likely.

Secondly, the noble Lord, Lord True, said that the amendment is “dangerously silent” on the status and practice of the conventions associated with confidence. Of course it is silent on the convention because conventions are not law. In the case of a Motion of no confidence having been passed, it seems blindingly obvious that, at that very minute, there would be a vote under the Act, as it would then be, to call an election. I cannot see circumstances in which that would not happen. The fact that conventions are not mentioned in this Bill is impossible and largely irrelevant.

Thirdly—and most extraordinarily—the noble Lord, Lord True, argued that this amendment, if passed, would deny or “overturn” the votes of millions. What on earth does that possibly mean? When millions vote, they do so in the expectation that there will be a full term of Parliament. During the course of a Parliament, they may or may not at any particular time wish that there were another election. As it happens, today, I suspect that most people would be rather glad to have an election, but that is not the way the constitution works. Parliament is elected for a period. If that period is to be truncated, the authority for truncating it rests with Parliament. The people have no say in whether to have an early election under our constitution, and the Government are certainly not proposing that, so the argument that, somehow, the amendment would frustrate the votes of millions is completely misplaced.

It comes down to a simple question: where should the ultimate source of power in our constitution rest? This was the question which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, posed. We contend that it should be with Parliament and not the Executive. We contend that the steady accretion of power to No. 10—which, to a limited extent, has been further added to by the decision of the Prime Minister to set up a prime ministerial department— is not good for democracy. The amendment is one small way of reversing that trend.

Photo of Lord Sentamu Lord Sentamu Crossbench

My Lords, I apologise that I was not present during Committee.

When I was a student, a young person doing A-levels in Uganda, there was a question: “How are the people of the United Kingdom governed?” The book said, “The people of the United Kingdom are governed by the Queen in Parliament under God”, and went on, “and the sovereign is Parliament.” If Parliament is the ultimate authority, to deny it the possibility of agreeing to the Dissolution of Parliament seems bizarre. If it is not, who has the ultimate authority? The noble Lord, Lord Howard, said that the Government could be paralysed and could not govern, but governance can happen only if those in the Executive are accountable and transparent to Parliament. If they are not, we are creating a body of people who think they are not answerable for their decisions to Parliament—that they are the ones who give it legitimacy. They may find themselves paralysed because, for whatever reason, they cannot obtain a majority. We heard that lady in Bristol when the election was announced in 2017. She said, “Not another election!” People are fed up with ad hoc solutions that often do not help.

I support the noble Lord, the Convenor of my group, who has provided a simple solution. If the Government cannot obtain a simple majority for Parliament to be dissolved, so be it. As for the calling of elections regardless because you are not getting your legislation through, well, if Parliament is objecting and it is sovereign, it requires a bit of humility to say, “We did not get it this time; maybe next year.” I plead for this simple amendment, which would resolve all the problems that the noble Lord, Lord Howard, talked about—of the power of the sovereign and the power of the courts. Of course, the courts will intervene if something illegal has been done. Do noble Lords remember the Brexit question, when there was a desire that it should be done through the royal prerogative, the old King Henry VIII powers? The court said, “No. The act to enter into these negotiations was an Act of Parliament, and if you want to do away with it, it is Parliament that must consent for that to be done.” That was when the courts intervened, by the way.

I, for one, support this simple way to resolve the problem that the Fixed-term Parliaments Act created, but we surely cannot go back to the power of the Prime Minister as if Prime Ministers are not accountable to Parliament: they are.

Photo of Lord Bridges of Headley Lord Bridges of Headley Chair, Finance Bill Sub-Committee, Chair, Finance Bill Sub-Committee, Chair, Economic Affairs Committee, Chair, Economic Affairs Committee

My Lords, first, I apologise that I was not able to speak in Committee. I did, however, read the very interesting debate, and I am extremely sorry to say that I find myself at odds with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge. I think he and I wholeheartedly share a concern about the creeping, stealthy growth in the size of the state and of the Executive. I have spoken on this before and I will always stand up with him to oppose it.

Also, I fear that I am taking on my former boss, my noble friend Lord Lansley, on this matter. Listening to them, I feel, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, said, that they are making some very beguiling arguments. As we have just heard, what is being suggested in the amendment sounds very simple. We could be in The Jungle Book, facing Kaa and his big eyes: it is a simple, big thought that we can just introduce this amendment and all will be well.

I can sense the strength of feeling in the House, but I will tell noble Lords why I oppose the amendment. I oppose it for a very simple reason. I see the underlying principle of the Bill as “Trust the people”. It is about ensuring that Parliament cannot stop people expressing their views. I want to return to a system in which a Prime Minister can call an election and the election happens—no ifs, no buts, no parliamentary votes and no court cases. I think the noble and learned Lord asked exactly the right question, supported by the noble Lord, Lord Newby: “Where does power lie?”

Under what I want, power would flow directly from the Executive to the ballot box. As the noble and learned Lord put it in Committee, it is indeed one person’s decision to call an election, but that decision should automatically give power to millions of people who can pick up a stubby pencil and decide on the future of the country. Power rests with them and, if they want to punish the Government for calling an election early—as we saw to our cost—they can do so.

Flowing from that, I say with respect to the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, and others who have spoken, whose opinions I very much respect, that I do not buy the argument at all that Parliament should have a say—period. Let us just examine what that would mean. It would mean that Parliament would, as I understand it, last for five years, unless a majority of Members in the other place voted to end it. Now we can quibble—I will come on to this point—about whether that would be by a simple majority or a two-thirds majority, but there would be a fixed term. Saying that this amendment would still honour the Conservative Party manifesto pledge, which, let us remind ourselves, was that we would

“get rid of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act” is in some ways technically true. But, in fact, that statement in the Conservative manifesto should have said, “We’ll get rid of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act and replace it with another fixed-term Parliaments Act”—and I do not believe that is the intention of the Government.

Then there is the argument that a requirement for a simple majority, as opposed to a two-thirds majority, would not lead to parliamentary gridlock. This is the point that my noble friend Lord Howard made. I agree with my noble friend, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown. I contend—although I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, would not agree, potentially —that there could be a case in which the Prime Minister, if he or she was leading the largest party in a coalition, might find that his or her coalition partners did not want a general election. My noble friend Lord Lansley might say that that is unlikely. I think his words were that “in almost all circumstances” the Prime Minister would get a majority. But that is not good enough for me; it is just not good enough. Who here foresaw, when the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill was going through Parliament in 2010-11, the tumult of 2019? When the original Act was passed in 2011, we were all sure that it was going to bring stability.

That brings me to my third and final point. The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, argued in Committee that, if Parliament blocked a Prime Minister’s attempt to call an election, it would not be denying the people a say in a general election because

“there will be a general election within five years.”—[Official Report, 25/1/22; col. 208.]

Let us stop and think for a moment: “within five years”. We could be in a situation where, as my noble friend Lord Howard said, a Government were in office but not in power. I am sure that the noble Baroness needs no reminding of what her manifesto said: it pledged that Labour would repeal—I use the word deliberately; “repeal”, not “replace”—the Fixed-term Parliaments Act because it

“stifled democracy and propped up weak governments.”

That is precisely the point. By the noble Baroness’s own admission, this amendment risks doing precisely that, with years of twisting in the wind.

That is what we want to avoid. Trust the people—that is the entire point of the Bill, and that is why the amendment should be disagreed.

Photo of Lord Reid of Cardowan Lord Reid of Cardowan Labour 12:30, 9 February 2022

My Lords, I apologise for not having attended previous debate on the Bill, but I want to make just two simple points. First, it is not true that the problems of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act were not foreseen. They were foreseen and explicitly raised by many Members on this side of the House. Secondly, however, the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, has encapsulated the difference between the two sides of this argument. In particular, I ask him to reflect seriously on his statement that we want power flowing from the ballot box to the Executive. That is completely contrary to the constitution of this country. Indeed, not only is it contrary to that, but it is enormously dangerous, because any system—

Photo of Lord Bridges of Headley Lord Bridges of Headley Chair, Finance Bill Sub-Committee, Chair, Finance Bill Sub-Committee, Chair, Economic Affairs Committee, Chair, Economic Affairs Committee

What I want is a system where, if the Prime Minister wishes to call a general election, that election happens and we get to the situation in which we can trust the people. That is where I wish to see the power flowing.

Photo of Lord Reid of Cardowan Lord Reid of Cardowan Labour

Out of courtesy to the noble Lord, I will check the record, but my distinct recollection was that he said that we want a system where power flows from the ballot box to the Executive. Not only is that contrary to everything we believe, by omitting Parliament in the middle of it, but it is the basis of every bad dictatorship that Europe has produced—referendums and power flowing from the ballot box to the Executive. That is the extreme case or course, but it is, in essence, precisely the difference between the arguments on the two sides today, in which we believe that on major issues, which now in the British Parliament include the declaration of war, the people who should make the decision at the end of the day are those in Parliament, not the Executive. All the power that the Executive receives is because they can control or, rather, call on a majority in Parliament. Should the Executive cease to have the confidence of Parliament, whether on policy, war, peace or the Dissolution of Parliament, the Executive cannot proceed unless they can change the mind of Parliament. That is a simple argument that applies to the most important things that Parliament can decide. I would argue that the Dissolution of Parliament is one of those issues.

Photo of Baroness Smith of Basildon Baroness Smith of Basildon Shadow Leader of the House of Lords, Shadow Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office, Constitutional and Devolved issues)

My Lords, this is the third time in your Lordships’ House that we have had a debate focused on this issue. At Second Reading, it was a key issue, as it was in Committee. It comes down to a fundamental point.

In the other place and, indeed, in your Lordships’ House, Ministers asserted from the beginning that bringing in this piece of legislation takes us back in some kind of parliamentary TARDIS to the status quo ante whereby we return to exactly the position that we were in before the Fixed-term Parliaments Act. However, in Clause 3, that argument is completely undermined by saying, “But just in case we haven’t got it right, we are going to have a clause that avoids any legal action”, and the so-called ouster clausem Clause 3. So the Government are not confident that the Bill without the ouster clause returns us to the position that we were in before.

The fundamental point, also made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, and the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, is that there is a choice. Do we accept on the calling of an election executive authority or parliamentary democracy? The huge flaw in the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Howard, is that he seems prepared to trust Parliament on every issue—matters of life and death, legislation and whether we go to war—but not on whether there can be a general election.

I heard the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, in exactly the same way as my noble friend Lord Reid. I wrote them down. He seemed to want to make a major constitutional change where power flowed from the ballot box to the Executive. The fundamental basis of our democracy is that power flows from the ballot box to the elected Chamber of Parliament, the House of Commons, and that the Government derive their authority from that House and are responsible to it.

On the point made by the noble Lord about denying the people a vote—that somehow, if the House of Commons were to vote not to have an election, we would be denying the public an opportunity to have their say—he is not correct, but is right on one point. In effect, there is a fixed or maximum term, in which it is not open to the House of Commons, the Prime Minister, or anyone else to never have an election. There is an end term to any Parliament, by which time an election must be held. It is not simply fixed in time. The argument is that previously the Prime Minister would be expected to go to the monarch. I doubt any of us wish to return to the situation where one puts the monarch in such controversy. We are all scarred by the unlawful Prorogation and how the Government behaved on that. It comes back to this point: do we have executive authority or parliamentary democracy in calling an election? There is nothing more basic for the House of Commons than that objective. Offering the other place an opportunity to vote on this issue avoids the need for Clause 3. The idea that the courts would involve themselves in a decision of Parliament to hold a general election is fanciful. This is an elegant and correct solution of this issue.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, referred to the issue of the former Leader of the House of Commons, Jacob Rees-Mogg, threatening MPs that if they failed to support the Prime Minister, the Prime Minister could call an election. If we are talking about hypothetical circumstances or crises that could occur again, that is certainly one, and should be guarded against at all costs, by not placing the power in the hands of just one person. We should not be surprised by such threats; noble Lords may recall that the current Leader of the House, early on in his parliamentary life, threatened your Lordships’ House with 1,000 extra peers if we failed to pass a piece of legislation he supported. Perhaps threats come quite easily to him.

We had a lengthy debate on this, which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, summed up well at the beginning. When this was debated in the House of Commons, there was no lengthy debate, and there is an opportunity for them to reconsider this. When we debated it in Committee previously, my noble friend Lady Taylor said that she was surprised that the House of Commons gave away that power so easily. It may be because it did not discuss it in any great depth or with consideration. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, said, the Joint Committee was divided on the issue of whether it was appropriate or not. It is entirely appropriate that the House of Commons is given the opportunity to consider this again.

I come to one final point, which is that the noble Lord, Lord True, said at both Second Reading and in Committee that the Commons had not amended the Bill, so your Lordships’ House should not do so either. Last night, this House sat beyond 3 am, which is unusual. Today, to facilitate business, we are sitting at 11 am, on a much longer day. If it is not the duty of this House to pass amendments that the other end can consider, then what is the point? The amendment has our full support and I urge noble Lords to vote for it.

Photo of Lord True Lord True Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

My Lords, the request for a dissolution is perhaps the ultimate act of humility by an Executive. It is placing all that has been lent, first by the electorate, and then by Parliament, in the hands of the British people. That is the underlying thought behind what my noble friend Lord Bridges of Headley said, in what was a significant and important speech, as was the speech of my noble friend Lord Howard of Lympne.

I have listened carefully to the debate. I am not going to repeat at length the arguments that I put in Committee; they lie there in Hansard and I stand by them. One novel argument was put forward today; the noble Baroness who has just finished, and indeed the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, referred to remarks made by my right honourable friend Mr Rees-Mogg. Let me put it beyond peradventure: the established constitutional position is and remains that a general election is not required following a change in leadership. I think all of us agree with that, and it is and will remain the position.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, said he wanted the other place to think again, and other noble Lords made the same point. It is of course the right of noble Lords, when they wish, to ask the House of Commons to think again—but the House of Commons has thought about this and sent us a Bill with no such provision as your Lordships propose to insert in it. The Bill has also been considered by the Joint Committee, which has reflected on it.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office) 12:45, 9 February 2022

I am sure the Minister is aware that the House of Commons spent less than two hours in Committee, on Report and on the final stages of this Bill—so to say that it gave it considerable attention would I think be a slight exaggeration.

Photo of Lord True Lord True Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

My Lords, your Lordships are required to deal with the Bills that are sent to us by the other place, and the other place has sent us a Bill with no such provision. Members of your Lordships’ House under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord McLoughlin on the Joint Committee, which reflected at length on these matters, did not propose such an amendment. None of those who have scrutinised the legislation formally have proposed what the noble and learned Lord has suggested.

The noble and learned Lord said that we could not return to an ancient system. There is perhaps a faint irony in advancing that argument in an unelected House with a tradition that dates back centuries. He said that we had to be 21st century. Well, we tried “21st century” in 2011 and, frankly, I rather prefer the experience of many decades in the long past which I believe served us well, and the proposition before your Lordships, supported by my party and the party opposite at the general election, was that we should do away with the failed 21st-century experiment.

We do not have to talk the talk about the problems that a Commons vote might cause. There has been a lot of speculation, to and fro, on this, but we lived it in 2017 to 2019; that Parliament refused three times to be dissolved and to meet the verdict of the people.

The repeal of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act was in our manifesto and that of the party opposite. I found it fascinating to hear the throaty roar of approval from the Benches opposite when any noble Lord, starting with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, said that we must not go back to the situation before the Act was passed. I remind the party opposite, as did my noble friend, of the Labour Party’s promise to the people:

“A Labour government will repeal the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, which has stifled democracy and propped up weak governments”.

They wish to maintain an essential part of that Act in the form of a Commons vote.

Photo of Lord Reid of Cardowan Lord Reid of Cardowan Labour

Can the Minister give one example of a spokesman from this side saying that we wish to retain the Fixed-term Parliaments Act?

Photo of Lord True Lord True Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

I fear I must say to the noble Lord, who I greatly respect and admire, that I simply stated a feature of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act that the party opposite wishes to retain: that there should be a Commons veto on Dissolution. That is what I said, and that is a fact. If the party opposite votes for this amendment, it will be voting for a House of Commons veto potentially on its own Dissolution—it is written there in the book.

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Labour

If the Minister is going to give us a history lesson on how people have acted and voted, could he remind us how he and his colleagues voted on the Fixed-term Parliaments Act?

Photo of Lord True Lord True Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

My Lords, I promised I would look up my personal record on that Bill. I have not done so, but I would be surprised if my name featured very heavily. Anyway, it is being done away with now, and I think the noble Lord and I agree that it should be done away with, whatever follows.

A vote in the House of Commons has created paralysis in a number of contexts and could create paralysis in many contexts. Some noble Lords have spoken on this, including my noble friends Lord Bridges and Lord Howard of Lympne, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown. There could be minority Governments or situations where parties, Parliament or the nation have divided.

The kernel of the argument put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, and others is that their approach offers simplicity. In fact, it adds a complication to a Bill which is simple. Without going over the same ground, we saw that painfully in 2019, when the Labour Party was three times presented with the opportunity to force an election, and Mr Corbyn thrice denied the election to the Prime Minister and the British people by sitting on his hands. So do not tell me that there cannot be circumstances in which an Opposition would seek to prevent a general election. We have lived that system and I believe that my noble friend Lord Howard of Lympne, and indeed the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, were absolutely right to warn that these circumstances could recur.

In Committee, I set out the negative consequences for the fundamental conventions on confidence. Simply put, the privilege to request that the sovereign exercise the Dissolution prerogative is an executive function enjoyed by virtue of the ability of the Government to command the confidence of the Commons. Our contention is that this simple process should not be unduly constrained by the type of process that the noble and learned Lord puts before us; it could be disruptive and unhelpful at times when expediency is essential.

Photo of Baroness Taylor of Bolton Baroness Taylor of Bolton Labour

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. He is talking about the use of executive powers. Is he concerned—I assume he is, because of Clause 3—that the courts might get involved in this and that that could cause serious constitutional conflict? Surely if the amendment proposed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, was accepted, that would reduce the need for the ouster clause in Clause 3?

Photo of Lord True Lord True Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

My Lords, I do not think it is an either/or question. If I may use a phrase that was once popular on the Benches opposite, there is third way, which is to have neither of those amendments and to return to the simple and proven practice of the past.

When we send an amendment to the other place, we are always adjured to be careful what we send and to show how we reflect and are thoughtful. I would like to consider some of the practical working of the proposition that the noble and learned Lord puts before us. There is little about that, despite its immense significance potentially for our constitution, and indeed its reversal of the Government’s manifesto commitment to repeal the Fixed-term Parliaments Act.

For example, the noble and learned Lord proposes that there should be a Motion that

“this present Parliament will be dissolved.”

How would this parliamentary process be sequenced and when would it apply? How would it relate to confidence? Would it also apply following a loss of confidence? Would a Prime Minister have to go for a further Motion? Could anyone put before the House of Commons the Motion proposed by the noble and learned Lord, or would it be only the Prime Minister and the Treasury Bench? If the Motion is passed, is the Prime Minister bound to seek a Dissolution—for example, a sudden tactical alliance could trigger a general election—or could he seek to retain the confidence of the House of Commons? Even if there were such a Motion as the noble and learned Lord has proposed, when would the Prime Minister have to dissolve Parliament?

In even more extraordinary circumstances, given such an amendment, could a Government procure such a Motion on the first day after the end of the debate on the gracious Speech? Could they pass such a Motion

“that this present Parliament will be dissolved”,

and then wait for the rest of the Parliament? After all, it says “will”; it does not say “when”.

These questions are practical and unanswered. I submit that it is not a responsible role for a revising Chamber to send this amendment down to the elected Chamber with none of those issues worked through. They were carefully considered by the Joint Committee, which arrived at a conclusion. This is constitution-making on the hoof.

Noble Lords:

Oh!

Photo of Lord True Lord True Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

It is the launching of a ship of uncertainty in which many questions are unanswered.

Photo of Baroness Smith of Basildon Baroness Smith of Basildon Shadow Leader of the House of Lords, Shadow Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office, Constitutional and Devolved issues)

I find the noble Lord’s comments quite offensive. He is suggesting that it is inappropriate for your Lordships’ House, having debated this issue for significantly longer than the other place, to suggest an alternative. That is perfectly reasonable and normal. The arrangements that he says should be in place are in the Bill. They are also untested, because it does not return us to the situation as before. I ask him to be a bit more careful in his choice of words and his attitude to the House discussing such issues.

Photo of Lord True Lord True Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

My Lords, I reject those remarks—in a friendly manner, of course. I do not think it is in any way offensive for a Minister at the Dispatch Box, or any other Member of your Lordships’ House, to put to noble Lords that there may be practical difficulties and things that are lacking in amendments proposed before the House.

We are often told that we should proceed with the utmost care in constitutional change; I agree profoundly. “Further and mature reflection” was the phrase I noted from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge; I agree. The Bill had extensive pre-legislative scrutiny. This option was not recommended. The majority of the Joint Committee, on which your Lordships are represented, considered that it would be, as was quoted by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, contrary to the public interest. With that advice, and with the utmost respect, I do not think that hasty ping-pong between the two Houses qualifies as utmost care for making a substantial constitutional provision, against what the Joint Committee recommended. I submit that that is not a prudent approach. For that reason, I hope that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, and others will reflect on the wisdom and practicality of the amendment.

There is a final fundamental point. The creation of statutory constraints would cut against and under- mine the flexibility that characterises the pre-FTPA arrangements that the Government want to reinstate, as they have promised. Generations of proven practice underlie those arrangements, but they were junked for what we all know was a short-term political expedient in 2011. I do not share the attitude of some to past experience—that we cannot return to the past and apply its wisdom again. Again, I submit that we can.

For all those reasons, I urge noble Lords not to press the amendment. It is defective in practice, leaves a host of very hard practical questions unanswered, and risks recreating the conditions of the very paralysis we all lived through so recently, about which we all told ourselves we would never want to see again. We should not risk returning to that. We should reflect on the wisdom of ages and take pride in our constitutional practice over generations before 2011, and reject the noble and learned Lord’s amendment.

Photo of Lord Judge Lord Judge Convenor of the Crossbench Peers 1:00, 9 February 2022

My Lords, we have probably talked too long already, but I find it wonderful to think that my arguments have been described as “beguiling”—that was my old friend, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood. He has reminded me of the days—our boy days—when we used to go round the county courts. He would always do it, every time: he would get up and say to the judge, “Mr Judge has made a very powerful argument,” or “a very remarkable piece of advocacy” or whatever it might be, and then he would punch me straight between the eyes and say, “But he is wrong”. Beguiling arguments have their strengths. They are beguiling because they are soundly based.

And then, I have just heard the noble Lord the Minister create a whole series of fences. It is like Becher’s Brook every time as we go around the course. The point of this amendment is for the issue to go to the other place and for the other place to consider it and decide whether those hurdles are ones that can be overcome or not—to decide which way it should go.

Photo of Lord True Lord True Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

Does the noble and learned Lord set at naught the recommendation of the Joint Committee of your Lordships and the other place which considered this proposition, rejected it, and cited it as contrary to the public interest?

Photo of Lord Judge Lord Judge Convenor of the Crossbench Peers

There was a majority in favour of the proposition that the noble Lord the Minister has put forward. I happen to think that the minority was right. I am inviting us to let the House of Commons have another look and make its own mind up. They will take into account the decisions, recommendations and all the papers that they are given, I hope, and come to their own conclusion.

What I did find slightly startling about the noble Lord the Minister’s response was the idea that when a Prime Minister seeks a general election, that is an act of deep humility. It is not. It is an act by an individual in power who is seeking the best possible way of retaining power. Elections are not sought in the public interest; they are sought for the advantage of the party in government. Humility has nothing whatever to do with it.

Finally, I want to raise a serious point. I find the idea—it has been espoused by a number of noble Lords—that we should stop any risk of the elected House acting as zombies. What an insult that is being paid to the elected Chamber by this House. Of course, the House will get things wrong—every House, every institution, gets things wrong. But the idea that we are going to suddenly be frozen in a situation which is incapable of movement and the Government will be paralysed and things will not work and the electricity will be turned off, all because the Commons has decided to reject a Prime Minister’s desire for a dissolution is, with great respect, bunkum. I do not propose to withdraw this amendment. I seek the opinion of the House.

Ayes 200, Noes 160.

Division number 1 Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Bill - Report — Amendment 1

Aye: 200 Members of the House of Lords

No: 160 Members of the House of Lords

Aye: A-Z by last name

No: A-Z by last name

Amendment 1 agreed.

Clause 3: Non-justiciability of revived prerogative powers