Government formation post-election - Political and Constitutional Reform Contents

1  Introduction

1. In 2010, for the first time in 36 years and for only the second time since World War II, the general election held on 6 May resulted in no clear majority for one single party in the House of Commons. Following negotiations, Rt Hon David Cameron MP was appointed Prime Minister and formed a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats. We undertook an inquiry into the process of Government formation after the election and in January 2011 published a report on Lessons from the process of Government formation after the 2010 General Election.[1] Our report focused on the processes which took place after the 2010 General Election and suggested some improvements which could make the processes and conventions clearer both to the parties involved in the negotiations and to the wider public. For example, after the 2010 election, there had been considerable confusion over the rules and conventions governing the role of the incumbent Prime Minister, then Rt Hon Gordon Brown MP, once it was clear that he could not command a parliamentary majority, as well as over the power and authority the incumbent Government had to make decisions during the negotiation period.

2. In this report we aim to inform the public what they should expect after the 2015 election should it result in another House of Commons with no overall majority, to provide feedback to the Government on areas where there is still uncertainty as to what the rules are, and to propose changes to ensure Parliament is at the heart of the process, where it should be.

3. We launched this inquiry on 29 January 2015, and invited evidence on the following issues:

·  The principles governing Civil Service support to the leaders of political parties involved in discussions over the formation of a new administration (Cabinet Manual, 1st edition, para 2.14);

·  Operation of the 'caretaker convention' restricting government activity following an election with no overall majority as long as there is "significant doubt over the Government's ability to command the confidence of the House of Commons" (Cabinet Manual, 1st edition, para 2.30);

·  Arrangements to demonstrate whether a Prime Minister forming a new administration commands the support of the House of Commons;

·  How best to facilitate any negotiations between political parties on government formation.

4. During the course of this inquiry, we received five pieces of written evidence and took oral evidence on two occasions, from a variety of witnesses including the Clerk of the House of Commons,[2] the Cabinet Secretary and the Chairs of the three main political parties' parliamentary groups. We are grateful to all those who have contributed to the inquiry.

1   Lessons from the process of Government formation after the 2010 General Election, Fourth Report of Session 2010-12, HC 528 Back

2   When the Committee took oral evidence from David Natzler on 9 March 2015 he was Acting Clerk of the House of Commons. On 23 March 2015 he was appointed Clerk of the House of Commons. Back

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Prepared 26 March 2015