Fixed Term Parliaments: 1; or 50%+1; or 55%?

Nick Clegg and David Cameron Rose Garden press conference [May 2010]
The Coalition Agreement  signed on 11 May 20 2010 that has allowed for the ConDemNation has this to say on fixed term Parliaments

“The parties agree to the establishment of five-year fixed-term Parliaments. A Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government will put a binding [Early Day] Motion before the House of Commons in the first days following this agreement stating that the next general election will be held on the first Thursday of May 2015. Following this motion, legislation will be brought forward to make provision for fixed-term parliaments of five years. This legislation will also provide for dissolution if 55% or more of the house votes in favour.”

As I see it, this statement only refers to providing a vote for the dissolution of parliament, that is, the calling of a general election, by the RULING Government.

At present, Parliament can be dissolved by ONE PERSON, namely the Prime Minister.

To ensure the 5-year fixed term life of the new Parliament, this clause gives the Lib-Dems some measure of security in the ConDemNation as the Tories, currently with their 47% of MPs, could easily change the rules of engagement for the Coalition by finding the outstanding 3% needed to dissolve both the coalition and Parliament from within the other groups.

And what seems to have been forgotten is that in the Scottish Parliament, 66% of Members need to be in favour to dissolve itself.

I believe that a successful vote of no confidence [by a simple majority] in the Govenment proposed from the OPPOSITION benchs would still bring the Govenment down and lead to a General Election.

This has been the unwritten convention since 1782 – that a significant defeat on a major issue can lead to a vote of no confidence in the government. If the prime minister loses that vote he is then obliged to resign, or call a general election. This happened twice in the last century – the last time when the Scots Nats brought down Jim Callaghan’s Labour government in 1979.

In a briefing note on the proposed changes prepared for Left Foot Forward by UCL’s Constitution Unit, Robert Hazel agrees with me:

“The Conservative-Lib Dem coalition agreement proposes a 55% threshold before Parliament can be dissolved. This is intended to strengthen the hand of the Lib Dems: Cameron could not call an early election without the consent of his coalition partners, because the Conservatives command only 47% of the votes in the Commons.

“Some commentators appear to have confused a dissolution resolution moved by the government, and a confidence motion tabled by the opposition. On no confidence motions tabled by the opposition parties, the normal 50% threshold should continue to apply.”

I Say No to 55% and say Yes to 66%!

House of Commons Briefing Paper on Fixed-Term Parliaments Bill [RP10-54], prepared to inform the Second Reading debate on the Bill and  published on 26 August 2010, can be downloaded from here.

There Briefing Paper  outlines the provision to allow The Prime Minister, by Order,  to extend or shorten the period between General Elections by up to two months. Parliament would be dissolved 17 days before the date of the General Election.

The Briefing Paper also points out that initial plans for a 55% on early dissolution were changed after criticism to the effect that this figure had been chosen to reflect the current political composition of the Coalition Government. The new provisions to allow for an early dissolution ifHouse of Commons were to agree a dissolution motion. If this were done on a vote, two thirds of Members of the House of Commons would need to vote in favour.

Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 was introduced to the House of Commons on 22 July 2010 and received Royal Assent on 15 September 2011.

The Act fixes the date of the next General Election at 7 May 2015, and provides for five-year fixed terms. It includes provisions to allow the Prime Minister to alter the date by up to two months by Order. There are also two ways in which an election could be triggered before the end of the five-year term:

  • if a Motion of No Confidence is passed and no alternative Government is found
  • or if a motion for an early general election is agreed either by at least two-thirds of the House or without division



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s