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The Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Bill 2021-22 [Bill 8 of 2021-22] was introduced in the House of Commons on 12 May 2021.

The Bill would repeal of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 and confirms that the maximum term of a Parliament (rather than the period between general elections) shall be five years.

The Bill’s Explanatory Notes confirm that its effect is to “enable Governments, within the life of a Parliament, to call a general election at the time of their choosing”. It envisages that there will not be a role for Parliament in deciding when general elections are held.

What will the Bill change?

Before the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 (FTPA), the Monarch used personal prerogative powers to dissolve a Parliament, before it expired, and call a new Parliament. Under the FTPA, Parliament was dissolved in accordance with statute, not the prerogative. The Bill states that the powers that were exercisable “by virtue of” the royal prerogative are exercisable again.

The Bill confirms that the timetable for the election of a new Parliament is triggered by the dissolution of the old Parliament.

The Bill also states that questions relating to the use of the powers, preliminary work on dissolution and the extent of the powers cannot be questioned by the courts.

Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011

The FTPA was passed by the Coalition Government and fixed the period between ordinary elections at five years.

It allowed the House of Commons to trigger early elections in two ways: by at least two thirds of all MPs voting for an early parliamentary general election, or if a government was not confirmed in office within two weeks of a vote of no confidence. The prerogative power of the Monarch to call general elections was removed by the FTPA.

Arrangements for a statutory review of the FTPA had to be made by the Prime Minister between June and November 2020.

In its manifesto for the December 2019 General Election, the Conservative Party said that it would “get rid of” the FTPA, as it had “led to paralysis at a time the country needed decisive action”. The Labour Party’s manifesto also committed to repeal the Act, saying it had “ stifled democracy and propped up weak governments”.

Scrutiny of the draft Bill

A Joint Committee was appointed to undertake the statutory review of the FTPA in November 2020. It also scrutinised the Draft Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 (Repeal) Bill, which was published on 1 December 2020.

Its report was published on 24 March 2021.

The Joint Committee examined the Government’s approach to legislating for a return to the pre-FTPA position, whereby early dissolutions are approved by the Monarch, not triggered by the House of Commons.

It considered whether the Monarch would be brought into political controversy and whether the Monarch would be able to refuse a request for a dissolution when it was inappropriate. It also considered whether provisions to prevent the courts from questioning decisions about dissolving and calling parliaments were proper, desirable and appropriately drafted. It recommended that the Government should consider a more limited provision.

A minority of the Joint Committee’s members thought retaining a vote to dissolve Parliament in the House of Commons would improve the Government’s proposals. By the operation of Article 9 of the Bill of Rights 1689, this would prevent the courts questioning decisions about dissolution. It would also mean that the Monarch would be protected from political controversy.

Overall, the Joint Committee was satisfied that the drafting of the Bill was “sufficiently clear” to give effect to the Government’s intention of returning to the pre FTPA constitutional position, “in substance if not necessarily in form”. The potential legal uncertainty over the source (prerogative or statute) of the power to dissolve Parliament would likely only be relevant if the question of dissolution was considered by the courts.

The Government’s response to the Joint Committee’s report was published on 12 May 2021, when the Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Bill 2021-22 was introduced.

Update, 8 September 2021

The Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Bill 2021-22 received its second reading in the House of Commons on 6 July 2021.

A separate Library briefing, Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Bill 2021-22: progress of the Bill, will be updated as the Bill proceeds through both Houses of Parliament.

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