Government formation post-election - Political and Constitutional Reform Contents

Appendix 1: Correspondence between the Chair and the Acting Clerk of the House

Letter from the Chair to David Natzler, Acting Clerk of the House, 10 March 2013

Thank you for coming to the Select Committee yesterday to set out the procedures to be followed at the meeting of a new Parliament.

We discussed the possibility of the House meeting earlier than last time should the result of the Election be inconclusive. This could take place on Saturday 9 May. However it was apparent from the evidence and from the views of many colleagues that Monday 11 May, four days after the General Election, would find greater support as a date to initially debate, and perhaps later to confirm, any proposed arrangements for the formation of a new administration after the election. Thank you for indicating in outline how a reconvening like this might be achieved.

I should be grateful if you would submit to the Committee a note setting out a scheme under which Parliament would meet on Monday 11 May to enable the House to hold an initial debate of this nature. It would be helpful if you could indicate the requirements and agreements which would in your view be necessary for such a scheme to be proceeded with. I realise that you cannot speak for all those involved, and I am therefore also seeking advice from the Cabinet Office, the Clerk of the Parliaments and the Private Secretary to HM the Queen.

Such a scheme would inevitably require changes to current procedure and practice, and I would be grateful for any advice you could give the Committee on the changes which would be required for effective implementation. It would be helpful to receive the note by Wednesday 18 March for circulation to the Committee.

Note from David Natzler, Acting Clerk of the House, 18 March 2015

Date and time of meeting

1. Parliament could be summoned by proclamation to meet on Monday 11 May. This should give sufficient time for preparation of the White Book of returns to the writs. The time of meeting is not normally set out in the proclamation. The normal meeting time of the House on a Monday is 1430, but a morning start at no later than 0930 would be advisable if all the preliminaries are to be disposed of in one day so as to enable the House to hold a debate in the afternoon and evening. In the absence of any authority for meeting at 0930, it would be necessary to regulate the meeting time in advance of Dissolution either by a new Standing Order designed for this circumstance or by a one-off Order.

First visit to Lords

2. Time could be saved by dispensing with the first of the conventional three visits to the Lords. This was recommended by the Procedure Committee in its 1995-96 Report on Proceedings at the start of a Parliament, but not implemented. Rather than the Commissioners in the Lords sending Black Rod to fetch the Commons to the Lords, the permission to elect a Speaker could be conveyed orally by a senior Privy Counsellor [PC]. That is how permission is conveyed when the election of a Speaker is required in the course of a Parliament. Since the prerogative is engaged, and given the role of the Commissioners, I presume that the assent of the Monarch would be required for this change.

Election of Speaker

3. The House then proceeds to the election of a Speaker. If the returning Speaker is elected without a division, proceedings should be complete by around 0950. If a division is called and the returning Speaker is elected, proceedings should be complete by 1005. If the returning Speaker is defeated, Standing Orders require the House to be adjourned to the next day for a ballot.

Approbation of Speaker-elect and confirmation of rights and privileges

4. Time could also be saved by dispensing with the second visit to the Lords. Royal approbation of the Speaker elect could be conveyed by the same PC, presumably subject to some decent interval to enable it to be established that the individual concerned was indeed approved. The Speaker elect could then make the claim to the ancient and undoubted rights and privileges of the Commons and the PC could confirm them on behalf of the Monarch. As for para 2 above, this significant change in practice would require the Monarch's assent in advance.


5. By around 1015 the Speaker would be able to take the oath and begin swearing-in. If it was important to save time there could conceivably be two "streams" either side of the "table in the middle of the said House" [Parliamentary Oaths Act 1866] rather than the conventional single stream. On that basis and given vigorous stage management swearing could probably be concluded by around 1215. Arrangements for swearing-in are for the Speaker: if forewarned the necessary detailed arrangements for an accelerated process could be in place.

Assembly prior to Queen's speech

6. To ensure co-ordination with proceedings in the Lords there could be a short suspension until a pre-arranged time, say 1230, so that the House was assembled to be bidden to the Lords for the Queen's Speech.

Queen's Speech

7. The Speech, which could be given by Commissioners rather than the Monarch, could be short and limited to telling the Commons that they will be invited to debate and vote on, for example, the formation of a government or on whom to recommend to the Queen should be appointed as Prime Minister. The content of the Queen's Speech is the responsibility of the incumbent Prime Minister.


8. An alternative to paras 4-7 above might be for the Speaker elect to lead the [unsworn] House at around 1015 to the Lords to seek Royal approbation, and make the rights and privileges claim: and for the Commissioners not only to convey approbation and confirm the privileges, but also to convey to the Commons the message in para 7 above. The Speaker would then lead the House back and carry out swearing-in, which would be completed by around 1300. This is effect elides stages and still preserves one visit to the Lords.

Debate and vote

9. The House could reassemble at the conventional time of 1415. If it was intended to debate a Motion other than the conventional humble Address, or to allow for debate on a substantive amendment to the Address, informal notice of the Motion or proposed amendment should be given earlier in the day, so as to be widely circulated and made publicly available on the internet. There is a twentieth century precedent for a "substantive" Address to be moved. In the one week December 1921 session, the humble Address as moved included substantial reference to confirmation and ratification of the Articles of Agreement on Ireland, which was the sole purpose of calling this mini-Session. Until session 1890-91 it had indeed been the practice for the Address to reflect the Speech article by article. But the practice has now been firmly settled for over a century on a simple Motion for a humble Address of thanks. The Speaker's agreement would be required for a Motion to be moved other than the standard Motion for an Address, or for selecting an amendment on the first day.

10. Being a Monday, proceedings would normally be interrupted at 2200, if necessary by a closure to force a decision. The House would then presumably be adjourned by motion until a later date.


11. If the Government so wished, Parliament could then or soon thereafter be prorogued and a new session begun, with a substantive Queen's Speech. Alternatively the existing session could proceed as normal, without a legislative programme set out in a Queen's Speech, but if so desired with an eventual debate and vote on an equivalent document.

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Prepared 26 March 2015