More on the Fixed-term Parliaments Act

The Prime Minister has announced she will be asking the House of Commons tomorrow to vote for the motion ‘That there shall be an early parliamentary general election’.  She correctly stated the provisions of the Act.  She is thus ‘calling for’ an election, not ‘calling’ an election.  The decision now rests with the House of Commons.  A two-thirds majority of all MPs is required for the motion to be passed.  That majority is expected to be achieved, given that Jeremy Corbyn has said Labour will vote for it.  Indeed, he made it clear some time ago that he would support an early election, thus doubtless aiding the PM in her consideration of whether to seek an election under section 2(2) of the Act.

The Act has only seven sections and one schedule – it is no more than nine pages, including the contents page – and was enacted in September 2011.  It is not the most onerous of reads.  Yet it appears to have caught the media out in reporting the PM’s announcement.  Asking the Commons to vote for an early election is not to ‘override’ the Act, it is utilising one of the provisions of the Act.  Nor is invoking the provision a technicality.  The Opposition has said it will vote for the motion.  The important point is that it is needed in order to pass the motion.  The press gallery of the Commons is not likely to be empty tomorrow, even though the outcome of the vote is largely taken as given.  It puts the Opposition in a particularly difficult position.  It will be difficult to attack the PM for going early to the country (as previously it could have done) when it is a party to the decision.  One could envisage situations in the future when a politically astute Leader of the Opposition keeps quiet as to whether the Opposition would support an early election under the FTPA, thus giving a PM pause for thought before rushing into an announcement.

Assuming the motion is passed, the effect is to reset the clock on the timing of the next general election.  Under section 1, if an early election is triggered, the next one takes place on the first Thursday in May in the fifth calendar year after the election, unless the election takes place before the first Thursday in May in the calendar year it which it is held in which case it is four years.  The five-year provision will apply in this case.

When the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill was going through Parliament, it encountered particular criticism in the House of Lords.  As a result, section 7 provides for the Act to be reviewed in 2020.  It was inserted to stave off a sunset clause.  Perhaps the House should have insisted on a sunset provision…

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About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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9 Responses to More on the Fixed-term Parliaments Act

  1. hugo says:

    “….The decision now rests with the House of Commons….”
    Surely the decision rests with Her Majesty the Queen?

  2. Robin Stanley Taylor says:

    This strikes me as a very strange time to be calling an election. Surely the government ought to have started the process a few weeks ago in order to have polling day on 4th May – in line with the local elections (and in keeping with the traditional election timetable). Alternatively they could have waited until after the local elections, having used those results to judge the likelihood of victory. Instead we will have the two campaigns awkwardly overlapping.

    • Croft says:

      The timing of Article 50 prevented that. There seems in practical terms to have been very few windows to drop this election into that didn’t clash domestically or internationally.

  3. Jonathan says:

    “a politically astute Leader of the Opposition”: You mean unlike the present one. I was thinking today that the one positive outcome of the early election may well be a new Leader of the Opposition, after Labour fail miserably to gain ground. Whether the issue at hand is Brexit or anything else, our system requires an effective opposition to work properly, and we don’t have that at the moment.

    • Croft says:

      Of course that was doubtless an argument the government had for not holding an election – in the hope that every day of JC was damaging the Labour brand such that even the successor might find it irrecoverable – as after ’97.

  4. Croft says:

    “Perhaps the House should have insisted on a sunset provision…”

    Understatement!

    Please tell me LN that sane heads are trying to lean on whoever is putting together the TP manifesto to include amending/repealing the FTP Act. And if they aren’t: are you busy? 🙂

  5. tizres says:

    “One could envisage situations in the future when a politically astute Leader of the Opposition keeps quiet as to whether the Opposition would support an early election under the FTPA, thus giving a PM pause for thought before rushing into an announcement.”

    Given the current Leader of the Opposition’s ascension was due to Buggins’ turn, we’ve a way to go before measuring the political intuition of his successor. This reminds me: is there a satisfactory alternative to allocate (all) opposition funding?

  6. What would this year rate on a volatility index when this is factored in with all the other major stories from politics, diplomacy and the military around the world.

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