Following the Prime Minister's decision to call a General Election, the (UK) Parliament was prorogued on Friday 24 May. Prorogation brings a parliamentary session to an end. Parliament is typically prorogued annually, usually for a period of around two weeks before reconvening. MPs remain in office during the period that Parliament is prorogued.

When a General Election is called, Parliament is normally first prorogued, and then dissolved. Dissolution is different from prorogation. It brings the 'old' Parliament to a close and renders vacant all seats in the House of Commons (and so there are, for the time being, no MPs).

A 'new' Parliament, composed of the 650 MPs elected on 4 July, will meet for the first time on 9 July.

What does dissolution mean for proposed primary legislation?

Subject to very limited exceptions, any bill which has been introduced into Parliament but has not yet completed all of its parliamentary stages or has not yet received Royal Assent (formal approval by the King) falls at dissolution. Bills which have fallen will not become law. While bills can normally be 'carried over' between parliamentary sessions (before and after prorogation), this is, almost always, not possible at dissolution.

To minimise the number of bills that fall at dissolution the Government and opposition parties work together to fast-track bills in areas in which they can agree so that they are passed quickly. This is conventionally known as 'wash up'.

Which bills were passed in the 'wash up' period?

In the wash up period, Parliament passed various bills, including:

  1. Post Office (Horizon System) Offences Bill – legislation to quash convictions of sub-postmasters in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in connection with the Post Office 'Horizon' IT system.
  2. Victim and Prisoners Bill – legislation which, amongst other things, establishes a compensation body for those who were impacted by infected blood.
  3. Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill – legislation which, amongst other things, establishes a new regulatory regime for digital markets, makes changes to the law on merger control, and introduces reforms to various aspects of the investigation and enforcement of competition and consumer law.

These bills were granted Royal Assent in advance of prorogation on 24 May, and therefore became Acts of Parliament.

Which bills fell?

Various bills were not passed during wash-up and therefore fell. They include:

  1. Data Protection and Digital Information Bill – legislation which would, among other things, have made changes to the UK's post-Brexit data protection regime.
  2. Tobacco and Vapes Bill – legislation introduced to give effect to the Government's commitment to prevent people who have been born since 2009 from smoking.
  3. Renters (Reform) Bill – legislation which would have made significant changes to the operation of the private residential rental sector in England and Wales.

If the Government (or other parliamentarians) wish to pass legislation in these areas after the General Election, any bill will have to start the parliamentary process afresh.

What about secondary legislation?

Nowadays, lots of legislation is made by Ministers using delegated powers given to them in Acts of Parliament. This type of legislation is known as delegated or secondary legislation.

Prorogation and dissolution affect the making of secondary legislation, although the precise effects depend on the procedure specified in the relevant Act of Parliament which enables Ministers to make the secondary legislation.

Some pieces of secondary legislation are subject to an affirmative procedure, meaning that they need parliamentary approval, either while they are in draft form, or during a specified period after they have been made. Others are subject to negative procedure, meaning Ministers can make legislation without needing Parliament's positive agreement, but Parliament can annul it within a specified period.

Ahead of prorogation, the Government sought and obtained the necessary approval for various pieces of secondary legislation subject to affirmative procedure. These made important changes across a wide range of areas, ranging from, for example, the UK's international sanctions regime, to a new code of practice covering fair and transparent distribution of tips.

While the Government can continue to exercise powers to make delegated legislation after dissolution, the opportunity to approve, or as may be the case, annul secondary legislation is preserved to be exercised later by the 'new' Parliament. More generally, Ministers are, by convention, expected to exercise discretion in initiating any new action of a continuing or long-term character after dissolution.

What about the Scottish Parliament?

The Scottish Parliament is unaffected by dissolution of the (UK) Parliament. Scottish Ministers retain the ability to exercise their functions in the normal way. The Permanent Secretary to the Scottish Government has, though, provided advice that Scottish Ministers should defer various strategic policies during the pre-General Election period.

Contributors

Christine O'Neill KC

Chair & Partner

Tony Convery

Associate