Parliament was in the middle of discussing some very important laws before the election was called – what happens to them now?

Just hours before Rishi Sunak fired the starting gun for the 2024 general election, the House of Commons was in full flow, listening to treasury minister Bim Afolami announce that inflation has fallen, and firing questions at the prime minister.

Now, parliament will end just as it is working through a raft of legislation, including the criminal justice bill, the finance bill and a bill to clear the names of hundreds of people wrongly convicted in the Post Office scandal. The UK’s electoral system makes it difficult for governments to clear the decks, particularly if, like yesterday, the announcement of an election comes as a surprise.

Parliament will be prorogued (meetings will be discontinued) on Friday May 24. The bills that have been passed in the current session will be announced in a statement made in the House of Lords, before parliament is formally dissolved a few days later. This will mark the end of the parliament elected in 2019, and trigger the 25-working-day election campaign period.

From this point on, the 650 MPs currently sitting in the House of Commons will no longer be MPs. More than 100 have so far announced that they will be standing down. The rest will return to their constituencies as candidates seeking re-election, hoping that they will be back sitting on the green benches of the Commons in just a few weeks.

But first, two days of parliamentary “wash-up” will commence in which the government will try to pass as much unfinished legislation as it can. And Sunak’s government has a lot of legislation to choose from: 16 government bills are currently making their way through parliament. Any or all of these bills could potentially pass.

The government will want to be strategic and ensure that potentially vote-winning legislation hits the statute book before the official campaign begins. Some, like the data protection and digital information bill, are further along than others.

Read more:
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The Labour frontbench was quick to announce that it would do “whatever is necessary” to pass the victims and prisoners bill, which includes a new compensation scheme for those affected by the infected blood scandal. This was confirmed by leader of the House of Commons Penny Mordaunt, who told the House that the bill would be considered by MPs on Friday.

Mordaunt’s statement confirmed that the tobacco and vapes bill which aims to make England smoke free by 2030 would not make the cut. This is a surprise given the amount of publicity that the legislation has had this year – and it would have been a handy success story for the Conservatives in the campaign. We can expect this to be a big feature of the Conservative party’s election manifesto instead. Labour has also said it would introduce the ban in if elected.

The Post Office offences bill should make it though, along with the victims and prisoners bill. There was no mention in Mordaunt’s statement today of the wide-ranging criminal justice bill or the renters reform bill. Both were expected to be controversial in later stages, so are highly unlikely to be a priority in the wash-up period.

Penny Mordaunt, leader of the House of Commons, will set out the priorities for the wash-up period.
Jeff Gilbert / Alamy Stock Photo

Dangers of rapid scrutiny

Parliament’s scrutiny of legislation is usually slow and cumbersome, with bills going through a series of stages and many hours, even weeks, of debate either on in the Commons and Lords chambers or in the committee rooms. To pass so much legislation quickly, the government will work through the “usual channels”, a term which essentially means that government and opposition whips (or business managers) will negotiate behind the scenes to decide which legislation (or bits of legislation) will be successful.

Mordaunt confirmed to MPs on Wednesday evening that these discussions had started. Bills will be discussed very quickly on Thursday and Friday so that they can pass through their remaining stages, receive royal assent from the king and become law. On the last day of wash-up before the 2010 general election, six bills passed, including the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act which was pushed through its final stages in a matter of minutes.

Some see this period as crucial to ensure an efficient end to the legislative process and to make sure that valuable legislation is not lost. All bills which do not come out of the wash-up period as acts of parliament will fall, and cannot be carried over to the next parliament.

The wash-up period also ensures that the many hours of parliamentary time spent discussing legislation has not been futile. The victims and prisoners bill, for instance, has been on the books since March last year.

For others, it shows just what is wrong with parliament. Legislation which completes its stages in a matter of minutes is not legislation that is well-scrutinised. It increases the chances for laws to be badly written, perhaps with unintended consequences. It also gives the opposition in the Commons and the House of Lords a bit more clout than they would ordinarily have, as they can try to veto any bits of legislation that they disagree with.

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