The Role of Parliament in the UK Constitution Interim Report The Status and Effect of Confidence Motions and the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 Contents

2The confidence relationship between Parliament and the Government

5.The confidence relationship between Parliament and Government is a fundamental principle of the UK’s system of parliamentary democracy.5 The confidence relationship is essential not only to the UK political system but to parliamentary systems around the world.6 In parliamentary systems, the executive is formed from the majority of the legislature by members of a single party or a group of parties. If the executive can command the votes necessary to support its actions, it is consequently understood to have the representative authority to govern. The principle of maintaining the confidence of the legislature is a constitutive feature of parliamentary democracy because it ensures that the executive is accountable to the legislature.7 In the UK’s bicameral system, this means maintaining the confidence of the elected House, the House of Commons. Professor Robert Blackburn, Professor of Constitutional Law, Kings College London, described the confidence relationship as “absolutely at the core of our system of parliamentary control over the Executive working in our non-separation-of-powers constitutional structure.”8

6.As the Cabinet Manual sets out in the section on the Principles of Government formation:

The ability of a government to command the confidence of the elected House of Commons is central to its authority to govern. It is tested by votes on motions of confidence, or no confidence.9

If the House of Commons as the elected House passes a vote of no confidence, the Government loses this authority to govern.10 Professor Petra Schleiter, Professor of Comparative Politics, Oxford University, explained:

We are in a parliamentary democracy, which means that the Government holds office by virtue of its ability to command the confidence of Parliament. If it loses that confidence in a motion, however it may be worded, that Government loses the authority to govern.11

7.The effect of a vote of no confidence is to remove the authority to govern from the Government. The consequence of the House removing this authority to govern has by convention been that the Government either resigns and a new administration is formed, or seeks a dissolution of Parliament and a general election.

8.The fact that the government of the day must retain the confidence of the House of Commons is the constitutional principle which determines the relationship between Parliament and Government. The Government’s authority to govern is dependent on maintaining the confidence of the House of Commons. This principle remains fundamental to our system of Parliamentary democracy.


5 Q99; Professor Petra Schleiter (SRH0004)

6 Philip Norton, “The Fixed Term Parliament Act and Votes of Confidence”, Parliamentary Affairs, Volume 69 (2016), p 3

7 Professor Petra Schleiter (SRH0004)

8 Q99

10 Philip Norton, “The Fixed Term Parliament Act and Votes of Confidence”, Parliamentary Affairs, Volume 69 (2016), p 4

11 Q120 [Schleiter]




Published: 11 December 2018