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Reform of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act must keep the Queen out of politics

Friday 4 September 2020

Reform of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 (FTPA) must not politicise the role of the Monarch, according to the House of Lords Constitution Committee.

The Government has committed to repeal the FTPA, but the Committee observes that repeal without replacement would cause uncertainty about the legal power to dissolve Parliament before a general election. Any uncertainty about such an important constitutional matter would be unacceptable and would risk drawing the Monarch into politics.

The Committee has today (Friday 4 September 2020) published a report A Question of Confidence? The Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 on questions regarding repealing or replacing the FTPA, emphasising that “constitutional change must be designed to stand the test of time”.

Key findings include:

  • The FTPA has proved controversial and the statutory review of its operation that must begin by the end of the year is timely.
  • A straight repeal of the FTPA without a replacement is not feasible;as it would leave no mechanism to dissolve Parliament and trigger an election.
  • Attempting to revive the prerogative power of the Monarch to dissolve Parliament would raise the possibility of legal challenge to the Prime Minister's advice to the Monarch, or the Monarch's decision to dissolve Parliament. This must be avoided in order to avoid inadvertently politicising the role of the Monarch.
  • Fixing the length of parliaments could in theory have practical benefits for Parliament. However, there is insufficient evidence from the 2010–15 Parliament to draw a firm conclusion.

Commenting on the report Baroness Taylor, Chair of the Constitution Committee, said:

“Since its introduction, the FTPA has proved controversial and in the eyes of the two main political parties it has been found wanting. Furthermore, there is insufficient evidence that fixing the term of parliaments has had practical benefits.

“However, repealing the Act without new provision is not feasible, as it is the only piece of legislation setting the length of a parliament. It is therefore paramount that any proposals to replace the FTPA leave no uncertainty about such an important constitutional matter”.

The Committee says any proposals to replace the FTPA will need to address a number of issues including:

  • Should the length of Parliaments be fixed absolutely or should mechanisms allow for early General Elections?
  • What should be the maximum length of a Parliament?
    Should the calling of an early General Election require the consent of the House of Commons?
  • If the consent of the Commons is required for an early General Election, should the Commons be asked to approve the date for the election?

The Government is required by law to appoint a committee to review the Act by 30 November this year.

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