The Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 (FTPA) was introduced to set the length of parliaments at five years and to require the approval of the House of Commons for any early general election. It removed the prerogative power of the Monarch to dissolve Parliament and bring about a general election at the request of the prime minister and vested authority instead in Members of Parliament.
These constitutional changes have proved controversial. In 2019, during a period of minority government, the Prime Minister sought an early general election under the provisions of the Act and was refused by the Commons on three occasions. The election only came about as a result of a short bill to side-step the provisions of the Act.
These events put the FTPA in the spotlight. It has been stress-tested and, in the eyes of the two main political parties and many political commentators, it has been found wanting. Both the Conservative and Labour parties promised to repeal the Act in their 2019 manifestos and the Government has reiterated that commitment since taking office.
However, repealing the Act is not straightforward, as it is the only piece of legislation setting the length of a parliament. If it were repealed without new provision being made, the current parliament would last indefinitely, without the prospect of another general election.
Further, repealing the Act raises a thorny legal question about prerogative powers. There is a contested legal debate as to whether repealing the Act would revive the prerogative power of the Monarch to dissolve Parliament or, with the Act having removed the power, it is extinguished permanently. Uncertainty about such an important constitutional matter—and the risk it would raise of politicising the role of the Monarch—would be unacceptable, and so replacement provisions to the FTPA are required for repeal to proceed.
Replacing the Fixed-term Parliaments Act poses a number of linked questions for Parliament to answer:
Rather than making definitive recommendations, in this report we explore these questions, set out the evidence and clarify the issues to inform Parliament’s choices, because repealing the Act is not a simple matter.
Following the contested prorogation of early autumn 2019, and the Supreme Court judgment in Miller/Cherry, Parliament will also need to consider the further question of whether the House of Commons should be required to approve prorogation in future.
A statutory review of the Act is due to begin later in 2020. We emphasise that constitutional change must be designed to stand the test of time and that is most likely achieved by building on consensus.