1. In the light of speculation that the forthcoming
general election could result in a House of Commons where no one
party has an overall majorityand independent study of the
implications of such circumstanceswe
agreed to hold an evidence session on how constitutional principle,
provision and practice apply after general elections.
2. We are publishing this short report in order to
make available all the evidence received, oral and written, and
to respond to the invitation of the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Gus
O'Donnell, for us to comment on the draft chapter of the Cabinet
Manual being developed by the Cabinet Office which deals with
elections and government formation.
We welcome the publication by the Cabinet Office of that text
for consultation. We
were grateful for sight of this draft prior to the Cabinet Secretary's
appearance before us. We note his intention to publish a more
finished version in time for the forthcoming general election.
3. The steps that have to be taken after a general
election, and the roles and responsibilities of the Prime Minister,
the Sovereign, the Civil Service and other key actors, are not
widely understood. They need to be clear, and clarity is particularly
important when the election results in a situation where no one
political party has an overall majority in the House of Commons.
Our aim was to shed a little more light on this aspect of the
UK constitution and to ascertain what preparations were being
undertaken within the Government to address the different possible
4. The Cabinet Secretary told us that: "in terms
of the Civil Service, people ... have not seen many changes of
administration and they have certainly not seen a hung Parliament
situation. So can we assume that the Civil Service is up and ready
for this? No."
He told us he wanted to put this chapter before the Committee
"because it is hugely important that we get some clarity
ahead of an election ... I would want to try and get this finalised
before the start of an election campaign." He added that
"in the absence of commands otherwise" he would be following
the principles set out in the finalised chapter up to and following
the forthcoming election.
5. We were very grateful to Lord Butler of Brockwell
and Lord Turnbull of Enfield, former cabinet secretaries;
Professor Robert Hazell, Director, Constitution Unit, UCL, Peter
Riddell, Senior Fellow, Institute of Government, and Professor
Vernon Bogdanor, Professor of Government, Oxford University,
for participating in the session. We were also grateful for the
submission, by Professor Hazell and Mr Peter Riddell, of memoranda
on the codification of constitutional practice drawing on international
session was concluded by oral evidence from the Cabinet Secretary.
6. The evidence we have gathered is published as
part of this report, including the draft chapter on elections
and government formation made in public by the Cabinet Office
on 24 February.
1 See, for example, No Overall Control?, Hansard
Society, 2008 and Transitions-preparing for changes to government,
Institute for Government, 2009 Back
Q 87 Back
Ev 23-27 Back
Q 97 Back
Ev 28, paras 1.1-1.2 and Qq 31, 62, 63, Q 65 [Riddell], and Qq
78, 87 Back
Q 87 Back
Q 95 Back
Qq 1-58 Back
Qq 59-86 Back
Ev 28-49 Back
Qq 87-[end] Back
Ev 23-27 Back