Debates between Baroness Noakes and Lord Butler of Brockwell during the 2019 Parliament

Tue 25th Jan 2022

Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Bill

Debate between Baroness Noakes and Lord Butler of Brockwell
Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, I will speak only on Clause 3 stand part and not on the more detailed amendments, because I am sure that my noble friend the Minister will reply in his careful way about how the wording was arrived at and what it is intended to do, as he did very carefully at Second Reading.

One does not have to be an expert on the constitution, which I am not, to know that judges should not interfere in politics, and decisions on calling elections are about as political as decisions ever get. I believe the Government are right to try to draft this Bill in such a way that the courts cannot interfere in that very political decision, and that is why I support Clause 3 standing part of the Bill.

The fact that the Government feel it necessary to include Clause 3 and draft it in such a complex way speaks volumes about how the judiciary has found many ways of getting involved in areas that would have seemed unthinkable only a few years ago, ones of which we would have assumed the courts would steer clear. The clause is necessary only because of the direction of travel taken by the courts in the way they have interpreted the areas they get involved in. I, for one, believe that we need no more surprises like the Miller judgments.

Clause 3 is confined to the specific and narrow issue of whether the prerogative power to dissolve Parliament is justiciable. I cannot conceive of any circumstances in which the involvement of the courts could ever be justified, and those who oppose Clause 3 have said that they cannot think of any either. Even the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, who demonstrated the fertility of his imagination in the debate on an earlier group of amendments, could not come up with an example. We are legislating against shadows, against figments of the imagination.

The issue is about only the steps taken to allow a general election to be called. It is a very political decision. We cannot conceive of the courts ever getting involved in delaying an election, halting an election or even, as my noble friend Lord Faulks suggested, nullifying the result of a general election. It just seems too ludicrous a concept even to contemplate. However, we need it to be clear beyond peradventure in the law, and without this clause it may not be.

We need to get this into perspective. Clause 3 does not diminish the role of the courts in the constitution; it is about this one narrow area that before, when we simply rested on the prerogative, no one thought the courts could ever get involved in, but because of other developments in the law we now feel it necessary to be quite explicit about it.

Lord Butler of Brockwell Portrait Lord Butler of Brockwell (CB)
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The noble Baroness and I agree that the circumstances in which this situation arises are unthinkable, so why should we have the dangerous precedent of this ouster clause in the Bill?

Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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We have it because it is just possible that the courts could find a way in. We have seen them getting involved in areas that we never thought they would get involved in before. That is a fact of the way the judiciary has moved in recent years, and it is why the clause is there.

I do not accept that the clause sets a dangerous precedent. It is about this one very narrow issue. It is not about an ouster clause that would be put in every statute that came before Parliament. Of course, Parliament must decide at the end of the day how it wants to frame its laws. It has the right to do that, and the courts can then interpret those laws, but I do not believe that this will be seen as a precedent for a more general use of ouster clauses. If it is, I am fairly sure that Parliament would not accept them. We should see this clause in the narrow concept in which it is drafted and not try to extend it beyond that.