Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011
|Act of Parliament|
|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.|
Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister|
Lord Wallace of Tankerness, Advocate General for Scotland
(England and Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland)
|Royal assent||15 September 2011|
|Commencement||15 September 2011 (Whole Act)|
|Repeals||Septennial Act 1716|
Status: Current legislation
|History of passage through Parliament|
|Text of statute as originally enacted|
The Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 (c. 14) is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that received Royal Assent on 15 September 2011, introducing fixed-term elections to the Westminster parliament for the first time. Under the provisions of the Act, parliamentary general elections must be held every five years, beginning in 2015.
However, a vote of no confidence in the government, or a two-thirds majority vote in the House of Commons, can still trigger a general election at any time. 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 English, and later 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 a great deal of de facto control over the timing of general elections.
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, acting on the advice of the prime minister of the day, always dissolved it before its expiry.
The five year maximum duration referred to the lifetime of the parliament and not to the interval between general elections. For example, the general election of 2010 was held five years and one day after the general election of 2005, whilst the general election of 1992 was held on 9 April 1992, and the next general election was not held until 1 May 1997 (5 years and 22 days).
Section 3(1)  of the Act originally stated that Parliament should be automatically dissolved 17 working days before a polling day of a general election. This was subsequently amended by the Electoral Registration and Administration Act 2013 to 25 working days. 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 may lay a draft statutory instrument before the House proposing that polling day is held up to two months later than that date. If the use of such a statutory instrument is approved by each House of Parliament, the Prime Minister has the power, by order made by statutory instrument under section 1(5), to provide that polling day is held accordingly.
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 subsequently resolves "That this House has confidence in Her Majesty's Government". This second resolution must be made within fourteen days of the first. This provision recognises that in a hung parliament it might be possible for a new government to be formed, commanding a majority.
- 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 25 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, and repeals the Septennial Act 1715 as well as references in other Acts to the royal prerogative. The royal prerogative to prorogue parliament is not affected by the Act.
According to the political scientist Colin Talbot, the Act makes minority governments much more stable than in the past: events that previously might have forced a government out of power—such as loss of supply, defeat of a Queen's Speech or other important legislation, or a vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister rather than the government as a whole—cannot formally do so.
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 and leader of the Liberal Democrats 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." The government initially indicated that an "enhanced majority" of 55 percent of MPs would be needed to trigger a dissolution, but this did not become part of the Act.
Proposed amendments that would have limited the fixed year terms to four years, backed by Labour, Plaid Cymru, and the SNP, were defeated. However, section 4 of the act postponed the Scottish Parliament election that would have been held on 7 May 2015, moving the election day to 5 May 2016 to avoid it coinciding with the general election in the United Kingdom.
2016 Parliamentary Petition
In the wake of the Panama Papers scandal, a petition was created on the Parliamentary Petitions Page that called for a general election after former British Prime Minister David Cameron revealed that he had had investments in an offshore trust. After the petition had passed the threshold of 100,000 signatures, the government response cited the Fixed-term Parliaments Act in its reply, and stated that "no Government can call an early general election any more anyway".
2017 general election
On 18 April 2017, Prime Minister Theresa May announced her intention to call a general election for 8 June 2017, bringing the United Kingdom's 56th Parliament to an end after two years and 32 days. She required two thirds of the Commons (at least 434 MPs) to support the motion to allow it to pass. Jeremy Corbyn, the Leader of the Opposition and the Labour Party indicated he was in support of an election. The motion was passed the following day by 522 votes to 13 votes.
As the Act requires scheduled elections to take place on the first Thursday in May, the date of the next general election (assuming no earlier election is called) will be 5 May 2022, meaning that the term is one month short of five years.
The Conservative Party manifesto at the 2017 general election proposed repealing the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011. To do so would require a new Act of Parliament. If the duration of parliaments is to be limited, arrangements for this would need to be included in the new Act because the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 repealed pre-existing legislation governing the duration of parliaments.
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- Official text of the act, as enacted
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