Belfast Telegraph

Monday 20 October 2014

Fixed-term parliament plan backed

MPs have backed plans to move to five-year, fixed-term parliaments

Plans to move to five-year, fixed-term parliaments have been backed by MPs despite warnings it could lead to clashes between the Commons and the judiciary.

The Fixed-Term Parliaments Bill gained its second reading in the Commons by 311 votes to 23, Government majority 288, after Nick Clegg had earlier claimed it would remove the right of a prime minister to seek a dissolution of Parliament for "pure political gain".

The Deputy Prime Minister spoke of the "damage" done when a prime minister "dithers and hesitates over the election date, keeping the country guessing".

He said: "There will be no more feverish speculation over the date of the next election, distracting politicians from getting on with running the country.

"Instead everyone will know how long Parliament can be expected to last, bringing much greater stability to our political system. And, crucially, if for some reason there is a need for Parliament to dissolve early, that will be up to the House of Commons to decide."

But he faced strong criticism from Labour and some Tory MPs, with shadow justice secretary Jack Straw warning it could lead to "constitutional limbo".

And he was challenged over the problems that could be caused by the overlap of the general election date with elections in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.

DUP spokesman Nigel Dodds accused the Government of failing to adhere to the Prime Minister's "respect agenda" in dealing with the devolved administrations. Like Mr Dodds, SNP spokesman Pete Wishart said he was in favour of fixed-term parliaments but said the Government was not consulting with Holyrood, Stormont or the Senedd.

Mr Straw said Labour would not be voting against the Bill at second reading, but confirmed the party reserved the right to revisit its position as the Bill progressed through Parliament. He added: "The primary purpose of this Bill is to serve as a form of constitutional handcuffs to prevent either one of the coalition parties from assassinating the other."

Turning to fears the Bill could lead to clashes between the courts and the Commons he warned: "It leaves a large loophole by which prime ministers could use their prerogative power to prorogue Parliament ... and the Bill's mechanism for triggering an early dissolution of Parliament may impinge on parliamentary privilege by creating the risk that courts could intervene on parliamentary procedure."

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