The Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011 has arrived. The date of the next general election will be 7th May 2015. An earlier General Election cannot be called other than by application of section 2 (i.e. either the House of Commons votes to hold an election or the government loses a motion of confidence which is not reversed within 14 days). The ancient right of the Crown to dissolve Parliament has been abolished (see section 3) since a dissolution can now only be achieved once section 2 is followed. However, a power to prorogue Parliament remains - (section 6). Under section 7, a committee will examine the workings of the Act in 2020. The latter appears to be a compromise arrived at between the two Houses following an amendment in the House of Lords which would have applied the fixed term only to the present Parliament. One fears that this Act may have removed an important safety valve from the constitution in that it has been made more difficult to achieve the removal of a government no matter how unpopular it is proving to be or how necessary it may be to set up a new government. Of course, a powerful political weapon may have been taken away from the Prime Minister who could, under previous arrangements, have announced an election at a time of his political choosing.
It is also worth noting that the 2015 general election will be held with a smaller number of revised constituencies. This follows a Boundary review though the outcome of the review remains to be accepted by Parliament - see Boundary Commission. A further issue is that of Voter Registration which the government proposes to change from household registration to individual registrations - The Guardian 15th September 2011. In addition, a Commission has been appointed to
examine the so-called "West Lothian Question" - The Guardian 8th September and, in case we had forgotten, the coalition government's plans to reform the Lords are on-going - Law and Lawyers 20th May 2011.
The European Union Act 2011 (with Explanatory notes) is concerned with the processes by which European Union matters are implemented into the law in the U.K. Law and Lawyers looked at the original Bill - "European Union Bill ... a further look" 24th November 2010. Section 18 is of particular interest:
Directly applicable or directly effective EU law (that is, the rights, powers, liabilities, obligations, restrictions, remedies and procedures referred to in section 2(1) of the European Communities Act 1972) falls to be recognised and available in law in the United Kingdom only by virtue of that Act or where it is required to be recognised and available in law by virtue of any other Act.
At face value, this section seems to assert that the UK is only agreeing to any form of EU law because Parliament says so. If this right, then the clause seems rather pointless because that was surely the legally accepted position anyway. Whether more than this will be read into the section is a moot point which may, one day, exercise the courts.
The third Act of this trilogy is the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 The Act will bring in elected Police Commissioners for forces outside London. These will be in addition to Chief Constables. Considerable amendments are made to the Licensing Act 2003. For some, the good news would be the repeal of section 132-138 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 which dealt with demonstrations etc. in Parliament Square, London. However, any rush to joy might well be tempered by a full reading of section 141 to 149 of the 2011 Act which make Parliament Square a "controlled area" and prohibits a considerable number of acts including erection of tents etc. Clearly, no further protests such as that by the late Brian Haw are to be tolerated! Generally, this Act comes into force on dates to be announced by Commencement Orders. However, section 153, "Restrictions on arrest warrants in private prosecutions" is already in force - see Ministry of Justice announcement 15th September..