What is the Fixed-term Parliaments Act?

Telegraph Reporters
The houses of parliament - REX

Following three failed attempts by the Government to force an early election using the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, on Oct 29 Parliament voted in support of a Dec 12 general election.

MPs voted by a margin of 438 votes to 20 in favour of the Early Parliamentary General Election Bill. Under normal circumstances a general election is called using the Fixed-term Parliaments Act.

What is the Fixed-term Parliaments Act ?

The conditions for when a snap election can be called were significantly restricted by the Fixed-term Parliaments Act of 2011. The Act of Parliament, which was part of the Conservative–Liberal Democrat coalition agreement produced after the 2010 general election, introduced fixed-term elections to the Westminster parliament.

Under the provisions of the act, parliamentary elections must be held every five years, beginning on the first Thursday in May 2015, then, 2020, 2025 and so on.

A snap election can only be called when the government loses a confidence motion or when a two-thirds majority of MPs vote in favour.

What was the situation before?

Prior to the act in 2011, the prime minister had the de facto power to call an election at will by requesting a dissolution of Parliament from the monarch.

There had been no traditional fixed period for holding elections, but since 1997 there has been an unwritten agreement that the government should hold elections alongside local elections on the first Thursday of May.

Since World War II, only the 2015 general election has been held at the latest possible date (May 7th 2015). This was the first general election occurring at the end of a fixed-term Parliament.

When introducing the Bill to the House of Commons, Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister at the time, said that "by setting the date that parliament will dissolve, our prime minister is giving up the right to pick and choose the date of the next general election—that's a true first in British politics."