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Overview of the Act

The Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 set a five-year interval between ordinary general elections. General elections are scheduled to take place on the first Thursday in May in every fifth year. The next general election is scheduled to take place on 2 May 2024.

The Act includes two mechanisms that could lead to early general elections. The Act specifies that early elections can be held only:

  • if a motion for an early general election is agreed either by at least two-thirds of the whole House or without division; or
  • if a motion of no confidence is passed and no alternative government is confirmed by the Commons within 14 days.

The Act put dissolution on a statutory footing. Previously Parliament was dissolved by the Queen, on the advice of the Prime Minister. Now Parliament can only be dissolved in accordance with the Act. However, the Act did not alter the prerogative power to prorogue Parliament.

The House of Commons has considered five motions under the Act. On 19 April 2017, the House agreed to an early general election that took place in June 2017. It rejected a motion of no confidence on 19 January 2019. Before the 2019 general election, the Government failed on three occasions to secure the necessary two thirds majority to trigger an early election under the Act (4 September 2019; 9 September 2019; and 28 October 2019).

The Government subsequently secured the support of Parliament for the Early Parliamentary General Election Act 2019. This Act set the date of the 2019 general election and treated it as if it were a day appointed by the 2011 Act.

In their manifestos for the general election, both the Conservative Party and the Labour Party called for the Act to be repealed:

Statutory review of the Act and Government plans to repeal the Act

The Act has to be reviewed. It required the Prime Minister to make arrangements for a committee to carry out a review of the Act and to publish the committee’s findings and recommendations, which can include repealing or amending the Act. A majority of the members of the committee have to be MPs. The Prime Minister had to make arrangements for the committee between 1 June and 30 November 2020.

On 10 November 2020, the House of Commons agreed to the Prime Minister’s proposal to appoint a joint committee to undertake the statutory review of the Act. Fourteen MPs were appointed to serve on the joint committee. The joint committee will also be asked to report on the Government’s plans to repeal the Act, which will be set out in a draft bill. The joint committee has to report by Friday 26 February 2021.

On 24 November 2020, the House of Lords agreed that a joint committee should be appointed to review the Act and nominated six members to serve on it.

On 26 November 2020, Lord McLoughlin was chosen by the joint committee to be its chair.

The Government’s Draft Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 (Repeal) Bill was published on 1 December 2020. The draft bill provides for the repeal of the 2011 Act; confirms that the maximum term of a Parliament (rather than the period between general elections) shall be five years; and contains an express provision to restore the prerogative power to dissolve Parliament.

Alongside the draft bill, the Government published a single-page “draft statement of the non-legislative constitutional principles that apply to dissolution”.

On the same day, Chloe Smith issued a written statement, which outlined the provisions of the draft bill and announced the publication of the summary of dissolution principles.

At its meeting on 26 November 2020, the joint committee issued a call for written evidence on either the operation of the Act or the draft bill; and said that it would take into account evidence that had been submitted to the inquiries undertaken by parliamentary committees recently.

The Joint Committee’s report was published on 24 March 2021. In accordance with its remit it undertook both the statutory review of the 2011 Act and a review of the Government’s draft bill.

In its scrutiny of the draft bill, the Committee considered that “It is clear that it would be impossible to simply repeal the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, as to do so would cause legal uncertainty”. The Committee agreed with the Government that it was possible to revive the prerogative in the way it proposed in the draft bill, although it described the Government’s approach to instruct the courts to act as if the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 had never been passed as “novel”. It noted the importance of a clear understanding of the process that the Government intended to be revived.

The Committee also reviewed the Government’s Dissolution Principles, a document published alongside the draft bill to set out the Government’s view of the “non-legislative constitutional principles that apply to dissolution”. The Joint Committee considered that the Government’s document was inadequate. It set out its own understanding of the conventions on elections and government formation under a prerogative system.


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