Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 - Commons Library Standard Note

Published 03 November 2011 | Standard notes SN06111

Authors: Oonagh Gay

Topic: Elections, Parliament

The Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 received royal assent on 15 September 2011 and came into force on that day. The Act has a major impact on the timing of parliamentary elections in the UK, as well as for devolved institutions. The Act sets the date of the next general election as 7 May 2015 and on the first Thursday in May in every fifth year thereafter. Early elections can be held only:

• if a motion for an early general election is agreed either by at least two-thirds of the whole House or without division or;

• if a motion of no confidence is passed and no alternative government is confirmed by the Commons within 14 days.

The initial requirement for a Speaker’s certificate certifying a no confidence motion was removed during the passage of the Bill in the Lords. The Act applies until it is repealed, so future Parliaments will operate on a five year cycle. An attempt by the Lords to insert a sunrise provision so that the Act would apply only when adopted by each new Parliament was abandoned, following ping pong between the two Houses in July 2011. Instead, there is a requirement for the Prime Minister to establish a review of the Act in 2020.

The Act itself does not affect the operation of parliamentary sessions. The first session of the 2010 Parliament is due to end in spring 2012. The exact date has not yet been announced by the Leader of the House. The Government has indicated that in future annual sessions will be of approximately equal length, beginning in about April each year. Nor does the Act affect the prerogative power of prorogation.

The Act also provides for the next elections to the Scottish Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales to be held on 5 May 2016, extending the normal four year term to five years. The Act did not specify an election date for the Northern Ireland Assembly

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