I came across this tweet by BBC political correspondent Ross Hawkins:

FWIW wise hand says govt can’t ‘pull’ a bill. They can leave it in a sort of suspended parliamentary animation, they say, by declining to progress it but they can’t terminate it

What does that "suspended parliamentary animation" refer to? Why can't a minister simply 'pull' a bill to terminate its progress? I think this tweet is in progress to a bill that hasn't been voted on, but I am not entirely sure. For context, I came across it in today's BBC liveblog entitled MPs debating Brexit bill ahead of crunch vote.

1 Answer 1


A bill goes through a number of stages to get approved by the House of Commons:

  • First reading: its formal introduction (no vote)
  • Second reading: a vote on its broad principles
  • Committee stage: a line-by-line analysis, where amendments can be made
  • Third reading: a vote on the final bill

Apart from Committee Stage, each of the stages I mentioned earlier starts with a government whip moving a motion to complete this stage. If the whip declines to move the motion, then the bill cannot progress.

Erskine May, ye olde Parliamentary rulebook, allows for a bill to be withdrawn in a very obscure circumstance related to its second reading. But the government has said that they want to pull be bill if the programme motion is defeated, which is taking place after second reading. So Erskine May does not allow withdrawal.

  • So what is the suspended parliamentary animation referring to in the tweet? Does it apply to the government whip not moving something?
    – JJJ
    Oct 22, 2019 at 16:59
  • @JJJ In general the government, through the Leader of the House, is in charge of the actual timetabling their business.
    – origimbo
    Oct 22, 2019 at 17:12
  • @origimbo I see, is that what the tweet is referring to? The government not tabling the bill? Or is it unclear what the tweet refers to?
    – JJJ
    Oct 22, 2019 at 17:15
  • 2
    @JJJ They basically just ignore it. It's like all the private members bills that are given their first reading; they're simply never scheduled any other time by the government and so they never progress in the legislative journey. It still exists in limbo, unprogressed, until the next prorogation. Bills die with the closing of the session.
    – Dan Scally
    Oct 22, 2019 at 20:57
  • @DanScally thanks for clarifying. Then I think the "If the whip declines to move the motion, then the bill cannot progress." answers my question.
    – JJJ
    Oct 22, 2019 at 20:58

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