Moving the writ for a by-election

A writ must be moved in the House of Commons to trigger each by-election that takes place. It is customary for a member of the party which previously held the seat to move the writ. Normally, this takes place not long after the seat becomes vacant, so that the seat’s constituents are not left without representation in the House for longer than necessary. Occasionally, however, there may be a significant delay between the vacancy and the by-election, or the vacancy and the issuing of the writ.

It is also possible for the Speaker to issue a writ during a recess period. When this occurs, the Speaker informs the House when it next sits.

Must a writ be moved?

There is nothing in statute law or in Standing Orders obliging the House to move a writ for a by-election. It could choose to leave the seat without representation until the next General Election (General Elections must be held every five years). One of the by-elections listed, North-West Leicestershire, was left vacant until the 2010 General Election some five months later.

Cancellation of a by-election

There is no statutory provision for the cancellation of a by-election if a general election is called that supersedes the date of the by-election. It is for the acting returning officer to cancel the by-election.

Following a snap general election in 1923 the returning officer, acting on advice from the Home Office, cancelled the outstanding Warwick and Leamington by-election.

More recently, the Manchester Gorton by-election was superseded by the 2017 snap general election. The House passed a motion on 20 April 2017 confirming that the by-election writ for Manchester Gorton should be superseded [HC Deb 624 c826].

Further information

UK parliamentary by-elections since 1945 lists the number of by-elections by session and by parliament in Table 1. Table 2 provides the results of each by-election since 2005 together with the reason for the by-election.

Parliament: facts and figures

This series of publications contains data on various subjects relating to Parliament and Government. Topics include legislation, MPs, select committees, debates, divisions and Parliamentary procedure.


Please send any comments or corrections to the Parliament & Constitution Centre. Suggestions for new lists welcomed.

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