Fixed-term Parliaments Bill: report stage day two

17 May 2011

The Fixed Term Parliaments Bill completed its report stage in the House of Lords on Monday 16 May

Amendments discussed covered clauses 2 and 7 of the Bill, including proposals concerning the circumstances that would allow for an early general election – before the end of a five-year fixed term.

Third reading  – a final chance to amend the Bill  – is scheduled for 24 May.

An amendment, moved by Lord Falconer of Thoroton, on the circumstances for a vote of no confidence in the Government of the day to force an early general to be held was defeated.

Under the proposals in the Bill if the House of Commons passes a motion of no confidence in the Government a general election must be held unless within the period of 14 days the House passes a motion expressing confidence in a Government. Notes on the Bill explain: ‘The intention is to provide an opportunity for an alternative Government to be formed without an election.’

Lord Falconer’s amendment sought to remove the 14 day period from the Bill to create’ certainty about what a Motion of no confidence is.’ Moving the amendment Lord Falconer referenced Prime Minister James Callaghan’s 1979 Government to set out his concerns: ‘Under what this Bill proposes – the 14 days – when the Commons told Mr James Callaghan that he had to go to the country he could have said, although of course he did not, "Hold on a minute, I'll see if I can get some Ulster Unionist support or some support from these rebels and see if I can hold on for a few more months".’ The Bill originated from the desire to ‘increase confidence in politicians and in Parliament,’ Lord Falconer said. ‘It is hard to imagine anything undermining confidence in politicians more than a situation such as the one at the beginning of 1979 when the Government were defeated, which has been described, and the Government then seeking to put together something to allow them to hold on between March and October 1979. That would, I suspect, have made the public feel that the politicians wished to hold on to power for longer. Not only does that 14-day period mean that that would be possible; it requires, in effect, that that period should be gone through.’

The House of Lords voted against the amendment by 236 votes to 203 votes.

Day one

The House of Lords voted in favour of an amendment that means that the length of future Parliaments is not permanently fixed at five years during the first day of report stage on the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill on Tuesday 10 May.

Amendment 4, moved by Lord Pannick, Baroness Boothroyd, Lord Butler of Brockwell and Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, would require each Parliament after this one to approve the fixing of the date of the next general election and, consequently, the length of its term as five years.

Explaining the amendment Lord Pannick said it was ‘of special importance’ that ‘a constitutional measure of this sort should be grounded in public consultation and in pre-legislative scrutiny.’ This ‘absence’ was ‘troubling’ because there was ‘no opportunity for the public to express a view,’ he said. ‘Unless and until there is proper public consultation on the issue, in a referendum if appropriate, we should do no more than legislate for this Parliament.’

The amendment was agreed to by 190 votes to 184 –  a defeat for the Government by six votes. 

The House of Lords voted against three earlier amendments, moved by Lord Falconer of Thoroton, also concerning the date of the next general election and the length of Parliament.

Amendments 5, 12 and 14 were agreed to without voting. 

Report stage continues on Monday 17 May when further amendments will be discussed.

Further information

The Bill, which started its passage through Parliament in the House of Commons, sets a fixed day for general elections for the UK Parliament to be held as the first Thursday in May every five years, and sets the length of UK Parliaments as a five-year fixed term.

The Bill has been the subject of House of Lords select committee reports. The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee published a report on 10 February 2011. The Constitution Committee published its report on 16 December 2010.

Report stage gives Members of the Lords further opportunity to consider all amendments to the Bill.

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