Post-dissolution

Dave H asks what happens after dissolution.  Are members excluded from the Palace of Westminster?  What do peers do during dissolution? 

MPs and their staff are excluded from the Palace, not least because since 5.00 p.m .today – when Parliament was dissolved – there are no MPs.  Members and their staff can clear their offices but thereafter are barred from Parliament.  This is to avoid any use being made of parliamentary facilities for election purposes. 

The situation is different for peers.  Though there are now no MPs, we remain as peers.  We can have access to the Palace and our offices as long as we do not use the facilities for electoral purposes.  The library remains open, though the research services are not available, and some of the dining facilities remain open throughout the period of dissolution.  This is not just for the benefit of peers, but also of staff.  The Palace remains staffed for the purposes of maintenance and security, as well as to enable staff to prepare for the new Parliament.   Details of State Opening have already been circulated.

I know peers will be engaging in a range of activities, some very much involved in the election and others committed to their professions or other responsibilities.  I’ll variously be at Westminster.  I have to catch up on paperwork as well as use the opportunity to sort out the stack of material on my desk and, indeed, surrounding my desk.  Most of my time, though, will be spent in Hull: apart from teaching, I have research to complete and various publishing deadlines to meet.  I also have to monitor the election campaign and prepare some post-election analyses.  Oh yes, and mark a large number of undergraduate dissertations.  They will keep me well occupied on the train when I travel down to Westminster.

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About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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8 Responses to Post-dissolution

  1. Carl.H says:

    Does this include the Cabinet not having access ? I was led to believe they are still actually Government until the new is installed.

  2. Lord Norton says:

    Carl.H: Ministers do indeed remain ministers. The government carries on as the government, though strict rules apply during the period of purdah. The goverment only ceases to be the government when the Prime Minister goes to Buckingham Palace to resign, whereupon the monarch invites someone else to be Prime Minister and form a government. There is a gap between Parliaments but not between governments.

    In practice, ministers will be busy campaigining as politicians – and mostly as candidates (though quite a few ministers are stepping down from Parliament). My understanding is that, prior to reform of the office, it used to be the Lord Chancellor (a peer, who was not centrally involved in campaigning) who basically kept the wheels of government running during an election campaign.

    • The Duke of Waltham says:

      It makes sense at some level, given the power that the office of the Lord Chancellor used to wield in centuries past. In general, it would be appropriate for members of the Lords to have a more active part in administrative matters during the so-called purdah, given their relative lack of involvement with the election. I am sure this is largely the case with junior ministers, many of whom, I understand, are now drawn from the Lords.

  3. franksummers3ba says:

    Lord Norton,
    Many (not high percentages) abroad were grieved indeed when that aristocratic caretaking role you mentioned was abandoned. It was potent symbol of quite a bit. Do you think so?

    Where is the logical end of eliminating more and more such roles around the world? Has the world ever been drowning in quiet common feeling among members of society?

    • Lord Norton says:

      franksummers3ba: I was one of those who opposed eliminating or reducing the role of the Lord Chancellor. The change created a number of problems, not least in relation to protecting the role of the judiciary in discussions in government as well as creating the problem of who was to keep the wheels of government turning during an election campaign.

      Although the quality of the office holders varied, we had some very distinguished Lord Chancellors, not least Lord Mackay of Clashfern.

      • The Duke of Waltham says:

        The prorogation ceremony made me realise that one of the consequences of the reform was the separation of two roles in the Lords: being a high-level member of the government and being the presiding officer of the House. Perhaps I’m wrong and the difference is mainly ceremonial, but I found it rather interesting that it was the Leader of the House rather than the Lord Speaker who acted as the senior Lord Commissioner (and has apparently been doing so in the last few years). Especially considering that “Leader of the House” does not even seem to be used as a title in the Lords, with preference given to the sinecure with which it is combined (currently the Chancellorship of the Duchy of Lancaster).

  4. Lord Norton says:

    The Duke of Waltham: Well spotted. Once the role of Lord Chancellor changed, and the holder of the office no longer needed to be a peer, there was a discussion as to who should take precedence in a Royal Commission if the Lord Chancellor was not present. It was decided that it should be the Leader of the House rather than the Lord Speaker, with the result that you observed.

    • The Duke of Waltham says:

      I wonder… Is there any hope that the office of Lord Chancellor might return to a peer with a change of government, or is it too high-ranking for that to happen? As you say, Lord Norton, there is no longer such a requirement, but, for better or for worse, these things are not set in stone (though such a development would probably necessitate the return of the Attorney General to the Commons, for balance).

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