A succinct summary on the situation with prorogation of Parliament by Dr Ruth Fox...
First published in August 2019.
• Dr Ruth Fox is Director and Head of Research at the Hansard Society.
• She wrote and shared the following story on Twitter on Wednesday.
Lots of discussion today about whether the length of prorogation really matters given the upcoming party conference season. But conference recess has not been agreed. So we have crunched the numbers and yes, the length matters!
The government’s desire to bring this long session to an end and outline a new legislative programme in a Queen’s Speech could be met with a prorogation of one to two weeks. Anything longer than this is both unnecessary and beyond the norm.
We do not yet know on which day between 9 and 12 September Parliament will be prorogued. The Order in Council states that it will be no earlier than Monday 9th September and no later than Thursday 12 September.
This is a prorogation of 31 to 35 days. Prorogation is normally uncontroversial but one of this length is unprecedented in recent times.
In this decade, as the House of Commons Library stats show, prorogations for the start of a new session (rather than for dissolution) have been 5 days in 2016; 20 days in 2014; 12 days in 2013; and 7 days in 2012.
The 2014 prorogation, hitherto the longest this decade, covered the period of elections to the European Parliament, when MPs were out campaigning, as well as what would have been the Whitsun recess.
Defenders of the government’s decision today argue that as the Commons would not be sitting for the party conference recess – probably rising on Thursday 12 September and returning on Monday 7 or Tuesday 8 October – then a Queen’s Speech on 14 October means a loss of up to 7 sitting days at most.
However, the government has not brought forward a motion for the conference recess. Any dates for recess have to be agreed by MPs. And Opposition party leaders reportedly discussed opposing such a motion yesterday.
So, in calculating the days when the Commons might, or might not, have been sitting, it cannot be assumed that it would have gone into recess for party conference season.
And even if the Commons agreed to go into recess for party conference season, the House of Lords could have carried on sitting. Prorogation denies both Houses the opportunity to decide.
Counting from the return of the House on 3 September, without a conference recess there could be 35 Commons sitting days to Brexit day on 31 October, assuming no sitting Fridays. If the House sat on Fridays there would potentially be 7 more sitting days.
If Parliament is prorogued on the 9 September there will be only 16 sitting days left to 31 October, assuming no sitting Fridays. If it happens on the 10 September there will be just 17, on the 11 September just 18 or on the 12 September just 19 sitting days left, assuming no sitting Fridays.
So, the government’s manoeuvre halves the number of potential pre-Brexit sitting days when government ministers can be held to account.
In the current Brexit context anything longer than a usual short prorogation to end the session and start a new one helps the government evade parliamentary scrutiny.
If Parliament stands prorogued ministers cannot be called to account each day at the despatch box. There will be no urgent questions, no emergency debates, no ministerial questions, no Prime Minister’s Questions.
There will be no scrutiny of ministers’ negotiations with the EU or of the progress being made with no-deal preparations while both Houses stand prorogued.
Select committees will not be able to sit and scrutinise government planning and decision-making. If the House had merely adjourned – e.g. for conference recess – then they could have held evidence sessions if necessary.🔷
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