Page last updated at 20:20 GMT, Monday, 13 September 2010 21:20 UK

Clegg urges MPs to support Fixed-term Parliaments Bill

Nick Clegg has urged MPs to back a move to fixed-term, five-year parliaments, claiming the change would ensure general elections are no longer the "plaything of governments".

The deputy prime minister said the Fixed-Term Parliaments Bill would "remove the right of a prime minister to seek the dissolution of parliament for pure political gain".

Opening Commons second reading debate on the bill on 13 September 2010, Mr Clegg spoke of the "damage" done when a prime minister "dithers and hesitates over the election date, keeping the country guessing".

He told MPs: "We were subjected to that pantomime in 2007 and all that happens is the political parties end up in perpetual campaign mode, making it very difficult for parliament to function effectively."

The bill would have a "very profound effect because for the first time in our history, the timing of general elections will not be a plaything of governments", he said.

At present, a prime minister can ask the Queen to dissolve Parliament at any time within five years of the previous general election.

Under the bill, general elections would take place on the first Thursday in May every five years from the next time voters go to the polls - which would be May 7, 2015.

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.

Shadow justice secretary Jack Straw pledged to support the bill at second reading, but he warned: "The legislation as currently drafted does not stand up to scrutiny."

He explained: "It leaves a large limbo by which prime ministers could use their prerogative power to prorogue Parliament... and the bill's mechanism for triggering an early dissolution of Parliament may impinge on parliamentary privilege by creating the risk that courts could intervene on parliamentary procedure."

The legislation was also criticised by several Tory backbenchers including Sir Peter Tapsell, Bernard Jenkin, Bill Cash and Christopher Chope.

Watch the second part of the debate here.


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