A solution to the 55 % controversy?

My letter to The Times, published on 18th May, 2010, also cited on the Charter 2010 website.

Sir, The imposition of fixed-term Parliaments is not, in itself, an unwelcome innovation to the consititution (letters, May 15 ). It has long been apparent that the Royal Prerogative of dissolution — a discretion that could once be justified by the need to ensure workable government in an age in which party political allegiences were more fluid — has been abused by prime ministers for party political gain.

Yet, the imposition of five-year Parliaments would mark a departure from the norm of Parliaments of four years, a length more democratic and more comparable to the practice of most other parliamentary democracies. Five-year Parliaments are the mark of unpopular governments, often at the end of long terms of office (such as under Callaghan, Major and Brown).

More worryingly, the suggestion that Parliament should be prevented from dissolving itself without 55 per cent of the votes in the House of Commons is flawed. The coalition has already conceded that a government would have to resign were it to lose a motion of no confidence on more than half the vote, but less than 55 per cent. What might its successor do if it, too, were unable to obtain a dissolution? How might the country be governed, supply secured and necessary legislation passed?

Would not a more sensible measure be to require a government to resign on the passing of a no-confidence motion, after which a new government might have a month in which to conduct necessary negotiations to establish whether it was able to obtain the confidence of the House? Were it unable to do so, a second motion of no confidence, passed no less than a month after the first, would have the effect of dissolving Parliament.

Francis Hoar
London SW6

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