By Tim Montgomerie
The following Tory MPs voted against last night's bill on fixing the parliamentary term:
- Carswell, Mr Douglas
- Cash, Mr William
- Davies, Philip
- Hollobone, Mr Philip
- Jenkin, Mr Bernard
- Nuttall, Mr David
- Percy, Andrew
- Robertson, Mr Laurence
- Shepherd, Mr Richard
- Walker, Mr Charles
Last week, ten also rebelled on AV.
Pasted below are questions put by Conservative MPs to the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, about fixed-term parliaments.
SHOULD THERE BE A GENERAL ELECTION IF THE PRIME MINISTER RESIGNS?
Mr Christopher Chope: "Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that during the general election campaign the present Prime Minister said he thought it was desirable that were there to be a change of Prime Minister during the course of a Parliament there should be a general election within six months? Where has that proposal gone to?"
The Deputy Prime Minister: "I do of course recollect what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said during the general election campaign. What he said has been improved upon and superseded by this Bill. [Laughter]. Hon. Members may laugh, but it has been improved upon because it gives the House the right to decide whether it wants to dissolve Parliament for any reason that it wishes. If the House decides that it does not want to continue to express confidence in a Government when a Prime Minister has changed, the Bill will give it the right to dissolve Parliament and trigger a general election."
SHOULD ELECTIONS TO DEVOLVED CHAMBERS CLASH WITH ELECTIONS TO THE COMMONS?
Iain Stewart: "With the Prime Minister having the power, subject to resolutions of both Houses, to vary the date of the general election, would a condition for varying that date be the date of a devolved Assembly election, and would it be for Westminster or the devolved Assembly to make the variation?"
The Deputy Prime Minister: "As I explained earlier, the purpose of that exceptional power is to deal with exceptional circumstances, such as the foot and mouth crisis in 2001, so that is not the intention. What I have just tried to explain is that there will be an issue, once every 20 years, with the coincidence of elections to this House and to devolved Assemblies. The devolved Assemblies, as I said, have powers to adjust that date, and we are considering whether those powers are sufficient to deal with this."
WHY AREN'T TORY CABINET MINISTERS SHOWING SUPPORT FOR NICK CLEGG?
Sir Peter Tapsell: "Before my right hon. Friend moves on to his next point, can he explain why, when he is putting forward a Bill of the most enormous constitutional importance, almost revolutionary in concept, there is not a single Conservative Cabinet Minister on the Front Bench to support him?"
The Deputy Prime Minister: "I am sure that they have other things which they need to attend to."
DOES THE PLAN FOR FIXED-TERM PARLIAMENTS GIVE MORE POWER TO SMALL PARTIES?
Bernard Jenkin: "I put it to him bluntly, however, that the Bill takes away from a simple majority in the House the right to cause a general election and puts into the hands of, perhaps, himself leading a minority party the ability to withdraw his support from one party and give it to another in order to form an Administration, without the risk of a general election. Is that really fair?"
The Deputy Prime Minister: "First, that is precisely the position now, as the hon. Gentleman knows. Secondly, he is viewing the Bill through a prism of-how can I put it?-suspicion, which really is not justified. It gives new powers to the House, and I hope that he will come to that view himself as it is examined on the Floor of the House, as it should be. The Bill is giving new powers to the House in addition to the powers of no confidence that do not already exist, which we are also strengthening in turn."
IN EXCEPTIONAL CIRCUMSTANCES CAN THE PRIME MINISTER STILL CALL A GENERAL ELECTION?
Edward Leigh: "Will the Deputy Prime Minister confirm that if, God forbid, our friends and Liberals were to walk away from the coalition and if the Bill were passed, there is no doubt that our Prime Minister could call an immediate election? Is there any doubt about that?"
The Deputy Prime Minister: "The Bill speaks for itself. With respect, this is genuinely not about the internal dynamics of this coalition Government. [Interruption.] I hear from the groans and the roars that that view is not widely shared. I hope that anyone who has listened to what I have said today will reasonably conclude that the Government are doing something that should be welcomed in this House-strengthening its powers, while weakening those of the Executive. We are surrendering the Prime Minister's right to set the date of the general election-a power that has been used and abused and has become the plaything of Prime Ministers of all parties for far too long."
WILL FIXED-TERM PARLIAMENTS INCREASE THE COSTS OF CAMPAIGNING?
Paul Uppal: "Is the Deputy Prime Minister mindful of unintended consequences? One aspect of fixed-term Parliaments and fixed terms in general elections is that costs are often associated. Campaigning often starts earlier-in North America, for example, where there are seats for the Senate, the House of Congress and presidential seats. General elections and primary elections start very early, so perhaps an unintended consequence of the Bill could be additional costs for campaigning, not to mention apathy among the general public."
The Deputy Prime Minister: "I would argue that the real cost is incurred by all of us when we are constantly on tenterhooks about whether or not the Prime Minister of the day is going to call a general election. That is precisely what happened in 2007. At the last general election, we all promised the voters that we would seek to provide stable, good and strong government not constantly hijacked by the ducking and weaving of the Executive trying to second-guess what people are thinking and trying to choose a date in the political calendar to suit their own ends. That is what the Bill delivers, and it seems to me that, in one way or another, we all promised that to the voters at the last general election."
> On CentreRight yesterday Mark Field MP wondered by the 'fix' was for five, rather than four years.