All Brendan O'Hara contributions to the Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Bill 2021-22

Mon 13th September 2021
12 interactions (1,361 words)
Tue 6th July 2021
23 interactions (2,249 words)

Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Bill

(Committee stage)
Brendan O'Hara Excerpts
Monday 13th September 2021

(1 month, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber

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Cabinet Office
Maria Miller Portrait Mrs Miller
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My hon. Friend makes points that I am sure those listening to that debate will be pondering. In a day and age when electronic mail, not postal mail, is the norm, they will be asking what the Government are doing to ensure that our electoral system is modernised. I applaud the Government for all they are doing on voter identification. It is such an important thing but it has been sadly lacking. This is a reforming Government in that area, and I am sure my hon. Friend the Minister will do all she can to continue that reforming zeal in her work.

Let me pull together two other points that are allied to what we have been discussing. I think a great deal will be needed in returning to the status quo ante. The vast majority of Members do not remember the status quo ante—some of us do, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Calder Valley (Craig Whittaker) and perhaps one or two others such as my right hon. Friend the Member for Elmet and Rothwell, but there are not many of us left. Ensuring that the House and Members understand those conventions that are not formalised in law will be something of a challenge. I am sure the Minister is up to that challenge, but it is something we need to address. She has rightly made a number of comments on this issue—she has written a letter to the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, and there are pieces of correspondence and an opportunity for debate—but as we move forward we need a settled view of the conventions.

Finally, on the wash-up, the day that a Prime Minister announces a general election is not the start of the general election campaign, and hon. Members need to take a much closer look, perhaps through colleagues who sit on the relevant Committees, as to how we can get better control over what is considered in that wash-up session. There are often a few deals regarding what legislation will pass through Parliament before the election campaign, and perhaps that would be better done after the election, rather than before. We should be considering such matters, with a focus on shortening the election campaign to something that is not just best for one set of people, but best for our democracy.

Brendan O'Hara Portrait Brendan O’Hara (Argyll and Bute) (SNP)
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I will hopefully delight the Committee by trying to speed things up a little, and I will not detain Members for long.

I agree with the hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Cat Smith) that the Bill smacks of a Government who are still smarting from the events of 2019. I suggest that perhaps anger and revenge are no way to govern, and hopefully the House will help the Government to look beyond their bruised pride and get to a situation far beyond this Bill. Although in and of itself clause 1 may look fairly innocuous, and when taken in isolation might even be seen as trivial and almost unimportant, I caution the Committee that when viewed alongside other legislation currently going through this place—the Elections Bill, for example, and the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill—we are witnessing a strategy on the part of the Government to centralise power and control with the Executive at the expense of this House. Some clauses in Bill, including clause 1, give more power to the Executive, strip parliamentarians of their powers, and deny the judiciary the ability to scrutinise what they are doing, while at the same time eroding the public’s right to protest against it. As has been said, this is an unashamed power grab by the Executive at the expense of this House, and we believe that that is how it will be seen in the context of that wider picture.

However intensely hon. Members may dislike the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, simply voting for the Bill this evening will not automatically return us to our position prior to 2011 when that Act was introduced. The Scottish National party has said it will oppose the Bill all the way through, and we will oppose it again tonight. New clause 2, and the idea that a general election could be called to dissolve Parliament and that that motion must be agreed by this House, is correct. It appears to me that if the Bill passes without new clause 2, the Prime Minister of the day will have full and unfettered control over the Dissolution of Parliament and the timing of any general election.

Patrick Grady Portrait Patrick Grady
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I wanted to make this point to the Minister. Not only will the Prime Minister have full power, but some of the clauses and consequential amendments in the Bill will have a profound effect on other aspects of the constitution. It specifically amends the Referendums (Scotland) Act 2020 as a consequential amendment. That Act states that a referendum in Scotland cannot be held on the same date as a UK general election, but it is not the referendum that takes precedence; it is the UK general election. So if the Scottish Government set a date for a referendum, say in May 2023, under this Bill, it would be entirely within the Prime Minister’s power to set that date for a UK general election and consequently shift the date of the referendum in Scotland. We are handing a gross power to the UK Government as a consequence of the Bill.

Nigel Evans Portrait The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr Nigel Evans)
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Was that the hon. Gentleman’s speech? Shall I cross him off the list?

Brendan O'Hara Portrait Brendan O'Hara
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I do not believe it was my hon. Friend’s speech, Mr Evans, but if it was, it was a perfectly good one and I thank him for it. The points he makes are absolutely valid.

David Linden Portrait David Linden (Glasgow East) (SNP)
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I guess that, like me, my hon. Friend finds it a bit perplexing, when sitting in this debate and looking at Conservative Members, who advocated for Brexit in their constituencies and for Parliament to take back control, that they will walk through the Lobby tonight to neuter Parliament. Do he and his constituents who voted against Brexit see the irony in what the Brexiteers will do tonight?

Brendan O'Hara Portrait Brendan O'Hara
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I am sure I am not the only person in this House who can see the irony of how taking back control supposedly has led us to a position where Parliament is being neutered by the Executive, and the people who were most loudly proclaiming “Take back control” are the people holding the scissors and doing the neutering—if that is not too much of an image, Mr Evans.

If the Bill passes, as well as there being no parliamentary or legal scrutiny, an active debate will still rage about whether the monarch’s prerogative powers would return to exactly as they were in 2011. I notice that, in her letter to the Chair of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, the Minister acknowledged that

“there remains a role for the sovereign in exceptional circumstances to refuse a Dissolution request.”

But the monarch’s prerogative powers are now being enshrined in statute, having been removed by statute; they are now being restored by statute. So what exactly are the exceptional circumstances in which the monarch can refuse a Dissolution request? How can the Lascelles principles, which we heard earlier were prerogative powers, now be statutory powers? I cannot see how this returns us to the position we were in in 2011.

Therefore, we have been and will continue to be extremely uneasy about the insertion of the ouster clause making the Government’s action in relation to the dissolution of Parliament non-justiciable. As I said, we share the concerns of many Members across the Chamber that the repeal of the Fixed-terms Parliaments Act would not automatically take us back to the position of 2012 and we need a lot more clarity about exactly what legal position we would be in.

The Chair of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee pointed out in a letter to the Minister:

“The Fixed-terms Parliaments Act was passed and the consequences of this cannot simply be wished away.”

I note that, in her response to the Committee Chair, the Minister accepts that there is an academic debate about the issue, but she seems to believe the opinion of her academics that the courts

“will be required to act as if the Fixed-term Parliaments Act had never been enacted”

and that they will be

“required to pretend that it never happened.”

It is a ridiculous situation and an extremely unsatisfactory position in which we find ourselves. For years, as my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) said, we have heard this Government talk about taking back control and the importance of parliamentary sovereignty. This is an early test of how this Parliament takes back that control, and the Executive are legislating to prevent it from happening. If the Bill is passed as it stands, Parliament and the judiciary, and arguably the monarch’s traditional role, will no longer be in play, and the decision to dissolve this place and call a general election will be entirely in the hands of the Prime Minister, who may call one when it is politically expedient so to do. That is not how a modern liberal democracy should function, and that is why we will not be supporting the Bill.

Back in January, both Lord Sumption and Baroness Hale were unequivocal in their evidence that the minimum safeguard required in the event of an ouster clause being put in place was the inclusion in the Bill of a time limit on the moving of writs for parliamentary elections. However, as it stands, there is no such provision in the Bill; six months on, the Government have not produced anything of the sort, and the original clause remains. In effect, that allows the Government to decide the length of a period of Prorogation, the gap between the Dissolution of Parliament and an election, and indeed the gap between an election and the first sitting of a Parliament. That is deeply worrying. The Government had an opportunity to take the advice of many learned people and improve the Bill. They refused to take that advice, and I fear that it is sinister and troubling that they did not.

Geoffrey Cox Portrait Sir Geoffrey Cox
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It is a great pleasure to follow so erudite and intelligible a speech from the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O'Hara).

I have an experience that is very rare in my political career—a sense of complete vindication. I voted against the Fixed-term Parliaments Act in 2011, when it was brought in, and I seem to recall saying then what I hear the Minister saying from the Front Bench now: that it would not work and that it was an abominable intrusion and distortion of our constitution. I see this Bill as a welcome correction that brings our constitution back to the fundamental principle, which has existed for many years, that, with the important exception that the monarch has the right to speak his or her mind at the time the Prime Minister requests a Dissolution, and in the last resort even perhaps to decline it—although it would not be known for many years that he or she had—it should be the case that the Prime Minister can advise Her Majesty to dissolve the House. We are at last returning to sanity and, with the pardon of the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), to normality when it comes to the constitution.

However, I say to the Committee and the Minister that there is an issue that troubles me. It seems to me that, when we presented our manifesto to the country in 2019, we did not only promise that we would restore the balance of our constitution by repealing the Fixed-term Parliaments Act. We presented the country then with a constitutional programme, or at least the willingness to look fundamentally at our constitution and to consider deeply whether we should restore to a more Conservative and a more traditional basis other aspects of our constitution, too.

In welcoming this Bill, therefore, I say to my hon. Friend the Minister that I hope that it is not the last measure that we will introduce in the portfolio that she occupies. At the moment, I look at our offering and I see this Bill, which I fully support, I see the Elections Bill, which I also support, and I see the Judicial Review and Courts Bill. I hope we are not going to be quite so timid as to present that as our sole offering to the country. In 1997, the Labour party was elected. One thing one can say about that Government is that they came in with a coherent, radical plan for the constitution, and they then enacted it with complete ruthlessness, and with complete disregard for Opposition voices. I was in the House some years later, and I recall vividly how the Labour party steamrollered its constitutional changes, including the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, through this House with very little by way of consideration and regard for alternative voices.

We now have a majority comparable to that, and I hope that we will not squander that opportunity. There are important things that we should now be doing. I have some sympathy with the plea this afternoon by the hon. Member for Rhondda that we should be considering Prorogation. So we should. We should be considering whether the Supreme Court’s decision in Miller No. 2 should stand. We should be considering whether other decisions of the Supreme Court should be allowed to stand. There comes to mind, for example, the Adams case, in which Mr Gerry Adams was effectively acquitted of his convictions in 1975 because the Supreme Court held that the Carltona principle in effect did not apply to the decision then taken. That, in my view, is a matter that this House ought to be reviewing.

I say to right hon. and hon. Members and to my friends on the Government Benches that we must not regard the constitution as an area that is too complicated for us to go into. We must not accept the liberal consensus, as it is no doubt called, upon which the new Labour Government in ’97 traded. We must not accept that these things are permanent features of our constitution. They were not introduced with our consent, and we have every right, with the mandate from the people that we now have, to reconsider them.

I say to the Minister that I applaud this Bill, and I applaud her particularly. I was impressed, if I may say so, throughout the course of her presentation by how deeply competent and how completely on top of her brief she was. Thank heavens for such a Minister.

--- Later in debate ---
Maria Miller Portrait Mrs Miller
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I bid this Bill well as it passes to the other place. On behalf of other members of the Joint Committee, I particularly thank the Minister for her incredible hard work throughout the passage of the Bill, despite the other challenges she was facing at the time. I personally thank her for her words in response to new clause 1. I look forward to talking to her further about the research she has undertaken to do on the length of elections.

Brendan O'Hara Portrait Brendan O’Hara
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Madam Deputy Speaker, I thank you and your colleagues, the Clerks and all hon. and right hon. Members who have taken part in what has been a good-natured debate.

Having said that, this is still a thoroughly bad piece of legislation, and nothing I have heard tonight has changed my mind.

Conservative Members seem determined, on a regular basis, to turn the clock back, in this case to a system deemed undesirable and out of touch more than a decade ago. As we have heard, politicians and academics are still arguing about whether it is even possible to believe that the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 had never been enacted. We are being asked to pretend that it never happened. At the risk of showing my age, let me say that it is as though this Government have been taking advice from the scriptwriters of “Dallas”, who asked the world to pretend that Bobby Ewing had never died and they could just go back and pick up the storyline as though nothing had happened previously and anything that had happened in the past would have absolutely no consequence now. While that academic debate rages on and we are heading back to the situation prior to 2011, there can be no doubt that this Bill is little more than a brazen attempt by the Executive to entrench more and more powers with themselves, at the expense of this Parliament. I repeat: as bad as that is in and of itself, when it is viewed alongside what else is going through this place, we see that we are witnessing a full-on attack on our democracy. For that reason, we will be opposing the Bill on Third Reading.

Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third Time.

Bill read the Third time and passed.

Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Bill

(2nd reading)
Brendan O'Hara Excerpts
Tuesday 6th July 2021

(3 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber

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Cabinet Office
William Wragg Portrait Mr Wragg
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Of course, this is all my view. The House will have a chance to listen to the utterances of the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) later on, and we look forward to that immensely. He will teach us a thing or two.

I support the Bill, but I fear that clause 3, the so-called ouster clause, may be superfluous. Its inclusion could be seen by those of a cynical bent as being a hangover from the intervention of the Supreme Court in 2019. We should hold more surely to the Bill of Rights of 1689. After all, the Queen in Parliament is not justiciable—at least that is my understanding.

Brendan O'Hara Portrait Brendan O'Hara (Argyll and Bute) (SNP)
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May I, too, say how pleased we are to see the hon. Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith) back in her place? I look forward to many confrontations with her in the coming weeks and months. Let me say at the outset that the SNP will be opposing the Second Reading of this Bill when the House divides this evening. We will do so not because we are particularly wedded to the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, but because we believe that the Bill is a much wider part of a fundamental attack on our democracy.

One should not view the Bill in isolation. I believe that when Members look at it in the wider picture and place it alongside the voter suppression Bill, the Government’s plan to neuter the Electoral Commission and the draconian Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, they will reach the same conclusion that many of us have reached: this Bill is simpler another part of a brazen attempt by this Government to further centralise control, give more power to the Executive, strip parliamentarians of their powers and deny the judiciary the ability to scrutinise what they are doing, while at the same time eroding the public’s right to protest against them. This is an unashamed power grab by the Executive, and we believe that it will be seen as such when seen in the context of the wider picture.

Robert Goodwill Portrait Mr Goodwill
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Surely we are just reinstating the status quo before 2010.

Brendan O'Hara Portrait Brendan O'Hara
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I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention. No, we are not doing that, and I will come on to exactly why we are not. Although I acknowledge that the 2019 Labour manifesto said that they would repeal the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 and I understand that they intend to abstain in tonight’s Division and amend in Committee, I would caution that any support for this Bill has to be contingent on what is coming to replace it. I say to anyone who might not like the current Act and wishes to see it repealed to be careful what they wish for. To address the point made by the right hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr Goodwill), let me say that although in and of itself repealing that Act might look fairly innocuous and taken in isolation might even be seen as trivial and almost unimportant, I caution that if it is viewed as part of that wider, much larger strategy to centralise power and control with the Executive, this is a far cry from a benign piece of legislation, as they would have us believe.

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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In this House and indeed in this Administration, there is a distinction between the role of Director of Public Prosecutions and Attorney General. I understand that in the Scottish Government the Lord Advocate combines both roles. That is a centralisation of Executive power, is it not? Would the hon. Gentleman advise his colleagues in the Scottish Government to move away from that centralisation of powers, towards the higher constitutional principles that we have here in the UK?

Brendan O'Hara Portrait Brendan O’Hara
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That is another piece of absolute obfuscation by the Minister—a ridiculous piece of obfuscation—so I will return to what I was saying. No matter how intense the 2011 Act, this is not a sufficient reason to support this Bill, because what this Government are proposing is a stripping away of one more pillar of parliamentary or judicial oversight. It is not simply a return to the position we had in 2011.

Mark Elliott, professor of public law at Cambridge University, has said:

“The statement of principles accompanying the Bill appears to presume that the Queen will dissolve Parliament as a matter of course when the Prime Minister so requests, thus implying an intention, on the part of the Government, not to restore the pre-FTPA position but to usher in a regime under which its latitude is greater than before”.

As we have heard, prior to 2011 the monarch was able, in certain circumstances, to deny a Prime Minister’s request to dissolve Parliament and seek an early general election. Because of the weaknesses of having an unwritten constitution, the prerogative power of the monarch, exercised, as we have heard, through the Lascelles principles, was one that was never able to be enshrined in statute. The Lascelles principles asserted that the monarch could deny Dissolution in certain circumstances, including in relation to the viability of the Government, being detrimental to the national economy and being able to find another Prime Minister who could govern. If this Bill becomes statute, what becomes of the Lascelles principles and the monarch’s ability to deny a request for a Dissolution of Parliament? As I understand it, this place may be able to create statutory powers by enacting statutes, but it cannot create prerogative powers, which, by definition, derive from a source other than statute. So those prerogative powers that the monarch has to seek a Dissolution are not coming back, meaning that this Bill is little more than an attempt by the Executive to circumvent even the minimal gatekeeping function exercised in the Lascelles principles by the monarch and all the power will be concentrated in the hands of the Prime Minister. As Professor Elliott says

“the very legal uncertainty as to whether the prerogative can be revived means that it would be irresponsible simply to legislate to repeal the Act and try to revive the prerogative without being sure that you could.”

Anthony Mangnall Portrait Anthony Mangnall
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This is more of a clarification point. If the Lascelles principles are in place and the Government were to call a general election but an alternative grouping could come together to be able to create a Government, would that not allow the Queen to appoint a new Prime Minister, under the principles that were referenced by my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (Mr Wragg)?

Brendan O'Hara Portrait Brendan O’Hara
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As I understand it, and reading what Professor Elliott says, the Lascelles principles would go and therefore we are not returning to exactly the position we had prior to the introduction of the 2011 Act. The Lascelles principles, because they are royal prerogatives, are not part of statute and therefore there is nothing to say that they will remain. They will go, so all the power will be on the Prime Minister and when a Prime Minister requests a Dissolution and a general election, the monarch will have no power on which to refuse.

Anthony Mangnall Portrait Anthony Mangnall
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for being so patient with me on this, but on reading the Bill, I do not see where it will be rescinding or taking away the Lascelles principles.

Brendan O'Hara Portrait Brendan O’Hara
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I think the fact that the principles are not there suggests that they will not be there. I understand that there is no statute—there cannot be—and therefore there will be no Lascelles principles on which to act. Hon. Members will know that things are pretty bad when I of all people stand here discussing the right of an unelected Head of State to use prerogative powers to act as a check on the excesses of the Executive.

Alistair Carmichael Portrait Mr Carmichael
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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way because this is perhaps where we see the significance of clause 3. If there is to be nothing in this Bill or no decision that would be justiciable, then surely the implication is that, in fact, there is only one decision that can be made by the monarch, and that is to grant the application.

Brendan O'Hara Portrait Brendan O’Hara
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I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that intervention, and I absolutely agree. What is happening here is that the monarch will not be able to refuse under any circumstances, although not because of that very dangerous path of going into the political arena.

Although something of a constitutional anachronism, the Lascelles principles did at least provide a degree of constraint on a Prime Minister who opportunistically may have wanted to cut and run mid-term and hold a snap general election when their popularity was on the up, or perhaps more importantly and more pertinently, when they knew future events—perhaps the result of a particularly unhelpful public inquiry—would be guaranteed to put a major dent in their approval ratings.

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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That would never happen to the SNP.

Brendan O'Hara Portrait Brendan O’Hara
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The right hon. Gentleman shouts from a sedentary position that that would never happen to the SNP. Indeed, the SNP could not cut and run in the Scottish Parliament because we work to a fixed term. The next Scottish Parliament elections will be on 7 May 2026, and no matter what befalls the Government between now and then, the Scottish Government will be held to account on that date.

Alistair Carmichael Portrait Mr Carmichael
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Presumably in that case, as with the OECD report on Scottish education, the SNP would just not publish the report until after the election.

Brendan O'Hara Portrait Brendan O’Hara
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The Scottish Government will stand by and have stood by their record, and have been accountable on the day of the Scottish elections for every Parliament. The Scottish Parliament knows when the next election will be, and every Government will be accountable on that day. If those in the Chamber want to look at the success of the Scottish Government—the SNP Scottish Government—as put forward and verified by the Scottish public just two months ago, let me say that I am sure there is not a Member of this House, particularly on the Liberal Democrat Benches, who would not give their eye teeth for such an endorsement. However, I will move on, Madam Deputy Speaker, because I can see that I am testing your patience somewhat.

Brendan O'Hara Portrait Brendan O’Hara
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I will come to the right hon. Gentleman in a moment, but I will take your advice, Madam Deputy Speaker, and move on.

Clause 3 of the Bill is an ouster clause. It aims in effect to put the Government’s action beyond the reach of the law, meaning that decisions made by the Government on these matters are non-justiciable. This is clearly the action of a Government who are still smarting from the humiliation of the Supreme Court’s Prorogation judgment in 2019, which said that it was not in the power of the Prime Minister to suspend Parliament for such a long time at such a critical moment.

In January, Baroness Hale and Lord Sumption gave evidence to the Joint Committee on the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, and they both expressed serious reservations about clause 3 of this Bill, which renders non-justiciable the powers given to the Government in clause 2. Those non-justiciable powers include controlling the space of time between the Dissolution of one Parliament and the general election and between the general election and the first sitting of a new Parliament. All of that would be in the control of a Government whose previous attempts to undermine parliamentary democracy through proroguing in 2019 were, as we have seen, deemed unlawful. The difference this time is that they hope that the Supreme Court could not intervene. Back in January, both Lord Sumption and Baroness Hale were unequivocal in saying that the minimum safeguard that this Bill needed in the event of such an ouster clause was to put a time limit on the moving of writs for parliamentary elections, which has not been done.

Brendan O'Hara Portrait Brendan O’Hara
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I will give way if it is on that point.

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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It is very much on that point. That case was brought by the hon. Gentleman’s hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry). Why was she sacked from the SNP Front Bench?

Brendan O'Hara Portrait Brendan O’Hara
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In the name of the wee man. Madam Deputy Speaker, I attempt not to waste your time or this House’s time, so yet again I will ignore the Minister.

In evidence to the Committee, the Government were advised that:

“The Fixed-term Parliaments Act had a provision that limited the time within which writs for parliamentary elections could be moved, and it is the latter that I think you would be wise to introduce into this Bill.”

Lord Sumption also warned the Government at that meeting. He said:

“I suspect that if the Prime Minister was effectively attempting to rule without Parliament by simply failing to issue writs of summons, the courts might well intervene for precisely the same reasons that they intervened in the case of the prorogation…I think it quite likely that the reasoning in Miller No. 2 would be applied to that situation. But, because this is a very undesirable state of affairs, I would very strongly urge you to introduce into the Bill a provision with a time limit.”

Baroness Hale and Lord Sumption could not have been clearer, but, six months later, the Government still have not introduced anything of the sort and clause 3 remains as it was back in January, in effect allowing the Government to decide on the length of a Prorogation, the gap between a Dissolution and an election and, indeed, the gap between an election and the first sitting of a new Parliament. They were warned by learned judges that that is not an acceptable state of affairs and they have had six months to do something about it, but it still does not appear in the Bill. If the Bill is passed as the Government wish, they will be able to do all of that in the hope of not having the courts look at it.

Until now, the only vague explanation I have heard about why the Government have not taken on the former Supreme Court judges’ advice is on a basis of, “Trust us—do you really think we would do such a thing?” The obvious answer is yes, because they have form for doing exactly that and have been found to have acted illegally. When the Minister for the Constitution and Devolution responds to the debate, will she explain why the Government have not taken on their advice? Indeed, will the Government finally seek to amend the Bill?

Under normal circumstances, a debate on whether this Parliament chooses to fix a term between its general elections is not something that the SNP would get overly het up about. Indeed, we do not intend to be here much longer. Hopefully, Scotland’s participation in UK general elections will be a thing consigned to the history books and children will learn about it alongside Robert Burns, William Shakespeare, the moon landings and how England came so close to winning the European championships. I hope, and have little doubt that, when established, our independent Scottish Parliament will continue to use the current arrangement: the one whereby everyone knows that, barring the collapse of the Government and an inability to create a new one, Scottish Parliament elections will take place on the first Thursday of May in 2026. That is how it should be.

The Bill once again exposes the absurdity of the UK not having a written constitution and reveals the inherent weakness of a system which simply hopes that the Executive branch do not do the things that, as a matter of legal and constitutional theory, they are allowed to do. Unfortunately, when the Executive decide to flex their muscles at the expense of the legislature and the judiciary, the failure to have adequate entrenched legal constitutional constraints becomes all too apparent. As I have said several times, the Bill cannot be seen in isolation and must be viewed as part of a concerted and co-ordinated power grab on the part of the Executive; one which, if they are successful, will give them even greater powers over Parliament and the courts. That is why the SNP will vigorously oppose it.

Robert Goodwill Portrait Mr Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con)
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First, may I put on the record how much I welcome the Bill? Indeed, having served on the Joint Committee chaired so ably by the noble Lord McLoughlin, who has gone on from a distinguished career in this House to—I hope—even greater things in the other place, I can probably own up to knowing more about the constitutional convolution surrounding this subject than it is healthy for any person to know, with the possible exception of the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant).

I was slightly confused by the points made by the shadow Minister, as Labour has a manifesto commitment to repeal the Fixed-term Parliaments Act. I am not sure whether we will see some backtracking on that. I was also confused when she said that the Prime Minister of the day could take the opportunity of the Opposition being in disarray to call a general election. I have to say that I could probably pick any day in the past five years, and no doubt in the next four years, when that particular situation could be in force.

When we started out on this journey, I took the view that we should go as far as possible to restore the situation to as it existed before the Fixed-term Parliaments Act. At the end of our deliberations, I remained of the same view, but we all came to understand better the historical and constitutional context. It is important that we restore the royal prerogative. Less important is the academic discussion about whether it was merely in abeyance and could be restored or had been abolished. The Lascelles principles were discussed: the reasons why the King or Queen could refuse the initiative from No. 10 and, of course, the discretion around a request—or is that advice?—to Her Majesty. Indeed the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O’Hara) talked about whether the Lascelles principles would still be in place. We learned about the golden triangle—the communications between the Queen’s private secretary, the Cabinet Secretary and the Prime Minister’s private secretary—who would head off an embarrassing situation for the monarch who might have to turn down an election because it was too soon after the previous election, because an alternative Government could be formed, or because other situations might mean that it was inappropriate to call that particular election.