In the early modern period Parliament could only meet in line with the wishes of the sovereign, which is to say that they could only get on with the business of making laws if the king or queen said so. The monarch had both the power to summon a parliament and to dissolve it, however the act of dissolution was immeasurably inconvenient because once parliament had been dissolved there would need to be new elections to recreate it. To save the time and expense of electing an entirely new parliament the monarch would instead prorogue, or suspend, parliament, so that it could then resume again at a later date, which was more convenient. These powers were often used by monarchs to control parliament and to bend it to their will. King Henry VII would, for example, summon parliament for just long enough for them to ‘rubber stamp’ his spending and policies before proroguing it again. Thankfully this is no longer the case and the summoning and prorogation of parliament follows a fairly predictable schedule. Of course, nowadays the Queen does not prorogue parliament herself – the last time was when Queen Victoria did it in 1854- but relies instead on the Royal Commission to do it for her, which is made up of the Lord Chancellor, the Lord Speaker and the leaders of the three major parties in the House of Lords.
This historical curiosity is important today because when the parliament is prorogued all parliamentary business comes to an end, bills cannot be carried to the next session so must be wrapped up beforehand, all motions that have not been carried and questions to departments that have not been answered are dropped and cannot be tabled until the next session. This means that prorogation is a deadline before which all parliamentary business needs to be finished.
The prorogation of parliament has been set for next Wednesday, the 14th May, giving MPs and Peers time to regroup in the aftermath of the Local and European elections on the 22nd before the Queen’s Speech and the state opening of parliament on the 4th June throws them back into the thick of it once again.
He was formerly Head of Policy at the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP). With degrees in history and economics from the Universities of Oxford and London, Jake is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, a trustee of the European Association of Philanthropy and Giving and advises several governments on public policy. He also advises clients on CSR and philanthropy activities.
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