Lords tear into 5-year fixed terms

By politics.co.uk staff

The coalition’s plan to remove the prerogative of the prime minister to call an election and have five-year fixed terms for parliament will make MPs ‘less accountable’, peers have claimed.

The Lords constitution committee implied that the coalition plans were being governed far more by political concerns to hold off an election for as long as possible while the spending review process is ongoing.

Baroness Jay, chairman of the committee, said the peers had “significant concerns that the fixed-term parliaments bill currently before parliament is based on short-term considerations rather than long-term constitutional principles.”

Nick Clegg’s claims that the bill would make MPs more accountable to constituents were also questioned.

Baroness Jay continued: “The majority of the committee could see no justification for the period of fixed-term parliaments being set at five rather than four years. The move will reduce the frequency of general elections, and reduce parliament’s accountability to the public not increase it.

“In our view the government have failed to make the case for such a significant constitutional change and undertook no consultation or pre-legislative scrutiny before they bought the legislation to parliament. That is extremely regrettable.”

The committee also pointed out that David Cameron’s calls at the beginning of the year to call a general election following a potential change in prime minister, or if the government was ineffective, would “not be possible if the proposed legislation were enacted.

Other elements in the bill have caused concern among constitutional experts, particularly those relating to raising the threshold for votes of no confidence to be carried as well as arguments that five years is too long for a parliament to persist without going to the electorate.

As things stand, the date of the next general election is set for May 2015, fuelling suggestions that the coalition is determined to allow as much time as possible for economic recovery to take hold to improve the governing parties’ chances.