My very small son would not go to sleep so I made him watch the second reading on the BBC. He was as riveted as I was and the transcript is here for those seeking entertainment.
The following issues were raised:
- Most speakers complained about the lack of any pre-legislative scrutiny (no green or white papers or indeed any consultation at all) and the guillotined consideration of a constitutional bill in both Houses.
- Many MPs and lawyers consider that because the Bill permits the Prime Minister to order that an election can take place 2 months earlier or later than the 5th anniversary of the last election, the Bill is one which provides for the power to extend the term of a Parliament and is therefore not subject to the Parliament Acts and can be vetoed by the House of Lords. Wouldn't that be an interesting outcome - if the Lords vetoed the Bill to save the Commons from this constitutional folly.
- The Speaker could be involved in political and legal wrangles as he must certify that the relevant vote has taken place in the House and that an election could be called. Imagine if the Speaker got it wrong and faced a challenge?
- The Bill does not take the power to call an election from the Prime Minister and hand it to the House of Commons. If the Prime Minister and Whips ordered their majority of MPs to abstain or be absent from a vote on a general election...it would be lost by the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister would have the general election he wished for....
The Dep Prime Minister was pleased to tell the House that HM Queen had placed her power to dissolve Parliment into the hands of her Commons assembled. I am not sure that was the wisest thing for Her Majesty to do...still she has no choice:
The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Nick Clegg): I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Bill, has consented to place her prerogative, so far as it is affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.