One reader reached the site recently by googling the query as to the difference between the Parliament Act and the Fixed-term Parliaments Act. The Parliament Act 1911 provided that the maximum life of a Parliament was five years ( previously it had been seven years). The life of a Parliament could thus be shorter than five years, but no more than five. Within the five-year limit, a Prime Minister could request a dissolution and a new election. A crisis or a Government with a small or no majority at all could result in a short Parliament – as in 1974 when there were two general elections – whereas a Government with a secure majority would tend not to seek an election until four or five years had elapsed. If it was doing well in the opinion polls, it tended to go after four years and if it was in trouble in the polls it preferred to wait the full five sessions in the hope that the situation would improve.
The effect of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 is to remove the discretion of the Prime Minister in the timing of the election. Convention has given way to statute. The Act stipulates that the next general election will take place on 7 May 2015 and thereafter on the first Thursday in May every five years. The only circumstances in which an early election can take place is if a vote of no confidence is carried by the House of Commons (and no new government, enjoying the confidence of the House, can be formed within 14 days) or if the House carries a motion that there shall be an early general election, with at least two-thirds of all the members of the House voting in favour of the motion.
In other words, the Prime Minister can no longer go to Buckingham Palace to request that the monarch call an election at the time of the PM’s choosing. I know there is a view that the PM could manipulate an early election by getting his own MPs to back (or abstain on) a motion of no confidence, but that would require getting to work within a different Palace….