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Professor Vernon Bognador, Kings College London – written evidence, (FPA0004)

  1. The Fixed Term Parliament Act has three crucial weaknesses.

 

  1. The unintended consequence of the requirement that the vote of confidence must be a specific one is to restrict a Prime Minister’s options for dealing with a political crisis. In my book, The Coalition and the Constitution, published in 2011, I failed to give full consideration to the fact that in future a vote on a substantive issue could no longer be made a matter of confidence by the government. In 1972, Edward Heath had declared the Second Reading of the European Communities bill to be a matter of confidence and told MPs that if it were defeated, he would seek a dissolution. Second Reading was passed by eight votes. This possibility no longer exists.

 

  1. Had the Act not been on the statute book, it might have proved possible to resolve the parliamentary deadlock in 2019. Theresa May could have made the Withdrawal Agreement a matter of confidence. Then, either the rebels would have come to heel, or she would have sought a dissolution. As it was, the Commons refused to endorse the deal; it also refused to vote no confidence in the government. This led to a situation predicted in my book whereby a government was able to continue in office but without being able to secure its major policy.

 

  1. The second serious weakness of, the Act is that it is left unclear what is to happen in the 14 days after a successful no confidence vote. Three possibilities suggest themselves.

 

  1. Whichever of these three possibilities occurred, the Queen could easily be put in an embarrassing position.

 

  1. These considerations confirm my view that the Fixed Term Parliaments Act should be radically modified.

 

August 2019