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Friday, December 20, 2013

Can David Cameron 'go nuclear' and use the Parliament Act?

Is David Cameron preparing to go nuclear?
The Telegraph reported yesterday that David Cameron has told his MPs that he will use the Parliament Act to force through James Wharton's Private members Bill for an EU Referendum? Inevitably described as his 'nuclear option'.

Assuming their Lordships reject the EU referendum, which given the number of former Commission employees, diplomats, MEPs and quangocrats in their noble ranks must be a possibility, how will this work?

Firstly, the Parliament Act, as amended in 1949, means that a Bill that has been rejected twice in consecutive sessions of Parliament by the Lords, should be presented to Her Majesty for approval whose official will by convention say or attach the wording "Le Reyne Le Veult" - to express, in Norman French, that the Queen will's it  - in this case a referendum on EU membership.

Reading the legislation there are a few pitfalls. The Bill needs to be presented in exactly the same form in the next session of Parliament. This will require the same rigmarole as this time, a new Conservative backbench MP taking up the Bill in backbench time, and further votes which will require another abstention by the majority of Labour MPs.

Once that is done two remaining questions remain. Firstly, can you Parliament Act a private members Bill? And if so does the Coalition Government, or a Government Minister need to assent? Secondly, can the Conservatives force it through before the 2015 General election?

Can you Parliament Act a private member's Bill?
Under the legislation the Act refers to 'Public Bills' and does not specify they have to be 'Government' Bills. It also states a Bill "shall, on its rejection for the second time by the House of Lords.. be presented to His Majesty and become an Act of Parliament on the Royal Assent." So no need for Government approval.

Will there be enough time?
The Current session runs until May when the Bill's second session will start. That will give the Conservatives a year to get it through the Commons and into the Lords before the election. If it is still in the Lords when the general election is called in May 2015, it could be Parliament Acted as one of Parliament's last acts before it is dissolved for the election.

What if the Lords run out of time but do not reject it?
The Current session of Parliament runs until May, so it is possible the Lords will still be discussing it at that point. In this case the Bill is treated as rejected (s.2(3)). The same would apply if it is still in Parliament in 2015.

Could John Bercow MP - the Common's speaker - have a role?
The legislation states that a certificate is required on the Bill to state the parliament Act has been complied with. It states a "certificate of the Speaker of the House of Commons signed by him that the provisions of this section have been duly complied with" is needed. It would be highly controversial for him not to comply but...

Lastly, if all these things happen what will it actually mean? As we have said before, it will certainly be symbolic and will have obvious political benefits for the Conservatives, but could it bind a potential Labour Government? Well probably not, and in any event even if it becomes law it would require further votes after the election. So important and symbolic yes but if this Bill becomes an Act it will not make a referendum a certainty.


Rik said...

He might not get it through but I see no downside risk.
Au contraire: the worst that can happen is Labour (and or LibDem) messing it up in the process.
Seen from the angle of Cameron's potential voterbase this will only do him good. Mr Ed will actively have to show himself as undenmocratic and a no go for as far the referendum goes.

3 Groups of voters interesting for Cameron. It works well in degree for all 3.
-Current voter will see it is about something and likely will show up in larger numbers. (But to be fair likely as well on the other side, but seen the passion within the 2 groups, fanatism (aka showing likely up) is more on the referendum side. Look at comments on this all over the place and the pro-referendas largely outnumber the stay-inners. Politics being dull and about nothing is ne of the reasons people donot show up.

-IP deserters and/or doubters. Very important group for reelection. Increases Dave's credibility with them and make the case for a vote for Ed is a vote against a referendum.
Looks very positive to me.
Might even cause some of the Labour deserters on this issue to move via IP to the Tories.
-Middle groups. Next important group that normally decides who is in government. Makes Mr Ed look like an anti-democrat (with a bit of proper PR). Look at the polls it is completely clear that this group might be natural doubters but they do like their referenda and democracy.

Combined this is a pretty good result for 'Dave' and it is the worst case scenario on this issue.

Next to the fact that it increases pressure on the otherside of the table re the EU reneg.

The games for Dave are getting reelected and getting a proper reneg next term. Next to getting the UK through the crisis should be his legacy.
It is about winning these games (wars if you like).
Parliament act is simply a battle in this war. And a battle that looking from the perspective of the war Dave cannot lose.
He wins the battle and gets an advantage in the war. Or he loses as such the battle but gains a much larger advantage in the war in return.

christina speight said...

This idiot farce is mere play-acting. If the public are denied what has been repeatedly promised to them the UKIPpers will see a landslide in their favour and we'll exit the EU with no preparation or attempt to remain on good terms. It will be the nearest thing to committing Hara-Kiri and it will be entirely the fault of the whole political class - Cameron. Milliband, Clegg, Farage AND Open Europe.

David Horton said...

"christina speight said...
This idiot farce is mere play-acting. If the public are denied what has been repeatedly promised to them the UKIPpers will see a landslide in their favour and we'll exit the EU with no preparation or attempt to remain on good terms. It will be the nearest thing to committing Hara-Kiri and it will be entirely the fault of the whole political class - Cameron. Milliband, Clegg, Farage AND Open Europe.

One of the most irritating issues of the EU membership question is that the interminable discussion has polarised the in/reform/out camps. A referendum has become a necessity, because to crawl along the same path will only push more and more people out of the reform opinion and to decide instead, to go for ‘in’ or ‘out’.

Not that it will make a great deal of difference. Supposing for one mad moment Cameron is re-elected with a majority. Fewer and fewer people seem to believe that Cameron has the diplomatic weight or bargaining nous, to draw enough concessions out of the EU to be able to sell it to the reform camp. I would certainly suggest that for every single small concession, he will convince a trickle of voters to drift to the ‘in’ camp. However, as the discussion goes on (and on and ON) and gets dirtier, that trickle looks less likely to become a flood because the British people aren’t daft. They will see Cameron buying a pup and shift to the ‘out’ camp. Add to the mix the increasing EU annoyance with the perceived intransigence of Britain towards the march to a federal future (an army, forsooth? What next?)

But the horizon isn’t purple. We won’t be leaving in the next ten years, because there won’t be a referendum in that time.

Cameron and his government are too unpopular. Add the voters defection to UKIP (myself included) and it is extremely unlikely that he will be back for a second term. Labour will get in and will take their vote as a mandate to stay in and fully integrate with the EU. The fact that LibLabCon ALL have a pro-EU outlook will be lost on the victorious Miliband as he meets his counterparts in Brussels for the first time.

I don’t wholly agree with you Christina. It won’t just be the fault of the political classes, although they have failed us utterly. I KNOW that the best way to get a referendum is to vote Tory and hope for a majority, but I can’t bring myself to vote for Cameron and his begging at the EU top table for a few crumbs. I’ll be ignoring head and following heart.

So it is my fault.

christina speight said...

David Horton [was Max a relation I wonder?] - you say you disagree with me but you appear to be drawing the same unpleasant conclusions.

The only glimmer of hope I see is a EU-wide move to Sceptic parties - sufficient to command a bloc of sufficient weight to put the cat amongst the pigeons everywhere. It might even stir the Tory MPs to think of their country for a change instead of their party

Jesper said...

Most acts of parliament can be reversed by another act of parliament. The acts of parliament that can't be reversed by another act of parliament are at the moment quite a few.
A parliament act regarding to hold a referendum can be changed, parliament agreeing to something coming from the EU cannot be changed unless 27 other parliaments also want it and even then it is not a certainty...