Fixed-term Parliaments – Addendum

A comment on my earlier post suggesting that the reason why the Lords defeated the Fixed-Term Parliaments Bill was because fixed-term parliaments was not a promise made by either the Liberal Democrats or the Conservatives in their 2010 manifestos.

This, however, is incorrect. Both parties promised fixed-term parliaments. The Lib Dems did not indicate how long the term would be, but the Conservatives do specify a five-year term. Click here for the relevant section of the Lib Dem manifesto (p. 2) and and here for the Conservative promise – it’s the first item listed in the Cleaning Up Politics section.

Given that both parties campaigned on this promise, and that it was carried over to the Coalition Programme for Government, I would argue that the Salisbury Convention should have applied in this instance. For those not familiar with this convention, it is a practice adopted by the House of Lords which has evolved so that:

In the House of Lords:

A manifesto Bill is accorded a Second Reading;

A manifesto Bill is not subject to “wrecking amendments” which change the Government’s manifesto intention as proposed in the Bill; and

A manifesto Bill is passed and sent (or returned) to the House of Commons, so that they have the opportunity, in reasonable time, to consider the Bill or any amendments the Lords may wish to propose.

There was some debate following the 2010 election if the Salisbury Convention would apply since the government was a Coalition and neither party had campaigned on the Coalition programme. The Political and Constitutional Reform Committee briefly looked at this issue in its report on Lessons from the process of Government formation after the 2010 General Election, but concluded only:

It is for individual Members of the House of Lords to decide whether to apply this convention to Bills which originate from the coalition Government’s programme for government. We have sought the views on this matter of the Leaders of the main political parties in the House of Lords, as well as the Convenor of the Independent Crossbench Peers. However, we received a range of opinions from a number of witnesses and no definitive consensus has emerged. Baroness Royall, Leader of Her Majesty’s Official Opposition in the House of Lords, has argued that these cannot rightly be called manifesto Bills. Robert Hazell argued in oral evidence that the convention actually applies to all government Bills.

However, earlier in that same report, the Committee notes (italics added):

A policy contained in a coalition agreement does not have the same mandate as a manifesto pledge, except where the policy was reflected in the manifestos of both parties to the coalition. In the case of a pledge which was contained in one coalition party’s manifesto, the popular mandate in support of it was not enough to give that party a majority. Where policies are included in a coalition agreement that were not included in the manifesto of any party to a coalition government, these carry the same authority as a non-manifesto policy adopted after an election by a single-party government.

Fixed-term parliaments were promised by both parties, therefore I would argue that this Bill should be treated the same as a Bill originating from a manifesto pledge from a government made up of a single party.

Edit: Apparently the Conservatives added fixed-term parliaments to their manifesto retroactively.

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