Last Friday, both Houses were recalled to discuss military action in Iraq. When the recall was announced on Wednesday, I spent some time correcting media reports that the Speaker had authorised the recall of Parliament. The Speaker can only authorise the recall of the House of Commons. The Lord Speaker authorises the recall of the House of Lords. Since the war, both Houses have been recalled almost thirty times, usually to discuss an international crisis, but occasionally for other purposes – for example, tributes on the death of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and Baroness Thatcher.
There is an interesting difference in terms of the conditions for recall between the two Houses. Under the Standing Orders of the House of Commons, the Speaker, having received representations from the Government, may recall the House if satisfied that the public interest requires it. The Speaker cannot act on his own initiative. In the Lords, Standing Orders provide for a recall if the Lord Speaker (or, in her absence, the Chairman of Committees), after consultation with the Government, is satisfied that that it is in the public interest. The wording would suggest that the Lord Speaker may take the initiative. There is a requirement to consult the Government, but no stipulation that a negative response would prevent a recall. The likelihood of the Lord Speaker acting on her own initiative are doubtless extremely slim, but, if my reading of the Standing Orders is correct, it gives the House of Lords somewhat greater scope for assembling, despite the wishes of the Government, than exists with the House of Commons.