Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Bill Debate

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Department: Cabinet Office

Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Bill

Lord Fairfax of Cameron Excerpts
Lord Sentamu Portrait Lord Sentamu (CB)
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My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, asks whether the sun has risen. Yes, it is still up there, but for those who lived in the Mexican desert during the testing of the atomic bomb, the sky was so full of light that nearby farmers woke up and started working, but three hours later the light had gone. Of course, at the usual time of 6 am, the sun rose. They said, “We saw the sun rise twice”, but it had not. Physical things may help us, but also they may not.

For myself, I find phrases such as

“A court or tribunal may not question”

very difficult. Putting that in statute sets a bad precedent. The courts are restrained in the way that they approach many things; they would never simply say out of hand, “We are not going to look at this”. That is why my friend Sir William MacPherson, when someone did not want the election to take place in 1992, looked at that and then dismissed it. Now there is the idea that he should not have done so. I have always had great admiration for the British Parliament and for the Civil Service and the way that it works, which is just really lovely—some of your Lordships who were born here and live here may not appreciate it, but I do—but this measure worries me.

I was in the judiciary when we questioned Mr Amin for expelling Uganda citizens who happened to be Asian. There were two kinds: those who were Ugandan Asian citizens and Asians living in Uganda who were British. We questioned whether he had the right to do this. He did not like it. What did he do? He passed a decree that no court in the land could question the expulsion of Asians. That caused me a lot of problems. This measure sounds almost like that.

There should be no Act of any sort which is not subject to the possibility of challenge in the courts, because they are the custodians of the rule of law. We cannot say by statute, “You should not challenge this particular prerogative”; if it is not done according to the rule of law, they should be able to look at it. I have a lot of confidence in judges, lawyers and the people, because they are the guardians of the rule of law. If they do not guard that, the likes of Mr Amin will have a field day. I support the intention the noble Lord, Lord Butler, that the clause should be deleted.

Lord Fairfax of Cameron Portrait Lord Fairfax of Cameron (Con)
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My Lords, very briefly, I would like to respectfully adopt the arguments of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, and others, including the noble Lord, Lord Trevethin and Oaksey, and my noble friend Lord Faulks, in this matter.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, said, I think, that he could not see the courts getting involved in a Dissolution case, and I think the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, said similarly. But, as my noble friend Lord Faulks has said, very many people, including many lawyers, could not see the courts getting involved in a Prorogation matter because, until the Supreme Court and Miller, that was considered to have been unarguably a political matter. But in a paradigm example of judicial activism, the Supreme Court in Miller did get involved, despite the unanimous decision—which some people find curious—of a strong divisional court below. The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, referred later to the rule of law. My point is that, until the Supreme Court and Miller, as held by the divisional court, Prorogation was considered to be a political matter.

Lord Pannick Portrait Lord Pannick (CB)
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Does the noble Lord allow for the possibility that the reason why there was no precedent prior to Miller 2 was because no Prime Minister prior to that had abused, in the view of the court, the power to prorogue Parliament in order to frustrate his views in relation to Brexit?

Lord Fairfax of Cameron Portrait Lord Fairfax of Cameron (Con)
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The use of the word “abuse” is somewhat tendentious. As I was saying on the question of the rule of law, and as held by the divisional court, until the Supreme Court decision on Miller, Prorogation was thought to be an entirely political matter and therefore not subject to the jurisdiction of the courts. I suggest that the risk remains, and pray in aid the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, in this regard, because he jokingly referred to his possible involvement in Miller 3.

I rest my case. The Government are entitled for these reasons to insist on Clause 3.

Baroness Smith of Basildon Portrait Baroness Smith of Basildon (Lab)
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My Lords, I will start where I started in the previous debate, with the parliamentary TARDIS: the Government say that we can set things back to where they were before. Ministers in the other House and in your Lordships House said that this Bill brings clarity, but it is clear that it does not bring clarity. That is why the Government have insisted on Clause 3.

The elephant in the room, as has been mentioned, is Prorogation, but Prorogation is different from Dissolution. The unlawful Prorogation has had an impact on many people—I still think of it. I agree with the assessment of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, that that was an abuse of power, but I would not extend that in the same way to a Dissolution.