An advocate of the merits of fixed-term Parliaments in the past, Lord Cormack said that ‘as always, the devil is in the detail.’
The ‘logical case’ for fixing the term had been often rehearsed: ‘we remove the manipulative power of the Prime Minister of the day, we create a symmetry with other parliamentary, assembly and local government elections and we become similar to many other democracies,’ he said. It was, nevertheless, essential ‘not deprive the elected House of the power to turf out’ a Government that had lost its confidence. ‘The Bill before us recognises this, but only up to a point.’ Recounting the vote of ‘no confidence’ in the 1979 Labour Government, Lord Cormack said that ‘under the terms of this Bill as it stands, that vote in itself would not have triggered an immediate general election.’
Other provisions in the Bill were in need of ‘especially careful examination.’ Is it right to replace a royal prerogative with a Speaker's edict and is the prescribed length of the term better fixed at five years or four, he asked. ‘We should consider what the Constitution Committee of this House has said on that issue and, in doing so, we should bear in mind what has already been referred to several times as the proliferation of elections that are fixed at the moment for the late spring of 2015,’ Lord Cormack said.
Concluding his speech, Lord Cormack said, ‘I cannot but ask whether everything in this Bill, which received no pre-legislative scrutiny and which was subject to a strict timetable in another place, is not capable of improvement. In recent years, there has been a tendency-no, a habit-for Governments of all persuasions to rush into constitutional reform. It might have been no bad thing if successive Governments had remembered that old Latin tag, festina lente.’
The Bill, which started its passage through Parliament in the House of Commons, fixes the date of the next General Election at 7 May 2015, and provides for five-year fixed terms.
Second reading is the first opportunity for Members of the Lords to debate the main principles and purpose of the Bill.
The term ‘maiden speech’ refers to the first time a new Member gives a speech in the House of the Lords. A maiden speech usually takes place during a general debate and is uncontroversial.