Open Europe Blog

Which century do the Lords think they live in?

So the assembled House of Quangocrats (sorry, we couldn’t help it), former MPs, diplomats and political hacks otherwise known as the House of Lords has voted to put an end to the Conservative’s EU Referendum Bill. David Cameron will most likely now try to use the so-called Parliament Act. This is a rarely used power which allows the House of Commons to effectively over-rule the House of Lords. So this will be a showdown.

We looked at how this could work before. This is the likely sequence of events from here.

Firstly, the Parliament Act requires that the Bill should be rejected twice by the Lords in consecutive sessions of Parliament. Running out of time counts as rejection but the Bill needs to be presented in exactly the same form in the next session of Parliament. This will require the same rigmarole as the first time around – 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.

So will there be enough time before the election to actual use the Parliament Act? The biggest risk for the Tories is that the Peers who oppose the Bill continue to debate it until the end of the next session, meaning that Cameron would never get the chance to use the Parliamentary Act. The second session will start in May. 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 potentially be “Parliament Acted” as one of Parliament’s last acts before it is dissolved for the election.

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 stranger things have happened.

So it is just possible to get this through before the election, even if the Lords try to talk it out. This will give the Conservative’s a symbolic victory and a political advantage but will not bring a referendum on its own. That will require Cameron to win an election.

This has been a tricky Europe week for David Cameron

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