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In the News

A constitutional rarity

Mike McCartney

7th June 2023

The Parliament Act to be used to settle a battle between the Commons and the Lords

This week it has been reported that the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, is willing to invoke the Parliament Act in order to overcome potential resistance in the House of Lords to his legislation on migration.

As background, the Guardian reports:

"The legislation comes before the House of Lords this week, where it is expected to face significant opposition from peers and could be amended or delayed until later in the year.

On Sunday, immigration minister Robert Jenrick said Britain’s asylum system was “riddled with abuse” and that targets to reduce net immigration are not “particularly helpful”, despite previous pledges in successive Conservative election manifestos."

As the i reports (login needed):

"Rishi Sunak has threatened to force through his controversial Illegal Migration Bill amid concerns the House of Lords could delay the progress of the legislation."

In the same paper, there is a backgrounder on the Parliament Act (quite useful, because it actually provides examples):

"What is the Parliament Act and how does it work?

The Parliament Act, which first became law in 1911, removed the power for the House of Lords to veto a Bill proposed by the House of Commons.

Previously, the Lords had the power to stop legislation passing through Parliament and used this power to halt the progress of David Lloyd-George’s budget in 1909.

Under the Parliament Act, the Lords can only veto legislation which seeks to extend the lifetime of a Parliament beyond the current limit of five years.

The law initially gave the Lords the power to delay legislation by up to two years, but this was reduced to one year in 1949.

If the Lords does not approve the legislation within a year, it can be reintroduced by the Commons which can then pass it into law without the approval of the Upper House.

This update to the law also prevented the Lords from amending bills related to taxation or spending public money, and require that such legislation become law within a month of it being passed to the Lords.

Has the Parliament Act been used before?

The Parliament Act has only been invoked seven times since it came into effect over a century ago, including to pass the 1949 update to the law.

It was most recently used in 2004 to pass the Hunting Act, which banned the hunting of animals with dogs in almost all circumstances, after the Lords refused to pass it on two occasions.

It was also used in 2000 to push through the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act, which equalised the age of consent for homosexual and heterosexual intercourse.

The legislation was passed by the House of Commons but blocked in the Lords following a campaign by Baroness Young, who opposed the change based on her Christian beliefs, which led to the Government invoking the Parliament Act.

Other legislation passed using the Parliament Act include the Government of Ireland Act 1914, Welsh Church Act 1914, Parliament Act 1949, War Crimes Act 1991, and European Parliament Elections Act 1999.

Three further Bills have also been passed after the Government threatened to use the Act, including the Temperance (Scotland) Bill 1913, Trade Union and Labour Relations Bill 1975-76, and Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill 1976-77."

That's the constitutionality of the battle between the two chambers on migration. To finish, here is John Crace, from the Guardian, on the politics of migration with regards to Rishi Sunak/the current Conservative government's approach:

"...more than 500,000 of the people who came to the UK last year did so at the government’s invitation. To do the jobs the Brits won’t. To grow our economy. And of the 70,000 or so refugees who came by boat, roughly 90% were granted asylum. Rish! could stop the small boats by opening safe routes. But that wouldn’t play well with the bloodlust of the Tory right."

Mike McCartney

Mike is an experienced A-Level Politics teacher, author and examiner.

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