Publications / Briefings

A Numbers Game: Parliament and Minority Government

9 Jun 2017

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.

  • Historical comparisons and precedents

  • 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?

  • 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