House of Commons Library

The Parliament Acts

Published Thursday, February 25, 2016

This House of Commons Library Briefing Paper sets out the procedures governing the use of the Parliament Acts of 1911 and 1949. It notes occasions when they have been used and also reports on challenges to the validity of the Parliament Acts.

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The Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949 together limit the powers of the House of Lords in relation to primary legislation.

Provisions of the Acts

Under the provisions of the Acts, the House of Lords is unable to delay certified money bills for more than one month, or to exercise an absolute veto over other public bills.

The Parliament Act 1911, as amended by the 1949 Act, provides that a public bill (other than a money bill or a bill extending the maximum duration of a parliament) introduced originally in the House of Commons and passed by the Commons in two successive sessions, with at least one year between the first Commons second reading and the Commons third reading in the second session, can be presented for Royal Assent by the Commons. 

Any bill certified by the Speaker as a money bill, which is not then passed by the House of Lords unamended within one month after they receive it, can be presented for Royal Assent without the Lords’ agreement, unless the Commons direct that it should not be presented.

The Parliament Act 1911 also amended the Septennial Act 1715, reducing the maximum duration of a parliament from seven to five years.  The Septennial Act 1715 has since been repealed by the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011.

Application and procedure for using the Acts

While the Parliament Acts are fairly short, simple statutes, there are various aspects of the procedure that are open to interpretation. The following conditions must be satisfied in order for a bill to be enacted under the Parliament Acts:

  • The Bill must be sent to the Lords at least one month before the end of the first session in which it is considered.
  • The Bill must be rejected by the House of Lords in that first session. “Rejected” has a wide meaning. If a bill fails to pass through all of its stages in the Lords, it is deemed to have been rejected.
  • The Bill must then be sent from the Commons to the Lords in the next Session of Parliament. One year has to elapse between the date of Second Reading in the Commons in the first session, and the date on which it is sent to the Lords in the second session.
  • The Bill in the second session must be identical to the Bill sent from the Commons in the first session, with the exception of amendments either made necessary by the passage of time or made by the Lords in the first session.
  • It must be sent from the Commons to the Lords at least one month before the end of the second session.
  • It must be rejected by the Lords in the second session. “Rejected” has the same wide meaning as in the first session.
  • Finally, before the Bill can receive Royal Assent, the Speaker of the House of Commons has to certify that the conditions set out in section 2 of the Parliament Act 1911, as amended, have been complied with.

Use of the Acts to date

Three acts were passed into law under the terms of the original 1911 Parliament Act without the agreement of the Lords.  These were:

  • the Government of Ireland Act 1914;
  • the Welsh Church Act 1914; and
  • the Parliament Act 1949.

Four acts have been passed since the 1949 Act:

  • the War Crimes Act 1991;
  • the European Parliamentary Elections Act 1999;
  • the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 2000; and
  • the Hunting Act 2004.

Challenges to the validity of the Acts

Doubts have been expressed about the validity of the Parliament Act 1949 by some constitutional lawyers although this is not a view not shared by all expert academics.

Arguments about the extent of the rights of the House of Commons to legislate without the agreement of the House of Lords were central to the legal arguments considered by the courts in the judicial review brought by Jackson and others ( the “Jackson case”), following the Hunting Act 2004.

The case was heard first in the High Court on 28 January 2005. Lord Justice Maurice Kay concluded that he was “not persuaded that the [Parliament Act] 1949 is invalid”, and Mr Justice Collins agreed with him. The claimants were granted permission to appeal to the Court of Appeal.

The case was heard by the Court of Appeal on 16 February 2005. Although the Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal, it questioned whether the Parliaments Acts could be used to fundamentally change the relationship between the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Consequently, when the case was heard by the House of Lords

 

Commons Briefing papers SN00675

Authors: Richard Kelly; Lucinda Maer

Topics: Constitution, House of Lords, Parliament, Parliamentary procedure

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