Proposals to move to five-year, fixed-term parliaments cleared the Commons amid criticisms the legislation amounted to “gerrymandering the constitution” designed purely to benefit the coalition.
The Fixed-Term Parliaments Bill gained its third reading by 320 votes to 234, a government majority of 86, after Nick Clegg told MPs the Bill represented a “simple but absolutely fundamental change”.
It would strengthen Parliament, provide stability and move Britain towards the “new politics”, the Deputy Prime Minister told MPs.
Mr Clegg said: “The reforms that this Bill contains are an essential part of the Government’s drive to modernise Parliament.
“Currently the Prime Minister can, effectively, call an election on a whim. Something as important as the timing of an election should not be determined by the whims of prime ministers and the self interests of political parties. That is something I believe all parties agree on.
“This Bill proposes the introduction of fixed-term parliaments, bringing a new stability to our political system, and crucially ensuring that when Parliament does dissolve early, that is a matter for this House.”
But he faced strong criticism from Labour with shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan telling MPs: “This Bill smacks of gerrymandering the constitution in favour of a particular coalition.
“Make no mistake – this Bill is not for the good of the country, it is for the good of the ministers opposite. What compounds this outrageous piece of attempted constitutional fixing is that they are trying to ram this through at breakneck speed.
“The only urgency is that backbenchers on both sides of the coalition parties are having second thoughts about this so the party managers need to quickly get them superglued together with no way out.”
The Bill will see general elections take place on the first Thursday in May every five years from the next time voters go to the polls – which would be May 7 2015. Having completed its Commons stages the Bill will now go to the Lords for further consideration