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 their confidence and should therefore govern?

The answer to that question will be determined through a complex nexus of constitutional conventions, laws and precedents, party political calculations and gauging of the public mood. There is guidance and rules to resolve who should govern in the event of a hung Parliament including the Cabinet Manual and the Fixed Term Parliaments Act.

Drawing on these and other sources, this briefing paper addresses how a government will be formed and then sustained in office. 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?
  • Whats 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