Belfast Telegraph

Devolved polls could be five-yearly

Elections to the Scottish Parliament and the Wales and Northern Ireland assemblies could in future be held every five years rather than every four, the Government has said.

The terms of the three devolved legislatures are set in statute at four years; and UK legislation would be required to extend their life to five years. The next devolved elections will be on May 5.

Ministers are consulting on a one-off delay to the devolved elections in 2015 so as to avoid a clash with the coalition Government's chosen date for the next Westminster general election of May 7 that year.

And Government minister Lord Wallace of Tankerness, the Advocate General and a former Holyrood justice minister, indicated that five-year terms could be made permanent.

Earlier this month the Scottish Parliament voted unanimously in favour of delaying its 2015 election to 2016; the National Assembly of Wales has yet to vote on the issue; and Stormont politicians will decide after this May's Assembly elections.

Lord Wallace said that the one-off extension, if agreed by the devolved legislatures, would be effected through an amendment to the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill, currently in committee in the Lords.

The Bill, which has already cleared the Commons, sets dates for UK general elections to be held every five years. With Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland on a four-year cycle, their elections would coincide with Westminster polls every 20 years.

Lord Wallace, a Liberal Democrat ex-MP, told peers that if the one-off change was agreed there would then be consultations and a "detailed assessment" of the implications of a permanent change to five-year terms at Holyrood, Stormont and Cardiff Bay.

This would "avoid a recurrence of the clash", he explained during the Bill's committee stage. It was not yet Government policy, he stressed, and was "not something we should be rushed into".

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