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Explainer

Recall of parliament

How can parliament be recalled?

Westminster at Night

 

What are the circumstances in which parliament be recalled?

Parliament can be recalled only when it is “adjourned” – that is, in a temporary break during a parliamentary session, such as at weekends, or during recesses.

This is different from when parliament is prorogued (the gap between the end of one parliamentary session and the beginning of another) – or when it is dissolved (the period when parliament ends prior to a general election).

Can parliament be recalled if it is prorogued?

Technically, no – but the date of parliament’s scheduled next meeting can be accelerated.

This is because prorogation is done by a proclamation made by the King, on the advice of the government. In order to bring forward the date of parliament’s next meeting, the King must issue a new proclamation setting out the new date. There are also specific situations in which, legally, the meeting of parliament may have to be accelerated when it is prorogued:

  • if reserve armed forces are called out on permanent service
  • if emergency regulations are made by the government under the 2004 Civil Contingencies Act
  • on the death of the monarch.

How can parliament be recalled?

When parliament is adjourned – in other words, in recess or at weekends – it can be recalled on the request of the government only.

In the Commons, the government may ask the Speaker of the Commons to recall parliament. If the Speaker believes that it would be in the public interest to recall parliament, they will then give notice for its recall, and specify a new date of meeting.

The Lord Speaker can also recall the Lords when parliament is adjourned, on the request of the government – again, if they believe it is in the public interest to do so.

Over the years, the fact that only the government can recall parliament has been controversial. The former Speaker of the Commons, John Bercow, has previously suggested that an additional procedure, allowing MPs to request the recall of parliament, be considered. To date, no such change has been made.

When has parliament previously been recalled?

The Commons was recalled on 12 April 2021 following the death of the Duke of Edinburgh.

Previously, MPs were called on 6 January 2021 following the imposition of a coronavirus lockdown. During the same recess, parliament was also recalled on 30 December 2020 to pass the UK–EU trade deal. Before this, the Commons and Lords were recalled from summer recess in June 2016, following the murder of MP Jo Cox.

Parliament was recalled on 18 August 2021 to discuss the situation in Afghanistan.

The Commons has been recalled on 31 occasions during a recess since 1948.

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