Page last updated at 21:29 GMT, Monday, 13 September 2010 22:29 UK

Fixed-term Parliaments plan is 'squalid' - Labour MP

Labour MP George Howarth has described the government's intention to enshrine in law five-year, fixed term Parliaments as "squalid".

During second reading debate on the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill on 13 September 2010, Mr Howarth told MPs that he believed the legislation "is wrong in principle and that its details have not been properly tested or subjected to wider scrutiny".

Tory MP Geoffrey Cox QC also spoke out against the bill, which would mean that the next general election would be held on May 7, 2015.

Subsequently, they would be held on the first Thursday in May every five years.

However, Parliament would be dissolved early if no government could be formed within 14 days of a simple majority vote of no confidence, or if two-thirds of MPs voted to trigger a general election.

Opening the debate, Deputy PM Nick Clegg told MPs that these strictures would ensure general elections are no longer the "plaything of governments".

But Mr Cox argued that "the ability of the prime minister to seek a dissolution is not always a bad thing, it can be a good thing".

He added: "True it is that in recent times, prime ministers have tended to abuse it. True it is that in recent experience, they have perhaps lessened the dignity of their office by declaring elections in schools and by dithering over the nature, over the timing of a general election.

"But that does not mean that we ought not to consider very carefully indeed a fundamental change to a fixed-term Parliament."

Political and Constitutional Reform Committee chairman Graham Allen described fixed-term Parliaments as a "really important step forward" and predicted they would become a "steady, fixed aspect" in the UK, as was the case in other Western democracies.

"This, for once, is the executive giving away a power," he said.

"I welcome that change because it helps rebalance the power between the executive and the legislature."

But he criticised the way the government had gone about proceeding with the bill, saying some MPs felt "cheated" by the "abusive" process.

At the end of the debate, MPs voted to back the bill at second reading by 311 to 23, a government majority of 288.

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