By-elections

By-elections

A UK Parliamentary by-election takes place when a seat in the House of Commons becomes vacant between general elections.

Reasons for by-elections

A seat becomes vacant during the lifetime of a Parliament either when an MP resigns from Parliament, for example to take up a job which by law cannot be done by an MP, or because an MP has died. The law also allows a seat to be declared vacant because of a Member's bankruptcy, mental illness or conviction for a serious criminal offence.

A by-election does not automatically take place if an MP changes political party.

Until a new MP is elected, constituency matters are handled by an MP of the same party in a neighbouring constituency.

'Moving the Writ' 

Traditionally the Chief Whip of the political party whose MP held the vacant seat will begin the procedure for a by-election. This is known as 'moving the Writ' and takes the form of a motion in the House of Commons.

By-election timetable 

A new Writ is moved within three months of the vacancy occurring. There have been a few instances of seats remaining vacant longer than six months before a by-election was called. Seats have also been left vacant towards the end of a Parliament to be filled at the general election.

If there are several vacant seats then a number of by-elections can take place on the same day.

Commons Library briefing

The House of Commons Library produces briefing papers to inform MPs of key issues. The papers contain factual information and a range of opinions on each subject, and aim to be politically impartial.

Constituencies

The UK is currently divided into 650 areas called parliamentary constituencies, each of which is represented by one MP in the House of Commons.

Electoral Commission

The Electoral Commission is an independent body, accountable directly to the UK Parliament, that regulates elections in the UK, promotes voter awareness and works to build confidence in the electoral process.

Parliament is not responsible for the content of external websites.

Living Heritage

Before 1918 no women were allowed to vote in parliamentary elections. Discover how the right to vote was extended to different sectors of society over the years.