Bills not receiving proper scrutiny, if that is indeed the case, lies to a great extent in the hands of the Opposition rather than the Government, in the sense that 70% of Bills have completed their passage through the House without having exhausted the time available to them in Committee. The Government are making plenty of time available for scrutiny, but the Opposition are failing to take advantage of it.
In addition to all these merits, the Act provides a number of useful advantages to Government, Parliament and wider society. It provides greater predictability and continuity, enabling long-term legislative and financial planning. It gives those institutions whose work is affected by Parliament or Government much greater scrutiny. The timing of polls is now known and there will be less concern about policies or procedures being implemented that might only have a short-term or rather narrow self-interested objectives.
The Act also brings to an end the political and media speculation about the likely date of the next election, a feature of previous general election build-up periods that has all too often been an unhelpful distraction to the work of government.
Is the Fixed-term Parliaments Act too prescriptive? That question was asked, and although the Government are of the view that early or late general elections should be avoided, the Act is sufficiently flexible to cater for those rare but unavoidable situations in which an earlier or later general election is required. Under the Act the Prime Minister of the day can lay an order before both Houses to extend the date for a maximum of two months to deal with unexpected developments, although they must spell out their reasons for taking that step.
In addition, the Act provides for early elections to be called if a motion is agreed by at least two thirds of the House or without Division, or if a motion of no confidence is passed and no alternative Government are provided by the House within 14 days. This procedure builds in the necessary safeguards that will avoid future Prime Ministers routinely attempting to call early elections.
Although early evidence shows that the certainty that the Act brings has many benefits—for example, in work planning—it will be for the next Government to examine how the Act has operated in this Parliament. Not only will such an appraisal help the next Government in their own work planning, but it will help to inform any amendment that might be needed—
The debate stood adjourned (
Ordered, That the debate be resumed on