A short contribution….

indexWednesday was the fourth and final day of debate on the Queen’s Speech.  Even with four days, the number of subjects drawn together for each day meant that the contributions in each  ranged rather widely.  Wednesday’s debate, for example, covered devolution and constitutional affairs, foreign and Commonwealth affairs, international development, defence, and culture.  One speaker would be covering the situation in Ukraine, another the value of the Commonwealth, and yet another the importance of maintaining the union.  There were over eighty speakers.  As a result, we sat earlier than usual and, even so, there was an advisory time limit for each back-bench speaker of five minutes.

I spoke on constitutional issues – I was speaker number 71 –  and, being well behaved, I kept to the five-minute limit.  I didn’t see much point in repeating what others said and instead raised two points which, if I didn’t raise them, no one else would.  You can read the speech here.  The second of my two points concerned potential consequences of the provisions of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act.  The Act stipulates the conditions in which an early election can take place.  It is possible to envision a situation in which dissident Government backbenchers, or a third party, joined with the Opposition to defeat the Government on a major issue of public policy, but – not wanting an early election – not be prepared to vote with the Opposition on a motion of no confidence.  No provision of the Act would therefore be triggered.  The Government may feel that it could nonetheless not continue and opt to resign.  We would then be in uncharted waters.  The Government has gone, but there can be no early election.  What does the Queen do?

Lest anyone think this is so unlikely we don’t need to worry about it, I can think of at least one major case where it may have happened had the Act been in force…

About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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9 Responses to A short contribution….

  1. tizres says:

    What does the Queen do? That’s one problem, though what should happen if HM died at the same time?

    PS Are we talking Ramsay MacDonald?

    • Lord Norton says:

      tizres: Oh no, much more recent.

    • Croft says:

      tiz: Since the sovereign never dies it doesn’t matter.

      LN: Surely you know the answer LN? She says (in her head at least) “Its your own dam fault you passed this” and officially refuses the resignation.

      • Lord Norton says:

        Croft: Well, there is that – not that it would create any controversy…

      • Croft says:

        Well in reality I don’t think the government would resign – its effectively become convention that it doesn’t happen until new PM can be appointed. But in reality were it to happen I’m not sure what option is left open other than the above. There can’t be no ministers at all! We could function perfectly happily without a PM – I suppose we could do a Duke of Wellington who held most cabinet posts in 1834 and give it to one person!

  2. baldymemike says:

    A friend and I were discussing this very issue this week. Fixed term Parliaments add an unwelcome rigidity to what has been a successfully fluid system. I’d imagine the vote on Syria could have triggered the constitutional crisis you alluded to.

  3. CES says:

    The problem of who the Queen should ask to form a government when there is no leader who leads a stable majority was not created by the Fixed-term Parliaments Act. Early elections are not a panacea for this problem, because there is no guarantee that the voters will produce a stable majority government even if another election is held.

    The Fixed-term Parliaments Act actually reduces uncertainty. Without it, there could be uncertainty about whether the Queen should grant the prime minister’s request for a dissolution in this scenario, given that another government MP or the leader of the opposition might be able to form a government. The “Lascelles Principles” were the essence of uncertainty.

    • Lord Norton says:

      CES: There has never been a panacea, but one uncertainty is replaced by another. There was some doubt as to what the Queen should do if a newly-formed Government was defeated on its first Queen’s Speech, but not if an established Government was defeated on an explicit vote of confidence, or one to which confidence attached by declaration of the Government, and requested a dissolution. An election may not produce a stable government, but that would be the result of the actions of electors and not of the monarch.

  4. maude elwes says:

    I do not like the notion of, nor the application of, fixed term Parliaments. If you think about it realistically, it’s a dangerous presumption. For, in essence it tells us that a group of madmen, who, having hidden their psychosis gained office, and are in the position to bring the country to ruin under false pretenses. Who cannot be forced out by a no confidence call. Now that strikes me as asking for it.

    Then there is the Blair/Brown situation. Blair was audaciously able to dump on the country an unstable and, from what I read, bordering beater, a Prime Minister no one had the chance to elect (I do believe at that time a vote of no confidence could have been called, but, who knows why, it wasn’t) In my mind this goes to prove we need far more intervention from the citizens on these matters, as without their compelling input the powerful run amok.

    Not to mention if you take the last week into account the Blair creature, once again, trying to push his luck with the delusional notion he can hold some kind of office here. A man who truly believes in his demented state, that he can woo the public into a lull, by his grinning bad teeth face, even though every outlet who asks shows the hatred of him grows rabid by the day. Imagine how could we ever be rid of him and his followers should another madman with his denial qualities find his way into office? Well, I suppose you only need look at Clegg and you see it rearing its ugly head as a repeat game. Or, is that too far from reality even for those who hold the reins today.

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