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5 March 2015What happens to parliament during the general election?

Houses of Parliament at night


Before the general election on 7 May, 2015 and before a new parliament can be formed, the current parliament must officially end. The process of shutting up shop is rather complex so here is some key information to help you understand the process.

Parliament will dissolve on Monday 30 March.

  • MPs are no longer MPs from this point though they do have a few days to vacate their offices. They must make sure they don't use the title "MP" so things like twitter handles have to be changed.

  • MP staff aren't allowed to work from parliament. They are required to work from the constituency office only on constituency business and not on anything related to the campaign. If they wish to work on their MP's campaign they are required to take annual leave. 

  • All parliamentary services such as libraries, bars and restaurants close from 5pm on that day. 

  • Because peers aren't elected they can keep working from their parliament office but there are only limited services and facilities available during this time. 


"Prorogation"

  • While parliament officially dissolves on this set date, it can be "prorogued" or formally closed a few days beforehand. This is when an announcement is made on behalf of the Queen in both chambers and all parliamentary business ends, although that parliament still exists until Monday, 30 March.


The "wash-up" period

  • This happens in the last few days of parliament and is when the last few pieces of legislation get completed and passed into law.

  • There is not enough time to finish all outstanding legislation so parties have to do deals to decide which legislation gets through.

  • All unfinished legislation is dropped completely. If it is picked up in the next parliament the process starts from the beginning.


Government keeps operating

  • Even though parliament is no longer operating and we have no MPs the government is still operating because government is a separate institution from parliament.

  • Ministers keep working in their roles until a new government is formed. They can't call themselves MPs during the election campaign but they can use their ministerial titles.

  • While they keep working they have to be cautious about new policies they might implement during this time and how it might impact the next government.


Civil Servants

  • Civil servants continue working but it's not as busy because for instance they can't make announcements about a new policy that might be construed to benefit a particular political party.

  • Guidelines are given to civil servants so they know what business they can do during this period which is referred to as "purdah".

  • They are encouraged to use this time for personal holidays because once a new government is formed it becomes very busy.

  • Special advisers are different from other civil servants because they are considered to be party political. If they want to work on the election campaign of their minister they must resign and are entitled to severance pay to do this.