Plotting a roadmap through the constitutional issues, and setting the situation in its historical context, this June 2017 briefing paper highlights and explains key parliamentary dates, events and procedures that shape the process of forming and sustaining a minority government, focusing on the 2017 case.
The fundamental principle at the heart of our parliamentary democracy is that the government must command the confidence of the House of Commons. In the event of a hung Parliament, where no party secures an outright majority, the arithmetic presents politicians with a conundrum: who commands MPs’ confidence, and should therefore govern?
The answer to this question is determined through a complex nexus of constitutional conventions, laws and precedents, party political calculations and gauging of the public mood. Guidance and rules exist to help resolve who should govern, including in the form of the Cabinet Manual and the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act.
This June 2017 briefing paper addresses how a government is formed and then sustained in office when the House of Commons is hung, focusing on the 2017 situation. It also looks at how a minority government might operate in Parliament, focusing on the impact it may have on parliamentary process and procedure.
Table of contents
Introduction: Minority government in context
- Historical comparisons and precedents
Part 1: Forming a government
- What does ‘command confidence’ mean?
- The incumbent Prime Minister: stay or go?
- When will Parliament meet?
- The State Opening of Parliament: will the Queen attend?
- The Queen’s Speech debate: confidence of the House?
- Will there be a second general election?
- What difference does the Fixed Term Parliaments Act make?
- Seats vs votes: what counts?
- An alternative party leader / Prime Minister?
- How long can be taken to form a government?
Part 2: Parliamentary procedure: help or hindrance?
- Does it matter if votes are lost?
- What about the House of Lords?
- Will minority government mean less legislation?
- Will the Speaker’s casting vote influence decisions?
- Managing time: potential problems ahead
- The establishment and composition of select committees
- The fiscal maze
- Delegated legislation: an increase in deferrals and withdrawals?
- Accountability and transparency
Enjoy reading this? Please consider sharing it
Articles on themes including the development of Sweden’s now 100-year-old parliamentary democracy, strategic voting among Lib Dem supporters in the 2015 general election, policy areas associated with personal attacks at Prime Minister’s Questions, UK intergovernmental relations and spending after the Conservative-DUP ‘confidence and supply’ deal, and more.
In Ireland, the Covid-19 crisis collided with a ‘change election’, the formation of a historic coalition government and the ‘end of Civil War politics’. But the pandemic sucked much of the oxygen out of a heightened political atmosphere, and also occasioned the physical relocation of Parliament, challenging the institution’s operation and culture.
Submitting evidence before the House was to take further decisions on its Coronavirus arrangements, we decried the Leader of the House’s decision to end hybrid proceedings and remote voting as "over-hasty, poorly thought-through, unwise and unnecessary". Our recommendations covered House business, risk management, delegated legislation and select committees.
The new review of the Palace of Westminster Restoration and Renewal project opens up a range of different outcomes for the future of the building. However, with the alarming state of the Palace not changed by the Coronavirus, the government should not use the pandemic as an excuse to downgrade or delay the much-needed repairs.
Jersey’s States Assembly was the first legislature in the Commonwealth to hold a full virtual meeting, with all members able to participate, in order to get around the limitations imposed by the Covid-19 crisis. Mark Egan, Greffier of the States, describes how this was achieved and suggests that some of the States Assembly’s Covid-19 innovations may stick.
The unprecedentedly long delay in appointing the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) again exposes the extent to which the work of this parliamentary committee is constrained by the executive. Important ISC inquiries, as well as publication of the Committee’s ‘Russia report’, are being held up.