Dissolution of the Parliament of the United Kingdom
Members of Parliament cease to be so, as soon as it is dissolved, and, although they and their staff continue to be paid until polling day, they may not enter the Palace of Westminster. Parliament is usually prorogued or adjourned before it is dissolved. Parliament may continue to sit for a wash-up period of a few days after the Prime Minister has announced the date when Parliament will be dissolved, to finish some last items of Parliamentary business.
A Royal Proclamation is made summoning a new parliament and requiring the despatch of writs of election. A general election must be held 17 days (excluding weekends and bank holidays) after the Proclamation summoning parliament issues. By tradition, a copy of the Royal Proclamation is delivered by hand from the Privy Council Office to Mansion House in the City of London. It is then read out by the Common Crier (aka Mace-bearer) of the City on the steps of the Royal Exchange in the heart of the City, having been handed to him by the Common Serjeant of the City, ahead of its being also read out in the London boroughs. This tradition was again carried out at the most recent dissolution, in April 2010.
Prior to the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, Parliament would expire after a five-year term, as laid down in the Septennial Act 1715 (as amended by the Parliament Act 1911). This could, however, be overridden at a time of national emergency. The length of Parliament was extended on two occasions since 1911, once during each of the two World Wars. At any time the Sovereign could dissolve parliament and call a general election. In accordance with constitutional convention, the Sovereign did not act independently, but on the advice of the Prime Minister, meaning that Prime Ministers had de facto authority to dissolve Parliament at a time of their choosing. Prior to 1918, it was the Cabinet who collectively sought permission from the monarch in order for Parliament to be dissolved. However, since 1918, the Prime Minister alone sought the permission of the Sovereign.
Fixed term parliaments were introduced by the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 following the Conservative – Liberal Democrat Coalition Agreement promulgated after the 2010 election, thereby abolishing the ability of the Prime Minister to unilaterally call an election prior to the expiry of the five-year term.
- Representation of the People Act 1983, Schedule 1, §2(1)(a).
- "Election race begins as Brown confirms 6 May date". BBC News Online. 6 April 2010.
- "Cameron defends change over election vote rules". BBC News Online. 14 May 2010.
- Frequently Asked Questions: General Election
- Election Timetables, House of Commons Library Research Paper 09/44, 13 May 2009
- Dissolution of Parliament 2010
- Prorogation of the 54th Parliament of the United Kingdom video on YouTube.