Clegg: Commons no confidence powers “unchanged”

Nick Clegg sought to draw a line under the debate about the rules for a dissolution of parliament in his first speech as deputy prime minister today.

Nick Clegg sought to draw a line under the debate about the rules for a dissolution of parliament in his first speech as deputy prime minister today. After weeks of confusion, debate and dissent from Conservative backbenchers such as David Davis, Mr Clegg insisted the coalition’s proposals were “not taking away parliament’s right to throw out government”.

He said:

“It’s just wrong that governments can play politics with something as important as a general election; cynically picking the date to maximise their own advantage. So this government has already set the date we think the next election should be: May 7th 2015 – no matter who is where in the polls.

“That is unless parliament votes to dissolve itself first. As we legislate to fix parliamentary terms the details will of course need to be worked out; but we believe that the support of 55% of MPs or more should be required for parliament to opt for an early dissolution. That is a much lower threshold than the two thirds required in the Scottish Parliament…

“This is a new right for Parliament, additional to the existing unchanged powers of no confidence. We’re not taking away parliament’s right to throw out government; we’re taking away government’s right to throw out parliament.”

Yet, by not opting for a two-thirds majority, as in Holyrood, it remains possible for a future prime minister with 55 per cent of seats in the Commons to do precisely what Mr Clegg abhors: namely to “play politics” by “cynically picking the date” of future elections. As the graph below shows, on eight occasions since the war, a government has achieved this threshold, while on no occasion has it had 66 per cent of seats.

The proposed changes, if implemented, will have done nothing to curtail the powers of Attlee, MacMillan, Wilson, Thatcher (twice) and Blair (three times) to call an election at the time of their choosing – the most powerful post-war prime ministers would have been free to carry on as they pleased and ask the Queen for a dissolution whenever they felt, subject to their MPs voting with the whip.

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