Legal challenge, what legal challenge?

The Fixed-Term Parliaments Bill which is being pushed by the Government - and is due for second reading next week - has been criticised by Dr Malcolm Jack, the Clerk of House of Commons - yet his comments come in strong contradiction to the findings of Professor Robert Hazell.

The Fixed-Term Parliaments Bill which is being pushed by the Government – and is due for second reading next week – has been criticised by Dr Malcolm Jack, the Clerk of House of Commons.

He expressed concern yesterday in front of the political and constitutional affairs committee: saying that the certificate issued by the Speaker after a vote of no confidence could run the risk of legal challenge.

Mr Jack, who is parliament’s most senior legislative expert, told the committee that the legislation could “bring the courts and parliament into conflict”, and that parts of the proposal could “impinge upon Parliamentary privilege”.

This morning, the Guardian reported that:

He said these certificates would be open to legal challenge, potentially bringing the courts and parliament into conflict and undermining parliamentary privilege.

His comments are contradicted, however, by the findings of Professor Robert Hazell, whose report (published by the Constitutional Unit at University College London last month) says on page 28:

The Speaker’s certificate is taken from the procedure under the Parliament Acts. It provides an impartial arbiter, and avoids the need for the Prime Minister or the Crown to get involved in deciding whether the House should be dissolved.

The certificate also minimises the risk of the courts being asked to rule on whether a no confidence motion has been properly passed, or a new government properly formed. The Speaker’s certificate is final, and conclusive for all purposes.

As Left Foot Forward has reported previously, no other country has such a long fixed-term. Many democratic countries have terms of four years, with Mexico boasting of holding elections every three years.

This week, the debate for constitutional reform began on Monday as the House returned from recess. The second reading of the alternative vote referendum bill, with the Government winning a majority of 59 in the evening vote. Ten Conservative Party MPs rebelled. David Davis, who voted with the Government but has been publicly against the Bill said:

“I think the people might respect us more if we admitted some of the real reasons for what we are doing. Of course there is party advantage implicit in what we are talking about.”

Jack Straw, former justice secretary, told the House that ‘although Labour backed AV, it could not support a measure which included “the worst kind of political skulduggery”‘.

Welsh Members of Parliament, including two Conservatives, have expressed concern over the altering of boundaries to make all constituencies an equal size. As Left Foot Forward reported earlier today, this could mean a reduction in the number of representatives in Wales of up to a third.

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