Fixed-term Parliaments Act: considerations for the Joint Committee

By: Malcolm Jack

A Joint Committee of both Houses is at present inquiring into the government’s introduction of a Bill to repeal the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 and the consequences that will flow from that. The Committee plans to report to both Houses by the end of this month.

Section 7 of the 2011 Act made provision for a committee to carry out a review and make recommendations including for repeal or amendment of the Act. The provision suggests that a committee’s inquiry should have been the beginning of the process instead of the introduction of a Repeal Bill. However, in his evidence to the Joint Committee on 10th February, Rt. Hon. Michael Gove, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for Cabinet Office, gave assurances that the Joint Committee’s views would be taken into account as the Bill proceeds through the Houses.

I gave evidence to the Committee on 17th December 2020 together with Lord Lisvane.

The principal issues that I consider need tackling in the Committee’s report are:

  1. What are constitutional conventions: are they enforceable; how do they change?
  2. What conventions on elections and government formations existed before 2011?
  3. What changes have taken place since 2011? (The most radical change was in the intervention of the Supreme Court in declaring Prorogation void in 2019.)
  4. What will be the practice in respect of no-confidence motions?
  5. What is the role of the monarch and how do the Lascelles principles operate?
  6. What can be learned from Commonwealth constitutional practice?

It is essential that the Joint Committee’s views and understanding of the constitutional situation be put before Parliament to facilitate debate of the Fixed-terms Parliament Act 2011 (Repeal) Bill as it proceeds through both Houses.

Sir Malcolm Jack was Clerk of the House of Commons from 2006-2011. He is also an academic historian and President of The Constitution Society.

The Constitution Society is committed to the promotion of informed debate and is politically impartial. Any views expressed in this article are the personal views of the author and not those of The Constitution Society.