Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011
|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|Text of statute as originally enacted|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 (c. 14) is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that introduced fixed-term elections 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 a great deal of de facto control over the timings of general elections.
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. The five-year maximum duration referred to the lifetime of the Parliament, and not to the interval between general elections. For example, the 2010 general election was held five years and one day after the 2005 general election, whilst the 1992 general election was held on 9 April 1992 and the next general election was not held until 1 May 1997.
Section 3(1) of the Act originally stated that Parliament should be automatically dissolved 14 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 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 subsequently 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 25 working days before that date.
According to Professor 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. 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.
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, Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, 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 per cent 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 Scottish National Party, were defeated. However, section 4 of the act postponed the general election of the Scottish Parliament that would have been held on 7 May 2015 to 5 May 2016 to avoid it coinciding with the UK general election.
- Anthony Wilfred Bradley, Keith D. Ewing (2006). Constitutional and Administrative Law. Pearson Education. pp. 187–189. ISBN 1-4058-1207-9.
- Talbot, Colin (2015-05-03). "Under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, a minority Government doesn’t need a ‘confidence and supply’ arrangement to be able to govern". London School of Economics. Retrieved 3 May 2015.
- "AV referendum question published". BBC News Online. 22 July 2010.
- George Eaton (12 May 2010). "Fixed-term parliaments won’t prevent a second election". The New Statesman. Retrieved 24 March 2014.
- "Four-year fixed term parliament bid defeated". BBC News Online. 16 November 2010.
- "Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, section 4". legislation.gov.uk. Retrieved 8 April 2015.