Thursday, 13 May 2010

A proposal containing major difficulties

The new Coalition government has announced that they will legislate for fixed term Parliaments of 5 years.  (See here).  The rationale for this seems to come from a desire by the parties forming the coalition to lock themselves into a fixed term arrangement for government.  A fixed term parliament would take away the Prime Minister's nuclear option of controlling the election date but, even if one accepts that fixed term parliaments are a good idea, there ought still to be a debate about whether the term should be 5 years or 4.  Most parliaments seem to be running out of steam at around 4 years.

The Coalition's proposal goes on to say that the legislation will "also provide for dissolution if 55% or more of the House votes in favour".  This part of the proposal certainly requires a great deal more thought and explanation.  For example, in view of the coalition arrangement, is the proposal limited to this parliament or is it intended to be a permanent change?  On the face of it, there could be many possible problems and perhaps not all of them can be identified at the present time.  Even if the parties to the coalition government wish to lock into a 55% arrangement (should they wish to propose a dissolution) it would seem wise to retain the traditional "no confidence rule" - i.e. that if the government loses a vote of confidence by at least 50% + 1 then the P.M. must resign and thereafter a general election is called.

For further analysis on this see the blogs Head of Legal and Charon QC.

Addendum 14th May 2010:  See Daily Mail - "Revolt looms over 5 year parliament "stitch-up" that Liberal Democrats demanded" and also see BBC 14th May.

Further addendum 14th May 2010: - Now that the possible implications of the 55% proposal are being realised, many politicians are speaking out against it.   The Times 14th May.


  1. It soes seem that this analysis is not quite right. The 55 percent refers not to a vote of confidence, but to the dissolution. It means that the PM can call for dissolution if he has 55 percent of the Commons behind him, whether or not the five year period has expired. In the current situation, this is to prevent DC and NC togethre calling a snap election without at least a few others onside. In the event of a confidence vote, the 50% plus 1 rule still applies.

  2. Rex - I hope that you are right.

    As I said in the post, explanation is lacking. In particular what is the relationship of the 55% proposal to traditional votes of confidence. It would be more acceptable if:

    1. The government proposed a dissolution then 55% rule applies

    2. An Opposition Vote of Confidence continues to require simple majority (50%+1)

  3. On the point of the lifetime of a parliament, if steams runs out after fours there should be a year where everything settles down and we all see how things go. There's value in taking time to think.

  4. A 5 year parliament seems rather long but 3 years (such as Australia and New Zealand) rather short. IMHO, a 4 year term would seem preferable. 4 years would also offer a sensible balance between allowing an elected government time to implement its policies and allowing the electorate a frequent enough opportunity to pass judgment on the politicians.