Provisions of the Recess Elections Act 1975

2.16The Recess Elections Act 1975 makes provision in certain circumstances for issuing writs when seats become vacant during recesses. The circumstances are: a Member's death or accession to the peerage, either during the recess or before it; a Member's acceptance of a disqualifying office (other than the Chiltern Hundreds or the Manor of Northstead)1 during the recess; or a Member's bankruptcy. If a certificate of vacancy is received, the Speaker is required to give notice of the fact and subsequently to issue the warrant to the Clerk of the Crown to make out a new writ.2 Except in cases of bankruptcy, the Speaker may not issue a warrant in respect of any seat that has been vacated by a Member against whose election or return a petition was pending at the last prorogation or adjournment. A new writ for the election of a Member to fill a seat which has become vacant because the Member has been sentenced to a term of imprisonment exceeding one year (see para 3.8 ) cannot apparently be issued during a recess.

A certificate of vacancy is a certificate signed by two Members requesting the Speaker to cause the writ to be issued. A Member who has accepted a disqualifying office is required to inform the Speaker in writing, which can be done by signing a certificate of vacancy (see paras 3.11–3.21 ). A copy of the notification of the Member's appointment to the disqualifying office published in the London, Edinburgh or Belfast Gazette is also required. A different procedure is followed in the event of a Member's bankruptcy: the Speaker is required to act upon the issue of the certificate of the court, stating that the disqualification inflicted by the Insolvency Act 1986, ss 426A and 427 has not been removed (see para 3.5 ).

The timing of the certificate is important. Under the 1975 Act the Speaker may not issue the warrant during the recess unless the certificate of vacancy is received so long before the next meeting of the House for despatch of business that the writ can be issued before the day of meeting. Before a writ is issued, the Speaker is required to publicise receipt of a certificate of vacancy in the Gazette and may not issue a warrant for the writ until six days after the insertion of the relevant notice. In the calculation of the six days, the day on which the notice appeared in the Gazette and any intervening Sunday are counted.

The return of the former Member must also have been brought into the office of the Clerk of the Crown at least 15 days before the end of the last sitting of the House. Where it is a matter of the bankruptcy of the former Member, this time limit does not apply.3


  1. The Recess Elections Act does not apply to Members who have accepted the Chiltern Hundreds or Manor of Northstead even if subsequently they are elevated to the peerage.
  2. For example, CJ (2007–08) 567. Notifications have been made since 1981 (CJ (1980–81) 502); previous occasions when the Speaker issued such warrants during recesses are listed in the General Indexes to the Journals (since 1960–61 to 1969–70).
  3. As an example, on Thursday 1 September 2005 the Speaker gave notice of his intention to issue a warrant for the Clerk of the Crown to issue the writ for a vacancy in the Livingston constituency, on the death of the sitting Member. This notice was published by the Gazette on Friday 2 September. The writ was issued on Thursday 8 September 2005.