Traditionally, as I understand it the British parliament sits on annual sessions. Each one starting with a Queen's speech. After an election winning a vote on a Queen's speech is requirement for an incoming government.

In 2017 a decision was taken to have a 2 year session to encompass leaving the EU. This was seen as unusual but not exceptional.

The two years are almost up. However, there is suggestion that the government will not put forward another Queen's speech and just prolong this session of parliament (see https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/apr/17/theresa-may-could-put-off-queens-speech-amid-brexit-turmoil)

It is suggested this would cause "constitutional outrage", but that is not uncommon in the UK currently.

Other than mechanisms under the fixed term parliament act, a vote of no confidence or a scheduled election, is there an way for parliament to end its own session and demand a new Queen's speech? Or is it possible for the government to just carry on without an agenda indefinitely?

  • Indefinitely is a very long time... Apr 18, 2019 at 2:38
  • I did think about putting 'until an election is called under the fixed term parliament act' in the title but it wasn't so catchy. Apr 18, 2019 at 8:01
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    This question would be much easier to answer if Erskine May was freely available online.
    – pjc50
    Apr 18, 2019 at 8:04
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    @pjc50 Good news on that front in the coming months beta.parliament.uk/collections/QtZFZvT2 Apr 18, 2019 at 8:06
  • @Jeremy French: It can’t carry on indefinitely otherwise it will just look stupid - the BBC carried an article recently where the Europeans were just laughing at our national humiliation! Politics is about making decisions, eventually they will have to act. That this has gone on for as long as it has only underlined the exceptional nature of the situation - that’s all. Apr 18, 2019 at 8:53

4 Answers 4


The power to end - prorogue - a parliamentary session is part of the Royal Prerogative, exercised by the Queen on the advice of the government. Parliament is not involved, and this could only be changed by changing the law. While recent events suggest that this is not impossible, it seems unlikely.

As such, it is entirely the government's choice how long a session lasts, and when the current one should end (or not end).

The power to prorogue parliament is not affected by the Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011; indeed the Act specifically mentions this:

This Act does not affect Her Majesty's power to prorogue Parliament.

By convention, sessions normally last one year; and before the passing of the FTPA, they typically ran from November to November. In those years where there was an election (normally in May), there would be a short session before the election (Nov - May), and a longer one after (May/June to Nov the following year).

However, since the passing of the FTPA, sessions have run from May one year to May the next year, to fit with the new election cycle; hence the session after the 2015 election was one year. However, the snap 2017 election took place in June that year, and so the session which followed was expected to run from then until May 2019.

Beyond this, British governments have mostly stuck to convention when it comes to prorogation. The last time this power was used for tactical reasons was in 1948, when a 10-day session was held as part of the process of passing the Parliament Act 1949.

By comparison, in Canada (which otherwise follows similar practices to the UK in this matter), the federal government has used the prorogation power much more recently for political reasons, as has one provincial government.

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    Recent events‽ Try 1625, when 1 Car. I c. 7 was enacted, and the second part of the Parliament Act 1660. Parliament has already been involved in the question of what ends a session.
    – JdeBP
    Apr 18, 2019 at 17:38
  • @JdeBP: interesting! With regard to the Parliament Act 1660, it's worth pointing out that Parliament took responsibility for summoning itself, and ruling out an early prorogation, because at the time there was no monarch available to exercise these powers. Apr 19, 2019 at 11:42


According to the UK Parliament website,

There is no fixed length for a session

The number of sitting days for a session has varied between 10 and 295 since the end of the Second World War, with an average of 157. A calendar year is expected to contain around 150 sitting days over about 34 weeks, but could vary if recess time was reduced or extra Friday or weekend sitting was demanded, for instance.

Number of sitting days of Parliament, 1944-45 to 2015-16

While 13 sessions have been of over 200 days, only one is listed to have taken place within 3 different calendar years, the 2010-12 session at the start of the coalition government which had 295 sitting days over 715 calendar days from 18th May 2010 to 1st May 2012.


Theoretically yes, The longest British parliament lasted nine years and six months, from 26 November 1935 to 15 June 1945. Throughout British history parliament has sat for varying points as determined by the Monarch. Henry VIII's reformation parliament for example sat between 1529 and 1536. As long as the goverment can avoid a no confidence vote or the parliament can agree not to call a general election they can sit indefinitely.

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    This is an interesting answer; however the question was about sessions of parliament (where sessions normally last a year, sometimes two), not parliaments (which since 1911 have tended to last about 4 to 5 years). Apr 18, 2019 at 12:37


Provided that a government can avoid a successful confidence challenge, I can find nothing so stop them continuing with a parliamentary session as long as they see fit. That said, it remains unlikely since there are many practical reasons not to do so. Running parliament without business is likely to be very unpopular electorally speaking, and it is also likely to alienate a great many members of the house thereby making a successful motion of no confidence more likely, and any subsequent election harder to fight.

(Without reference to "A treatise on the law, privileges, proceedings and usage of Parliament" aka Erskine May this is hard to answer authoritatively but I can find no mechanism from freely available material.)

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