Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011
Parliament of the United Kingdom
|Long title||An Act to make provision about the dissolution of Parliament and the determination of polling days for parliamentary general elections; and for connected purposes.|
|Introduced by||Nick Clegg
Deputy Prime Minister
|Territorial extent||United Kingdom|
|Royal Assent||15 September 2011|
|Commencement||15 September 2011|
|Status: Current legislation|
|History of passage through Parliament|
|Text of statute as originally enacted|
The Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that introduced fixed-term elections for the first time to the Westminster parliament. Under the provisions of the Act, parliamentary elections must be held every five years, beginning in 2015. The Act received Royal Assent on 15 September 2011. Fixed-term Parliaments, where general elections ordinarily take place in accordance with a schedule set far in advance, were part of the Conservative – Liberal Democrat Coalition Agreement which was produced after the 2010 general election.
Before the passage of the Act, Parliament could be dissolved by royal proclamation by virtue of the Royal Prerogative. This originally meant that the British Monarch decided when to dissolve Parliament. Over time, the monarch increasingly acted only on the advice of the Prime Minister; by the nineteenth century, Prime Ministers had the de facto power to dissolve Parliament and call a new general election at a time of their choosing.
The Septennial Act 1715 provided that a Parliament expired seven years after it had been summoned; this period was reduced to five years by the Parliament Act 1911. Apart from special legislation enacted during both World Wars to extend the life of the then-current Parliaments, Parliament was never allowed to reach its maximum statutory length, as the monarch always dissolved it before its expiry.
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Under section 3(1) of the Act, Parliament automatically dissolves 17 working days before a polling day of a general election. Section 1 of the Act provides for such polling days to occur on the first Thursday in May of the fifth year after the previous general election, starting with 7 May 2015. The Prime Minister has the power, by order made by Statutory Instrument under section 1(5), to provide that the polling day is to be held up to two months later than that date. Such a Statutory Instrument must be approved by each House of Parliament.
Section 2 of the Act also provides for two ways in which a general election can be held before the end of this five-year period:
- If the House of Commons resolves "That this House has no confidence in Her Majesty's Government", an early general election is held, unless the House of Commons resolves "That this House has confidence in Her Majesty's Government". This second resolution must be made within fourteen days of the first.
- If the House of Commons, with the support of two-thirds of its total membership (including vacant seats), resolves "That there shall be an early parliamentary general election".
In either of these two cases, the monarch (on the recommendation of the Prime Minister) appoints the date of the new election by proclamation. Parliament is then dissolved 17 working days before that date.
Apart from the automatic dissolution in anticipation of a general election (whether held early or not), section 3(2) provides that "Parliament cannot otherwise be dissolved". The act thus removes the traditional royal prerogative to dissolve Parliament.
The Act repealed the Septennial Act 1715 as well as references in other Acts to the royal prerogative of dissolving parliament.
Under section 7(4)–(6), the Prime Minister is obliged to establish a committee to review the operation of the Act and to make recommendations for its amendment or repeal, if appropriate. The committee must be established between 1 June and 30 November 2020, and the majority of its members must be members of the House of Commons.
When introducing the Bill to the House of Commons, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said that "by setting the date that parliament will dissolve, our prime minister is giving up the right to pick and choose the date of the next general election—that's a true first in British politics." Proposed amendments that would have limited the fixed-year terms to four years, backed by Labour, Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National Party, were defeated.