Lessons from the process of Government formation after the 2010 General Election - Political and Consitutional Reform Committee Contents


The May 2010 general election resulted for the first time in more than thirty years in a House of Commons in which there was no single-party majority—commonly known as a 'hung' Parliament. After five days of negotiations between political parties a national coalition government was formed for the first time since the Second World War.

The process of government formation and transition generally went well, but in this Report we suggest some practical improvements and identify some areas where constitutional conventions are unclear.

Government transition depends on the party balance in the House of Commons, but Members of Parliament currently play no role in choosing a Government. A case has been argued to us for an investiture vote, along the lines of that already in place for the Scottish First Minister, whereby the House would choose a Prime Minister before he or she was appointed by the Monarch.

There appears to have been some confusion over the rights and duties of the incumbent Government and Prime Minister, in particular over when a Prime Minister should remain in office and when he or she should leave office. An incumbent Prime Minister has a duty to stay in office until a successor has been identified, as well as a right to stay in office until it is clear that he or she does not have the confidence of the House.

A coalition government's programme, drawn up after an election, cannot have the same mandate as a party manifesto which is available to the people before they vote. A possible consequence is that Members of the House of Lords may not feel bound by the Salisbury-Addison convention. One way of addressing the lack of a direct mandate is to ensure that the House of Commons is given the opportunity to subject the Government's proposals to full pre-legislative scrutiny.

Conventions applied restricting the activities of the incumbent Government in the periods immediately before and after the May 2010 general election. These conventions are described in detail in the draft Cabinet Manual published in December 2010. We suggest some changes to the way in which restrictions are articulated in that document. When Ministers have acted in breach of these conventions, this needs to become public knowledge, and we propose a mechanism by which this could be achieved.

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Prepared 28 January 2011