ARCHIVE: Fixed-term Parliaments Bill gains Royal Assent

[First Published on Monday 19th September 2011]

The following post was first published on ConSoc’s previous site. It is recorded here as a window onto issues as they were at the time. For more up to date news on the Constitution and Constitutional reform, make sure to follow the ConSoc blog.

The Fixed-term Parliaments Bill  has received Royal Assent 14 months after its introduction in the Commons last July.

Criticised by some commentators as an act of political bargaining between the coalition parties, the Bill has been a controversial part of the Coalition’s constitutional agenda ever since its inclusion in last year’s Coalition Agreement.  

The legislation dictates that the next general election will be held on the first Thursday of May 2015, removing the Prime Minister’s power to choose a date of his own choice.  According to the Bill, general elections will thereafter take place every five years.

Like the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act, the Fixed-term Parliaments Act faced its greatest opposition in the House of Lords. A “sunset clause”, making it necessary for every new government to agree to its term being fixed at five years, was introduced by Lord Butler of Brockwell and approved twice by the Upper House in the face of opposition from the Commons.

The amendment was finally defeated in favour of a government concession to commit the Prime Minister to carry out a review of the provisions of the Act after the completion of the second fixed term in June 2020.

The arguments for and against fixed term parliaments can be found in more detail in the ConSoc briefing paper here.  

ARCHIVE: Government Reform Proposals for the House of Lords

[First Published on Thursday 2nd June 2011]

The following post was first published on ConSoc’s previous site. It is recorded here as a window onto issues as they were at the time. For more up to date news on the Constitution and Constitutional reform, make sure to follow the ConSoc blog.

On May 17th the government introduced its Draft Bill for House of Lords Reform in the Commons and the Lords.

The Draft Bill proposes a move to an 80% elected upper house, with the remaining members appointed by recommendation of the Prime Minister.  The new House of Lords would be made up of 300 members, with the 240 elected members sitting for 15-year terms. Membership will not be renewable, which is intended to safeguard the independence of the elected members.

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ARCHIVE: The unseemly haste to introduce fixed term parliaments

[First Published on Thursday 16th September 2010]

The following post was first published on ConSoc’s previous site. It is recorded here as a window onto issues as they were at the time. For more up to date news on the Constitution and Constitutional reform, make sure to follow the ConSoc blog.

Following five hours of debate, the Coalition’s Fixed-term Parliaments Bill received its second reading on Monday 13th September and was passed with a government majority of 288.  A long-standing policy of the Liberal Democrats, fixed-term parliaments have become a central plank of the Coalition’s plans for constitutional reform.

How it works at present:

  • The UK does not have fixed term Parliaments and the only requirement is that Parliament must be dissolved after five years.
  • In reality, it is the Prime Minister who decides when to dissolve Parliament and call a general election. (Constitutionally, the dissolution of Parliament is a prerogative power of the Queen who exercises that power on the advice of the Prime Minister. Theoretically the monarch has a discretion as to whether or not to grant a request for dissolution by the Prime Minister.)  
  • Current constitutional practice requires a  government to resign or to seek a dissolution if it loses a vote of no confidence

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Continued controversy over EU Bill

  • Against a backdrop of Lords working through the night, The European Union Bill was afforded a fifth day of debate in the Commons yesterday, though calls to remove the normal House time limits were rejected.

The five days of amendment debate in the Lower House (almost twice that awarded to the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill) is indicative of the controversy surrounding the government Bill, with criticism waged from both eurosceptics and europhiles on both sides of the House.

Hear what the expert thinks: Vernon Bogdanor

Eurosceptic Tory MPs have argued that the programme does not go far enough and that the Government should have allowed the House to continue debate beyond the usual 10pm cut-off, removing the potential for filibustering.

Tory MP Peter Bone criticised Government handling of amendments, which prevented debate of his own proposal to hold a referendum on UK membership of the EU.

Bernard Jenkin, Chair of the Public Administration Select Committee, was also dismissive of the extra day, commenting that “this is not what was envisaged when we discussed the strengthening of Parliament in the previous parliament.”

The criticsm continues the Bill’s turbulent path since its introduction in November, with the Europe Minister David Lidington recently forced to redraft the Bill’s explanatory notes amidst criticisms of poor legistlative drafting.

 

The Bill At A Glance

 

Government intention

The European Union Bill reflects two promises made by the Conservatives in their 2010 manifesto:

  • To require a referendum before any further transfer of power to the EU
  • To introduce national sovereignty legislation “to make it clear that ultimate authority stays in this country”

 

What the Bill does

  • Requires a referendum to take place before any ‘significant’ transfer of power to the EU.
  • Requires a referendum before the use of any existing ratchet clause to transfer competences or areas of power from the UK to the EU.
  • States that EU law has effect in the law of the UK only through an act of parliament. This rejects the notion that EU law has legal precedence in the UK in its own right.

 

What the Bill doesn’t do

  • Repatriate any powers from the EU back to the UK.
  • Affect the primacy of EU law.
  • Require a referendum in the case of accession treaties or any ‘insignificant’ change to EU powers.
  • Prevent a future government repealing the referendum lock.

 

Comment

Professor Vernon Bogdanor argues that the EU Bill is both:

Contradictory: it involves a sovereign Parliament calling for a binding referendum (“like asking if an omnipotent God can bind herself”)

and

Redundant: it sees an executive legislate for a referendum-lock when it already has the power to veto any applicable decision.

ARCHIVE: Constituency boundaries – joining up the map of reform?

[First Published on Monday 8th November 2010]

The following post was first published on ConSoc’s previous site. It is recorded here as a window onto issues as they were at the time. For more up to date news on the Constitution and Constitutional reform, make sure to follow the ConSoc blog.

According to the Government “our political system is broken” and “we urgently need fundamental political reform”. 

The Coalition Agreement (the Government’s manifesto by another name) therefore groups a series of proposals for change in the paragraph entitled “political reform“, which Nick Clegg later identified as together forming “the biggest shake-up of our democracy since 1832”.

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