Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Referendums and 'Hung Parliaments' ?

With all this contemplation about the possibility of a hung parliament, my mind has turned to thinking about how such an eventuality would effect the timetable for the referendum on law making powers for the National Assembly for Wales - assuming that Carwyn Jones has actually written the required letter to Peter Hain requesting it. I hope that constitutional experts are chewing this over.

What we know is that the Secretary of State for Wales has 120 days to respond to the First Minister's letter, requesting the referendum. And we expect the General Election to be held in about 60 days, on May 6th. Also relevant is the reluctance of the current Secretary of State, Peter Hain to progress things quickly - so most of the work may have to be carried out within a tight timetable after the General Election. But what if there is no clear winner, and negotiations about forming the next Government drag on for months. The only reason negotiations to form an Assembly Government after the Assembly election in 2007 was limited to one month was that the constitution demanded a fresh election if it wasn't. In some countries, it takes several months to sort things out.

So what would happen in the unhappy event of a hung parliament. With no new Government, I suppose Gordon Brown and Labour would carry on as some sort of 'Caretaker Government'. The question I'm asking myself is whether this 'Caretaker Government' would have the authority to commit to a referendum. Wales is brimming with experts on this sort of thing. Perhaps they'll let this blog know what the position is.

9 comments:

Jeff Jones said...

Britain has no record of government formation taking months.We are not Belgium. In the event of a hung Parliament there will still be one party which has a largest number of seats. In a hung Parliament that party doesn't have a majority over all the other parties. In this situation a number of scenarios tend to emerge. The first is the 1974 scenario where Heath on the weekend tried to form a coalition with the Liberals. When this failed he went to the Palace and resigned. The second is the 1923 precedent where Baldwin emerged from the election as the largest party but in a minority situation. He was asked by the King to form a goverment but lost the confidence vote in Parliament and resigned. Thus allowing Labour to form a minority government with Liberal support and without another elction. I know that the Nationalists are talking up the idea that they will control Parliament in the event of no majority. As Salmond crudely puts it the UK government will dance to a Scottish gig. Looking at the SNP demands in the Glasgow Herald today any major UK party that gives into the demands of the Nationalists deserves to be hammered in any subsequent election. Unless a hung Parliament produces a consensus for cuts it will I'm afraid have serious consequences for the revival of the UK economy. What should happen in the event of a hung Parliament is that there should be no deals behind closed doors. Instead the largest party should publish its economic plans and challenge the other parties to vote them down. If they do then they face the consequences of being responsible for the effect of such action on the UK economy and risk the wrath of the electorate.

James D said...

All this hypothetical caretaker government would have to do is lay a statutory instrument before both Houses of Parliament on or before June 18th (Peter Hain acknowledged receipt on February 20th; 120 days later is June 20th, but that is a Sunday). There isn't any flexibility in what this statutory instrument can do (i.e. it's not a matter of having a policy or a mandate), which just leaves the issue of the wording of the question, and I presume that the seemingly excessive 120 day period was designed so that the Electoral Commission could declare a particular question to be impartial (the wording actually just consists of a non-restriction restriction: "A draft of a statutory instrument containing an Order in Council under subsection (1) may not be laid before either House of Parliament, or the Assembly, until the Secretary of State has undertaken such consultation as the Secretary of State considers appropriate"). I don't think we're in for any surprises there either, so in principle the whole thing could probably be drafted in an afternoon by someone with a telephone and a modicum of intelligence, and laid before Parliament the next day.

The only thing that could possibly make things awkward is if the election is on June 3rd (the last possible Thursday date): then the schedule gets incredibly tight. But even in February/March 1974, there was a Queen's Speech within two weeks of the election. That would effectively mean that the statutory instrument could be laid before both Houses only on exactly June 18th. The alternative would be for the Secretary of State on that date to write back to the Assembly to explain why he had failed to deposit the statutory instrument, and that would send us back to the start of the entire process (as I read it, there would then have to be another vote in the Assembly, and another letter).

Of course, an election that late would look like a deliberate attempt at sabotage. If they tried that, I would go down to a bookies and put £5 on Alun Llewelyn winning in Neath.

One slightly fortunate aspect is because the Government of Wales Act requires both Houses to approve the statutory instrument (rather than the usual procedure of not annulling it within 40 days), we don't then run into the problem of 40 days from June 18th carrying us into the first week of the summer recess (which would hold everything up until October). If anything, a hung parliament would make the necessary motion easier to fit into the timetable somewhere.

That's how I understand the situation, but I may well have got something wrong somewhere, as the Government of Wales Act, 2006, is one of the most incomprehensible pieces of legislation I have ever read.

Anonymous said...

Well, what a surprise! Despite being told off by Cleggy and told to keep a low profile, Lembit Grope'it just couldn't do it. Do look at the horrendous pictures in the Mail today. What on earth makes this national joke that is LO think he's doing his cause or the Liberals ANY good? Please GLyn, I beg of you, get rid of him at the GE. The man is a complete liability

D Evans said...

Current polls show the trend that Labour will be the strongest party (only just) with no overall majority.

I think Jeff Jones is misguided on one point. If talking to Alex Salmond and giving into his demands for Scotland means Labour to stay on in Westminster for another 5 years, in Labour's eyes that will be a price worth paying for.

Jeff Jones said...

On the Scottish point no Westminster politician is going to argue with giving the Scottish Parlaiment or even the Assembly tax raising powers. It passes down the responsibilty for the cuts to come and it increases accountability. The problem with the SNP and for that matter Plaid demands is that not only do they want changes in the Barnett formula which benefits both countries( how you square that circle heaven knows) but they also want Scotland and Wales to be somehow protected from the effects of the cuts required in public expenditure. Elections are decided by the 5O or so marginal seats. For Labour to get into bed with Salmond for short term political advantage would probably lead to political disaster in the long term. The sensible policy is to run the government on each issue and as Wilson did in 1974 call another election as soon as possible.

Glyn Davies said...

Jeff - Or Italy. You are probably right, but I was just floating the possibility. Perhaps I'm too influenced by the fum amd games that followed the Assembly election. In any case, I still think that there will be an overall Conservative majority.

alanindyfed said...

Be positive, dream the dream and everything will happen as it should......

ROMAN JONES Esq. said...

This is my prediction for the election and future: I foresee that in fact the Conservatives are half-hoping to lose this election (although remain the party with the most seats). That would give them the moral mandate, having laid out both their dirty laundry (Ashcroft) and their honesty (spending cuts) before the election. There is no way the LimpDims would unite with the Tories (now being to the left of Labour) so would prop up the Brown administration. NuLabour will then be faced with massive spending cuts, strikes and possible IMF bail-out after our credit rating is downgraded in October. Sterling crashes under the weight of mismanaged uncertainty. However, Brown, under pressure from Clegg.co, will push for voting reform, trying to stitch up the elections in Labour’s favour for years to come. He may achieve this but only by helping the SNP to potentially trigger a vote of independence. With danger of losing Scottish Labour seats, with both the main parties back in equilibrium - Brown will try and stave off another election in 2011 until he hopes he can turn around the economy. Meanwhile the Tories have descended to internal rivalries with a strong shift (hopefully) to right, mopping up UKIP stragglers. Under the final collapse of the British state and economy (dwarfing what is happening in Greece), a new general election will be called and hopefully the STUPID electorate will awaken from their misguided support for Brown and co. and vote in a new Conservative Alliance, who may at last have the chance to save Britain from its current suicide bid!
Maybe...

ROMAN JONES Esq. said...

Glyn - I hope so, or we are all doomed!