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Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011

Published Friday, June 24, 2016

The Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 creates a five year period between general elections. Early elections may only be held in specified circumstances.

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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.  It removed the prerogative power of the Queen, on the advice of the Prime Minister, to dissolve Parliament and trigger a general election.  The Act set the date of the general election on 7 May 2015 and provided that thereafter general elections are scheduled to take place on the first Thursday in May in every fifth year.  The next election is scheduled to take place on 7 May 2020; Parliament will be dissolved on 30 March 2020.

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 Act itself does not affect the operation of parliamentary sessions but from the spring of 2012, sessions have run from spring to spring.

Because elections to the Scottish Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales were scheduled for 7 May 2015, the Act provided for these elections to be held on 5 May 2016, extending the normal four year term to five years. Subsequent elections to the Scottish Parliament will revert to four yearly intervals.  But section 1(1) of the Wales Act 2014 provides that subsequent elections to the NAW will take place in every fifth year.  The Act did not specify an election date for the Northern Ireland Assembly, but section 7 of the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2014 postponed the elections to 2016 and provided that subsequent elections will take place in every fifth year thereafter.

Explanatory Notes to the Act are available and are referred to in this Briefing Paper.

Commons Briefing papers SN06111

Authors: Richard Kelly; Isobel White

Topics: Elections, Parliament

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