Five important laws that could be dropped due to Sunak's snap election

With parliament set to be prorogued on May 24, precious little time remains to get key legislation through before the election period.

Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks to the media, as heavy rain falls, outside 10 Downing Street in London Wednesday, May 22, 2024, as he announces that he is to call a General Election for July 4. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Rishi Sunak was soaked with rain outside No 10 yesterday as he announced a general election. (Alamy)

Rishi Sunak has fired the starting gun for a snap general election on 4 July – catching many people in Westminster by surprise.

Party leaders have sprung into action as they kick-off their campaign trails, and MPs now have precious little time to get any legislation through before parliament is dissolved next week, in what is known as the "wash-up" period.

Sunak has already attracted criticism after meeting the mother of the Manchester Arena bombing victim Martyn Hett and telling her he would introduce "Martyn's Law" – legislation to better protect people from terror attacks – before the summer recess.

Given the possibility that Sunak might not return as prime minister, some have questioned if he really should have made a promise he couldn't keep.

File photo dated 22/05/24 of Figen Murray, mother of Manchester Arena bombing victim Martyn Hett, arriving in Downing Street, London. Figen Murray has said she felt
Figen Murray, mother of Manchester Arena bombing victim Martyn Hett. (PA)

Brendan Cox, husband of murdered Labour MP Jo Cox and anti-extremism campaigner, wrote: "How is that reconcilable with knowing he was about to call an election?"

It is one of several pieces of proposed legislation whose future now hangs in the balance, with very little time before parliament is prorogued (effectively suspended) on 24 May. Meanwhile some other laws are more likely to be rushed through with little scrutiny.

Here, Yahoo News explains which laws are unlikely to survive before the official election period begins.

The wash-up period refers to the last few days of a parliament before it is dissolved - in other words, closed for an election period.

Any unfinished business is lost at dissolution, meaning the government may need the co-operation of the opposition in passing legislation that is still in progress.

"In wash-up, because the government can drive a coach and horses through normal procedures, with so many bills so quickly, there's a convention that the government will not push through legislation that the opposition doesn't want," Ruth Fox, from the Hansard Society, tells Yahoo News.

"Basically, Labour has a veto, and therefore Labour could say on a bill, 'well, we're happy with X, Y and Z, but we don't want A, B and C'. So they have to gut the bill so what's left of the legislation can get Royal Assent, or it could be dropped entirely."

The Hansard Society – an independent organisation founded to encourage parliament to work more effectively – has a guide on its website on recent changes in general election rules and regulations.

Fox says we don't know for sure which laws won't make the cut before parliament is dissolved, adding that "everything is in play".

Graeme Cowie, a constitutional law expert and House of Commons researcher points out that some major policy bills still "in the sausage machine" of parliament haven't even finished their Commons stages.

Based on where these pieces of legislation are at in the journey through parliament, here are some key bills Fox and Cowie think are likely to be dropped before summer recess.

  • Tobacco and Vapes Bill

  • Criminal Justice Bill

  • Sentencing Bill

  • Football Governance Bill

  • Renters Reform Bill

On Thursday, the leader of the House of Commons Penny Mordaunt did not mention the Tobacco and Vapes Bill among parliament's final business ahead of the election. One of Sunak's key pieces of legislation, it is aimed at preventing anyone born after 2009 from legally smoking.

She also failed to mention the Football Governance Bill, which would establish an independent regulator, or the Renters Reform Bill, which was expected to pave the way for an end to no-fault evictions.

The Criminal Justice Bill, which would bring in tougher sentences for dangerous cyclists, and the Sentencing Bill, which would get rid of many jail sentences under 12 months to address overcrowding in prisons.

However, addressing MPs on Thursday, Mordaunt said cross-party negotiations were ongoing over the future of bills not included in the schedule.

Martyn's Law, more formally known as the Terrorism Protection of Premises Bill, has been published as a draft bill and has undergone pre-legislative scrutiny, according to the Hansard Society.

This means it is nowhere close to becoming law, especially when there are a number of other bills the government will be seeking to rush through before parliament closes for business.

When meeting Martyn Hett's mother, Figen Murray, on Wednesday morning, he said the bill would be introduced before summer recess, which is scheduled for 23 July, after the general election.

"'Introducing' could refer to a bill being introduced some point in the days following the King's Speech," says Cowie. "Obviously the PM cannot do that if he is no longer the PM."

Asked why Sunak would make such a pledge, Fox said: "I suppose he didn't want to give away the fact that he was calling an election.

"The only scenario where it would get through I guess is if there was an agreement with Labour and they could amend an existing bill and get it through that way, but I rather doubt it.

"I would be amazed if they could introduce a new bill. You normally have to give notice of a presentation of a bill the day before. It would be pretty extraordinary to introduce a bill through the wash-up at this stage."

Shadow Commons leader Lucy Powell also expressed concern on Thursday. “The prime minister yesterday promised Figen Murray – mother of Martyn Hett, killed in that attack – that Martyn’s Law would be introduced before the summer recess. Regrettably that now seems unlikely, but I hope whoever is returned after the election can bring in Martyn’s Law as soon as possible.”

We can get a sense of which laws are likely to be prioritised based on the published forthcoming business of the House of Lords for Thursday and Friday.

"One thing that will definitely happen is the Finance Bill, because they have to have provision in place for taxes and finances," says Fox.

Based on the agenda for the rest of the week, here are some laws that are likely to be passed before the election period begins. They include the bills enabling compensation to be paid to the victims of the contaminated blood scandal and for subpostmasters caught up in the Horizon IT scandal to be exonerated.

The bills listed for business are:

  • Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill

  • Post Office (Horizon System) Offences Bill

  • Victims and Prisoners Bill

  • Media Bill

  • Pet Abduction Bill

  • Paternity Leave (Bereavement) Bill

  • Building Societies Act 1986 (Amendment) Bill

  • British Nationality (Irish Citizens) Bill Finance Bill