Emergency recall of the House
56. The Crown has had the power to recall Parliament
during an adjournment or prorogation since the end of the 18th
century. Power to
recall the House of Commons during an adjournment was given to
the Speaker by individual orders on an occasional basis from the
summer of 1920 onwards, and by sessional orders from 1939 to 1946.
These were converted into a standing order (now No. 13) in 1947.
Between 1920 and 1931,
the order was phrased in such a way as to give the Speaker the
initiative, but to act after consulting the Government. From Summer
1932 onwards, the orders assumed their present form, under which
the Speaker can recall the House only at the Government's request.
57. Following the experience in the summer recess
of 2002, when pressure for a recall to debate the situation in
Iraq grew until the Government requested the Speaker to recall
Parliament for 24 September,
there have been calls for the Speaker to be given the power to
recall the House independently of the Government.
58. Difficulties could arise in the use of this power.
The Government could be unco-operative if Ministers would prefer
a recall not to take place; even if the principle were accepted,
the Speaker might recall the House on an occasion when the relevant
minister (eg the Foreign Secretary) were out of the country. These
difficulties could be overcome by negotiations between the Speaker
and the Government, as are of course also possible under the present
system. The Government pointed out that (on the assumption that
the House continues to hold sittings in September,
rather than adjourn from July until October), recalls in summer
will become rarer.
The principle is, however, whether in an emergency the ultimate
decision on a recall should rest with the Government or with the
Speaker. We believe that the decision should rest with the
59. The question then arises as to whether the Speaker
should have unfettered discretion on a recall, or should be required
to act if a certain number of Members write requesting one.
Even if there were a requirement for a party balance as well as
a numerical threshold, it is not difficult to imagine occasions
when party political manoeuvrings might take place to bring about,
or prevent, a recall. And in most recesses Members have made calls
for recalls, with varying degrees of justification.
We would expect the Speaker to bear in mind the number and
source of representations made to him requesting a recall, but
we do not think details should be specified in a standing order.
As at present, the Deputy Speakers should have the same powers
as the Speaker when the latter is unable to act.
Business during a recall
60. The Speaker's only power during a recall is to
fix the date and time of the first sitting. The contents of the
Order of Business is determined by the Government, and they are
also responsible for tabling any sittings or business motions
controlling the number and length of sittings. A sittings motion
is normally required to provide for the House to rise after the
desired number of sittings and adjourn to the original date planned
for the end of the recess (or another date); this type of motion
is decided without debate.
61. On 24 September 2002, the Government's sittings
motion provided for only one day, but the Speaker recalled the
House for 11.30 am rather than 2.30 pm, allowing 10½ rather
than 7½ hours for the debate, which had to conclude at 10
pm, the time then specified by Standing Order No. 9 for Tuesdays.
This extra time meant that 53 Members were able to speak, but
we understand that many more were unsuccessful. The previous recall
was on 3 April, following the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth
the Queen Mother, and the House rose after a debate of nearly
two hours on a motion for an address of condolence. Several Members
expressed the view that there should also have been a debate on
developments in the Middle East at that time.
While not agreeing that the Speaker should have the power to determine
the length of a recall, the Leader of the House said that the
level of demand to speak should be borne in mind in the future.
62. We have considered whether the Speaker should,
exceptionally, be empowered to specify the business of the House
during an emergency recall. We do not believe that this would
be appropriate, as it could draw him into matters of party controversy.
However, we do believe that the Government's sittings motion specifying
the number of days on which the House sits after the recall has
taken place should be debatable unless it is tabled with the approval
of the Speaker.
71 The Meeting of Parliament Acts 1797 and 1799 confer
the power on the Crown to recall Parliament during a prorogation
and an adjournment respectively; Parliament is also recalled automatically
if the reserve forces are called out, if a state of emergency
has been declared (as in 1926), or if the reigning Sovereign dies
or abdicates. Back
Orders of this type were passed in 1920, 1921, 1922, 1924 (the
House was recalled in September) and 1931. Back
The current wording is: "Whenever the House stands adjourned
and it is represented to the Speaker by Her Majesty's Ministers
that the public interest requires that the House should meet at
a time earlier than that to which the House is adjourned, the
Speaker, if he is satisfied that the public interest does so require,
may give notice that, being so satisfied, he appoints a time for
the House to meet
The notice of recall was issued on 16 September. Back
A motion in the name of Mr Graham Allen to this effect has appeared
on the Remaining Orders of the Day on many days during the current
session. It proposes to replace paragraph (1) of SO No 13 with
the words "If the Speaker is of the opinion that the public
interest requires that the House should meet at a time earlier
than that to which it stands adjourned, the House shall meet at
such time as the Speaker shall appoint". See also Ev 16 para
3 and Qq 90-4 (Hansard Society); Ev 55 (Mr Dalyell). Back
The House sat on 8-11 and 15-18 September 2003. The Leader of
the House has announced proposals for sittings on 7-9 and 13-16
September 2004 (HC Deb, 23 October 2003, c 789). Back
Ev 118 para 19 Back
This possibility was mentioned by Sir George Young (Q 30), Mr
Forth (Ev 102; Qq 426-31), Julia Drown (Ev 134). Back
The Government told us that it "would be resistant to any
led to recalls in circumstances which did
not merit it" (Ev 118 para 19). Back
SO No 25 (Periodic adjournments) Back
HC Deb, 3 April 2002, c 805, 824 Back
Q 488 Back