Recall of Parliament

45007Last 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.

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About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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4 Responses to Recall of Parliament

  1. RichR says:

    Did the Standing Orders use the same phrasing back when it was the Lord Chancellor, a member of the Government, who presided in the Lords?

    • JH says:

      SO 16 (of a 2002 copy of the SOs) said:

      16. – (1) If, during any adjournment of the House, the Lord Chancellor is satisfied that the public interest requires that the House should meet at a time earlier than that appointed, he may signify that he is so satisfied and notice shall be given and thereupon the House shall meet at the time stated in the notice, as if it had been duly adjourned to that time.

      (2) If the Lord Chancellor is unable to act for the purposes of this Standing Order, the Chairman of Committees, after consultation with Her Majesty’s Government, may act in his stead.

      So the distinction was there then (although less stark given the LC’s multiple role).

  2. An excellent and timely post about a crucial issue for modern parliamentary government. Proposals for reforming the unacceptable situation in the Commons – where MPs cannot precipitate the recall of the Commons, but apparently the Government of Iraq can – have been buried, because of the Government’s control over that House. I discussed this in a Constitution Unit Blogpost at the time of last year’s recall over the death of Baroness Thatcher: http://constitution-unit.com/2013/04/11/time-to-recall-a-shelved-parliamentary-reform/.

    I hope all those politicos and media and academic pundits which continue blithely to misunderstand the recall rules at Westminster, and – something which no doubt irritates you – conflates ‘House of Commons’ and ‘Parliament, will read your post, and realise that how things are done in the Commons is not the only way to do it, and that the merest bit of comparative research to see how other parliamentary chambers do things differently – not a natural trait among the Commons establishment – requires only a short walk along to the other end of the Palace of Westminster!

    If they feel emboldened to travel even further, they could look to the Scottish Parliament – the centre of a political culture which has just proved in recent days to be more energised and engaged than Westminster ever expected – where the Standing Orders set out extremely simple recall arrangements:

    Rule 2.2.10: The Presiding Officer may convene the Parliament on other dates or at other times in an emergency.

    Sadly there seems to be no robust way, under present circumstances, in which MPs can force a reform of how and when they are enabled to meet as the British People’s democratic representative assembly. In theory the new House of Commons Governance Committee under Jack Straw could address such issues, but, of course, it won’t as its real remit is to provide a veneer of parliamentary scrutiny to a ‘quick fix’ to the Clerk of the House appointment affair. Perhaps real Commons reformers will look at your non-hint of a way in way to ‘force’ Commons recall by way of a unilateral Lords recall.

    By the way, you no doubt noticed that notice of the recall of your House was promptly published on the Parliament website, but that any reader of that website apparently had to wait until just a few hours before the emergency sitting to be informed of recall of the Commons. Not a great example of outreach and public engagement by the Commons!

  3. maude elwes says:

    This vote to collude in yet another US/NATO pretence is a disgrace. We have serious difficulties at home that would cost far less to put right than this idiot schoolboy arms game to boost the dealers coffers.

    Who cares how this farce is recalled, it is simply an exercise set up to impress the public and pretend the seat squaters are doing their job, which they are not. I for one don’t give a toss if IS are taking the heads off each other, or those who are imbecilic enough to go out there and encourage them. Whether this group are recruiting their mental supporters offspring to join them in their hellish deeds or not, has nothing to do with us, As long as they don’t return to this country and that those who claim relationship to them can join them in their preference in an Islamic state can do so post haste. That is their choice and their business. Not one British man or woman in our armed forces or government should be ready to die for this Blair/Bush shambles until one of their offspring are on the front line ahead of them.

    Apart from that, this is deliberate misuse of our tax payers money. And if the government of the day is now so worried about what this may bring about right here on our streets, akin to the Woolwich disaster, then why did they introduce this crazy open door policy to cultural mismatches in the first place? Then to follow it up by never getting the courage to shut the bloody door even to this very day. How many of the worlds population are expected to be housed and fed by us tax payers. Why do we never get a figure on that little issue?

    Guy Fawkes knew well what he was after.

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