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Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 (Repeal) Bill

Volume 685: debated on Tuesday 1 December 2020

Today, the Government publish in draft the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 (Repeal) Bill, which is required to repeal the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 (FTPA), and in doing so revive the prerogative power to dissolve Parliament.

The Bill makes express provision that the dissolution prerogative is to be revived to ensure legal, constitutional and political certainty around the process for dissolving Parliament. There will be an ouster clause in the Bill to reinforce the long-standing position that the exercise of the dissolution prerogative is not reviewable by the courts.

The Bill retains certain aspects of the FTPA to ensure the continued operability of our electoral system. The Bill does not change the 25 working day period between dissolution and polling day. The Bill also contains provision to fix the maximum length of a Parliament at five years, thereby returning to the pre-FTPA position.

There will also be provision made in the Bill to give the Prime Minister the discretion, within clearly defined limits, to set a new polling day in the event of the demise of the Crown. Under section 20 of the Representation of the People Act 1985, in the event of the demise of the Crown after a proclamation summoning a new Parliament, polling day is postponed by a fortnight. The 1985 Act provides no discretion or flexibility to further alter the date of the poll and had demise occurred after the dissolution of Parliament for the 2019 election the polling day would have been postponed to 27 December, the day after Boxing day. In these very unlikely circumstances, the Prime Minister has the discretion to move the polling day up to seven days either side of this default 14-day postponement.

I am also depositing in the Libraries of both Houses a draft document setting out the Government’s initial thinking on the non-legislative constitutional principles that will need to underpin the exercise of the prerogative powers to dissolve Parliament. The Government would welcome the Joint Committee and other parliamentary Select Committees giving consideration to these underpinning conventions.

The FTPA was a departure from the long-term constitutional norm, whereby the Prime Minister could seek an early dissolution of Parliament. It was passed with limited scrutiny, and created parliamentary paralysis at a critical time for our country. This Bill, in returning our constitutional system to the pre-FTPA status quo ante, will enable the Government, within the life of a Parliament, to call a general election at the time of their choosing, and allow the people to decide on their Government.

It is vital that this important part of our constitutional settlement is given careful consideration and we welcome the forthcoming scrutiny of the draft Bill to ensure that what replaces the FTPA is subject to greater scrutiny.

Attachments can be viewed online at: https://questions-statements.parliament.uk/written-statements/detail/2020-12-01/HCWS615

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