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

It received Royal Assent on 24 March 2022, and its provisions came into force on Royal Assent.

The Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Act 2022 repealed the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 (FTPA) and made the maximum term of a Parliament (rather than the period between general elections) five years.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 does not envisage a role for Parliament in deciding when general elections are held.

Under the Act, the timetable for a general election is triggered by the dissolution of Parliament.

The Act includes an ‘ouster clause’ that states questions relating to the use of the powers, preliminary work on dissolution and the extent of the powers cannot be questioned by the courts.

Passage of the Bill

The Bill was sent to the House of Lords without being amended by the House of Commons, in September 2021.

The House of Lords made one amendment to the Bill. At report stage, on 9 February 2022, it inserted a requirement that the House of Commons must agree to the motion, “that this present Parliament be dissolved” before dissolution could take place.

The House of Commons disagreed with the Lords Amendment on 14 March 2022. It sent a message to the House of Lords that “the Commons did not consider it appropriate that the dissolution of Parliament should be subject to a vote in the Commons”.

The House of Lords considered the message from the Commons on 22 March 2022. The Lords did not insist on their amendment. The Act received Royal Assent on 24 March 2022.

Pre-legislative scrutiny

The FTPA required the Prime Minister to arrange for the Act to be reviewed. 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.

The Joint Committee’s report was published on 24 March 2021.

Issues raised at second reading in the Commons

Seven notable issues featured in the second reading debate:

  • the legislative approach to “reviving” a prerogative system (under which the Monarch can dissolve and call parliaments);
  • the implications of effectively enabling Prime Ministers to unilaterally call early elections;
  • whether the ouster clause was necessary and desirable;
  • whether, and when, the Sovereign may refuse a dissolution request;
  • whether the House of Commons should retain a role in early dissolution;
  • whether the maximum term of a Parliament should be four, rather than five, years; and
  • whether, and if so, how, the election timetable should be shortened.

Should the Committee consider the prorogation of Parliament?

Chris Bryant tabled a motion that would have allowed the Committee of the whole House to “make provision relating to the prorogation of Parliament”. If this motion (called an instruction) was agreed to, it would allow the Committee to debate and decide on amendments or new clauses relating to prorogation, even though it was not within the scope of the Bill.

The House debated and rejected the motion by 323 votes to 192.

Remaining stages in the House of Commons

The House of Commons completed the remaining stages of the Bill in a single day on 13 September 2021. The Bill was not amended in Committee of the whole House; and was given a third reading by 312 votes to 55.

At committee stage, debate on amendments and clauses stand part focused on five issues:

  • whether the Prime Minister should be able to request a dissolution or whether parliamentary approval should be required;
  • whether a new Parliament should have to meet within 14 days of polling day;
  • the length of a Parliament and the gap between elections;
  • the length of the statutory election timetable; and
  • the timing of extraordinary elections to the Welsh Parliament/Senedd Cymru.

Debate in the House of Lords

At both second reading (30 November 2021) and committee stage (25 January 2022), debate in the House of Lords focussed on questions relating to the role of the Commons and the Monarch; and the ouster clause.

The House of Lords voted to amend the Bill at report stage, on 9 February 2022. The amendment would retain a role for the House of Commons in the early dissolution of Parliament. A Parliament would last for a full five-year term unless the House of Commons endorses an early dissolution. It would do so by passing a motion “That this present Parliament be dissolved”.

At report stage, the House of Lords also voted on an amendment to remove the ouster clause, but the amendment was rejected.

For a description of the Bill and the background to its introduction, see the Library briefing, Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Bill 2021-22.

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