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New inquiry: Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011

4 March 2020

The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) has launched an inquiry into the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011.  

The Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 is the law governing the dissolution of Parliament and the calling of UK general elections. Under its provisions parliamentary terms last five years. The Act has a provision for an early election if there is a “supermajority” of two thirds of all MPs, or following a simple majority vote of no confidence in the government. However, the supermajority requirement was circumvented by the Early Parliamentary General Election Act 2019, and uncertainty about the interaction of convention and statute around votes of confidence have left these provisions in doubt.  

The Government has said it intends to repeal the Act and the Opposition also set this commitment out in its manifesto – but no proposals for replacing it have yet been made public.  

Prior to the 2011 Act the power to dissolve Parliament and trigger a general election was a prerogative power of the Queen, who, by convention, only exercised this power at the request of the Prime Minister. The explanatory notes to the 2011 Act say the Sovereign's prerogative powers were “abolished”, raising questions over whether a simple repeal could restore the previous arrangements. 

There is a statutory review of the 2011 Act due this summer to review the operation of the Act and make recommendations for possible amendment or repeal. 

The inquiry will consider what was the purpose and impact of the 2011 Act. It will address questions of whether it is possible and appropriate to revive prerogative powers. The inquiry will consider what areas of the 2011 Act may need to be reformed, what any new legislation should set out to achieve and what provisions should be included to enable this. This will include the appropriateness of fixed term parliaments and scheduled elections, and whether the prorogation prerogative should also come under statutory regulation. 

Chair's comments

Commenting on the launch of the inquiry, the Chairman of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, William Wragg MP, said: 

“The Fixed-term Parliaments Act played an important role in the timing of last year's election, but did it operate in the way it was intended and has it had a beneficial impact on the arrangements for calling general elections? While it limited the freedom of the Government to pick a date that suited them, did it also place barriers in the way of an election that locked a minority government in place, unable to pass meaningful legislation and resolve key issues. 

“We are launching this inquiry to examine the strengths and weaknesses of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act and, identify the key issues the statutory review of the Act would need to consider when bringing forward proposals for repeal, amendments or replacement legislation.”  

The Committee is inviting submissions on the following questions:  

1. What were the purposes of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 and to what extent have these purposes been met? 

2. If the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 is amended or repealed, what arrangements should be put in place? 

  • What provisions should there be for early general elections? 
  • How should the date for such elections be set? 
  • How should the current mix of statute and conventions surrounding the confidence of the House of Commons be dealt with in future? 

3. Should parliamentary terms be fixed?  

  • How can fixed terms be assured? 
  • How long should parliamentary terms be? 
  • Should scheduled elections be fixed to a certain point in the year? 

4. Can the prerogative powers be restored or created anew? 

  • Would there be any potential consequences of such actions? 

5. Should the prerogative powers to prorogue parliament also be abolished by setting out arrangements in statute?  

  • What provisions should be established for the ending and beginning of parliamentary sessions? 

6. If a committee is appointed to review the Act, how should this committee be constituted? 

Submit evidence

If you are interested in submitting evidence to the inquiry, please use this link:  

https://committees.parliament.uk/work/79/the-fixedterm-parliaments-act-2011/ 

For more details or if you wish to discuss the issues, please contact Dr Patrick Thomas:  

Email  pacac@parliament.uk   Tel: 020 7219 3268 

Accessibility 

We welcome all visitors to UK Parliament and offer a range of facilities to help you during your visit. For queries regarding access and mobility during PACAC oral evidence sessions , please contact: pacac@parliament.uk 

Further information

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