Fixed-term Parliaments (Repeal) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:52 pm on 6th March 2015.

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Photo of Alan Duncan Alan Duncan Conservative, Rutland and Melton 1:52 pm, 6th March 2015

My hon. Friend is right. The debate at the time concentrated on what would happen if a Prime Minister changed in the course of the Parliament—that has happened many times in our history, and I maintain that it is the right of Parliament to decide such matters through the leaders chosen by parties.

Because the policy was absent from our manifesto, the current coalition was negotiated behind closed doors, even before the House had met after the election, but that will be as nothing compared to the public anger if coalitions are formed, broken and reformed within the five-year term of a Parliament without any new election taking place to give them legitimacy and if the Act is used as the excuse for not going back to the people, pushing power into the hands of politicians and denying it to the people who give us our authority. If the Government were to lose a confidence vote, the Prime Minister could not, as they could in the past, call an election and dissolve Parliament. Under the Act, the Opposition would have a chance to cobble together their own majority by wooing potential partners and doing what could be seen as unseemly deals by making promises to buy little pockets of support in the House.

All this would happen hidden from view in the corridors of Westminster, with a ballot box nowhere in sight. In this scenario, the leader of a smaller party acting as kingmaker could simply walk away from their coalition partner and prop up the coalition without taking the trouble to ask any voter for their opinion.

However, if a party had a slim overall majority and wished to refresh its mandate and ask the people for their view, it could do so only by repealing the Act—which would be the easier option—as I am trying to do, I hope with the foresight that seems to be lacking in the major parties, or by tabling a motion of no confidence in itself, a step that my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Clarke has described as an act of voluntary euthanasia. Even if that were tried, it might not get through, because some in marginal seats might defy the Whip to vote against their own Government in order to preserve their own lives in this House. That is an argument I have heard echoed, from someone supporting the legislation, on the grounds—would you believe it, Madam Deputy Speaker?—that they cannot get a mortgage for their second home unless they can commit to a five-year job. Thus, the constitutional structure of this House and the laws we make are in some cases being determined by rational financial judgments by Members of Parliament looking after their own interests. Who can be said to be bought by money, except by looking at a case like that? It makes some of the other influences on this House look puny.

These are unintended, permanent consequences of an Act that was designed to fix a temporary problem. It is in every party’s interest and every voter’s interest to have strong, accountable Government. To do so, all parties should realise that what was done—and for a good reason: to hold together this five-year coalition—is not going to work in the future and will have perverse consequences. It compels all of us to combine now, before it can be said to be in any one party’s interests, to repeal the Fixed-term Parliaments Act and to make the change effective from the day after the election on 7 May.

I should make it clear that I have received significant indications of support, resting at the moment at between 100 and 200 colleagues, on both sides of the House, of all ages and from all sorts of constituencies, who say that they think this was wrong. We do not know what the outcome of the next election will be, but many think it will be less certain than many we have seen in the past. If it is uncertain, this Act will render it even more so and will have very perverse influences over the proper actions and complexion of the politics of this House. If we do not repeal this Act now, we will all regret having to live with a law that was suitable for holding together one term of Parliament, but will turn out to be wholly inappropriate for all of those that follow.