Fixed-term Parliaments

The House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee published on Friday a report on the Fixed-Term Parliaments Bill, in time for the Second Reading of the Bill in the Commonds this afternoon.

The report is highly critical, not so much of the principle of fixed-term Parliaments but of the speed with which the Bill is being taken through, preventing detailed engagement with experts and commentators outside the House and avoiding pre-legislative scrutiny.  The report raises some substantial issues in terms of the Bill’s provisions, some of which I planned to raise, not least in relation to the definition of a vote of confidence. 

The Committee did not have time to undertake a sustained inquiry.  Similarly, in the Lords we will be pressed for time, but the Constitution Committee – on which I serve – will be undertaking a (necessarily short) inquiry into the subject in time for the Bill’s Second Reading in the Lords.  It is a topic that will be covered when the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, appears before the Committee on 13 October.

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About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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13 Responses to Fixed-term Parliaments

  1. Danny says:

    But, how will you be voting? I don’t see how fixed term parliaments or an altered vote of confidence can be good for British politics, is it not moving the goal posts? I noticed David Davis was very critical of the bill, especially regarding boundary changes, (this may have something to do with his seat being a candidate to be broken up) this coincides with Labour making moves to select candidates for the next general election, putting pressure on the coalition.

    • Lord Norton says:

      Danny: I will see what the Bill looks like when it reaches the Lords. Suffice to say I rather agree with the points raised by the MPs who intervened in the Deputy Prime Minister’s speech introducing the Bill on Second Reading and who then voted against the Bill. It appears not to have been properly thought through.

  2. Frank Wynerth Summers III says:

    Lord Norton,
    I think the UK should do what is right for the UK. HOWEVER, I do not like the idea that the American example is being used for this (if it is as it seems to be) for the following reason. Most law in this country is still made in the legislatures of the 50 States, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the Territories of Guam and Samoa and the Sovereign Indian Nations. The Fifty with full share of sovereignty still all have fixed terms but they must share sovereignty with the Union. So all have to coordinate their varied terms some states have substantially different legislative forms in alternate years and some have only met every other year. Then we have one third of the Senate and all of the House of Representatives running for office every two years. In that context only State citizens elect electors by State who elect the President (but another quirk is that citizens of SINs have State citizenship for this purpose) every four years. Governors who have armies, (challenged) absolute power over insurance policing and licensing in many regards, contol all elections and employ almost all heavily armed police and run states which license the rest to cities and counties or parishes in this country are also elected at varied times. Now, even with devolution, Lords and the Queen (a very powerful trio to be sure) I still feel that our system offers a more constant review of the party in power. In the classical political science which formed the basis of all else for millenia it was understood that the most tyrannical form of government possible for a large country (almost all countries are large now in classical terms) would be a republican monarch (most would only understand a President) with broad powers elected directly by a simple majority of the people. The UK and the US are still far from that classical nightmare but I would argue that fixed terms certainly are closer to it than the current system. Now “close to” and “the same as” are very distinct things AND OFTEN FAILING TO DANCE WITH EVIL MEANS BECOMING ITS THRALL AND WH–R-! However, is there a need for the change and a good reason for it?

    • Lord Norton says:

      Frank Wynerth Summers III: I agree that it is inappropriate to draw on the US in this context as one is not comparing like with like in terms of political systems. It is a bit like some politicians who say they want strong committees as exist in the US Congress. Committees in Congress are strong because Congress is strong. You cannot just import parts of the system and expect it to work as it works elsewhere.

  3. ladytizzy says:

    I would like to know your thoughts on the date of the next Queen’s Speech. Is it as big a deal as Jack Straw makes out? His claim that the gvt is “…driven not by any coherent philosophy about constitutional change but by short-term, narrow party interests” has a familar ring to it:
    https://nortonview.wordpress.com/2010/08/09/a-century-of-constitutional-change/
    Obviously a fan of yours.

    • Lord Norton says:

      ladytizzy: The main problem is not the move from a May to May session in place of a (usually) November to November session, but (a) the unilateral nature of the decision – there was no consultation; and (b) the decision to extend the present session to May 2012 rather than May 2011, thus creating a two-year session. On the wider question of fitting within a coherent intellectually coherent framework, this is one of the points I shall be pursuing and indeed do pursue in a forthcoming article on the Conservative view of democracy. The Government is in danger of repeating the mistakes of its predecessor.

  4. franksummers3ba says:

    Somehow I earlier posted a comment outside of my account. This is a rather long comment still awaiting moderation. When it comes up please mentaly add the legislature of the US Territory of the Virgin Islands to the long list of legislatures in it. I frequently forget them which is inexcusable.

  5. Frank W. Summers III says:

    test entry

    • ladytizzy says:

      Frank, given your last two comments you might have come up against Juggernaut, that being who crushes comments with more than one embedded url into death by spam. We’ve all been there.

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