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Fixed-term Parliaments

Volume 463: debated on Monday 23 July 2007

The Electoral Commission advises me that it has not held any recent discussions on fixed-term Parliaments.

That is rather disappointing. Former Prime Minister Blair promised the electorate in 2005 that if he was re-elected he would serve for a full term. The current Prime Minister has not called a general election, despite that promise. Would it not be appropriate to note that, with a fixed-term Parliament, that sort of political deception could not occur?

The Electoral Commission recognises that other elected bodies, including local government, the European Parliament, the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales and the Northern Ireland Assembly, are elected for fixed terms. However, the commission believes that the question whether fixed terms should be introduced for the House of Commons is a matter for the Government of the day, and, ultimately, Parliament, to decide. It would not be appropriate for me to reply on behalf of the Speaker’s Committee to my hon. Friend’s specific point.

Many of us believe that the case for a fixed-term Parliament, rather than reliance on the whim of a Prime Minister, is unanswerable, but I doubt very much whether it is a matter for the Electoral Commission rather than the political system. There is, however, a desperate need for the Electoral Commission to be strengthened so that it can perform a much stronger regulatory and monitoring role. Is that transition to a stronger role now well in hand?

Yes, there has been change in emphasis in the Electoral Commission, which is reflected in the corporate plan for 2007-08, which was laid before the House of Commons in May 2007. The report stated

“some areas of our work will assume less importance in terms of resource allocation in the future. Rather than taking a lead role in public policy development, we will contribute our expertise and experience to inform new legislation and offer independent evaluation of the Government’s own policy initiatives.”

Thus there has been an evolution in the role of the commission.

As the new Prime Minister has indicated that he would not want to go to the country without consulting Parliament—he made that very plain as one of his first utterances in the post—would it be appropriate for the commission to initiate a dialogue on the desirability of fixed terms, as there are many, on both sides of the House, who believe that they are a sensible solution?

The Electoral Commission does not believe that that is an appropriate matter for it to become involved in, but I have no doubt that the points made by my hon. Friend will have been heard at the commission, as indeed they will have been heard by the Government.