The Dissolution and Calling of Parliaments Act 2022 provides the modern statutory underpinning for the King’s prerogative powers to ‘call’ (bring into existence) and to ‘dissolve’ (bring to an end) a Parliament.

There are generally a few days between the announcement of an election and subsequent dissolution of Parliament. This time is referred to as the ‘wash-up period’.

Dissolution then triggers a 25-day timetable before polling day for the general election.

On Wednesday 22 May 2024, the Prime Minister announced that a general election would be held on 4 July.

Following his statement, the Leader of the House of Commons announced that Parliament will be prorogued on Friday 24 May, allowing just two sitting days for any wash-up.

What happens in wash-up?

The wash-up period allows a government to enact essential or non-controversial legislation that would not otherwise complete its passage through Parliament because of dissolution. The government and the opposition reach agreements on the bills or parts of bills that should be hurried through their remaining parliamentary scrutiny. The bills that are not passed by both Houses cannot be enacted.

Usually, several bills need to be considered in two or three days. This means it is not possible to debate legislation in the usual way during wash-up.

How is legislative scrutiny different during wash-up?

Because there is not enough time to complete parliamentary consideration in the normal way, the government relies on the co-operation of the opposition to secure its legislation.

The influence of the House of Lords is also usually greater during wash-up; the government does not have a majority in the Lords, and individual members of the Lords have a greater effect than MPs in the Commons on the way in which legislation is considered.

How many bills are considered during wash-up?

The number of bills considered in wash-up, and the stage that they had reached in their parliamentary scrutiny beforehand, varies. Sometimes the government is willing to drop certain bills to secure the passage of others. Sometimes the government is also willing to provide time for private members’ bills.

In the wash-up periods before dissolutions between 1982 and 2010, between 11 (2001) and 26 (1997) government bills received Royal Assent – some of these may have completed their passage through both Houses before the election in any case. More information on the bills that were passed in those wash-up periods can be found in the Library research briefing, Wash-up 2010.

What procedure does the government use to timetable consideration of bills during wash-up?

In the House of Commons, the government tables Business of the House motions to timetable debate on bills in order to ensure that the provisions it wishes to enact can be passed (often with little debate). 

Without the agreement of the opposition, it would be possible to talk these timetable motions out and all the bills would be lost.

What happened during wash-up for recent general elections?

In 2010, the most recent dissolution to be preceded by a significant wash-up, the Leader of the House of Commons, Harriet Harman, announced which bills were to be considered in the final two sitting days of the session.

On the first day, she expected to complete more than one stage of the Bribery Bill (begun in the Lords); the Northern Ireland Assembly Members Bill (Lords), the Debt Relief (Developing Countries) Bill; the Appropriation Bill; the Finance Bill; and the Digital Economy Bill (Lords). In addition, one draft statutory instrument was to be approved.

On the second day, one further bill would complete report and third reading and Lords amendments to a further six bills were expected. If any of the bills sent to Lords on the first day of wash-up were amended, it would be necessary to consider those amendments as well on the second day.

By prorogation all these bills had been passed. Further details of wash-up in 2010 can be found in the Library research briefing, Wash-up 2010.

There was no wash-up before dissolution in 2015 because the election date had been determined by the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011.

Before the early general elections (under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act) in 2017 and 2019, there was limited wash-up. In 2017, the parliamentary session was almost at an end when the election was called and thus most legislation had already been dealt with. A Business of the House motion did provide for two bills to complete several stages in one day. The 2019 session had only recently begun (24 October) when the election was confirmed (on 28 October) but two bills were passed after the election was confirmed.

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