Parliamentary Committees and Public Enquiries
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Parliament should return on Monday 11 May

In a report published today, Thursday 26 March, the Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee looks at procedures for forming a government after the General Election and sets out what the public ought to expect in the event of a hung Parliament.

It concludes that in a hung Parliament the incumbent Government ought to remain in place until it is clear that there is a new administration which is in a position to command the confidence of the House of Commons. The incumbent "caretaker" administration must consult other parties on any significant decisions that need to be taken during this period.

No overall majority

Opinion polling in the last months of this Parliament has consistently indicated the likelihood of an election result with no overall majority. This means it is likely there will be a negotiation period for the formation of a potential coalition Government or ‘confidence and supply’ arrangement. It is likely this will take longer after the 2015 election than it did after the 2010 election.

Caretaker convention

The Committee says that should the outcome of the 2015 election result in a House of Commons with no overall majority, it is the duty of the incumbent Prime Minister remain as Prime Minister, in 10 Downing Street, even if there is little prospect that he will be able to form an administration.

Graham Allen MP, Chair of the Committee, said:

"We are recommending that the newly elected Parliament reconvenes on Monday May 11th. Parliament should be able to discuss the issues and compromises around the creation of a government and not be “parked“ while party leaders decide amongst themselves. We have produced this Report as a “users guide” so the electorate and the media have an authoritative view on the processes to be followed if there is not an overall majority for one party.

Opinion polling in the last months of this Parliament has consistently indicated the likelihood of an election result with no overall majority. Yet, even with the uncertainty that arose after the 2010 election, it appears that the Government and the Civil Service have failed to use Fixed-term Parliaments Act of 2011 to plan better for the potential of a period of negotiations immediately following the General Election. An opportunity to clarify the rules of the game in what we expect could be an even longer period of uncertainty this time, and ensure that as far as possible key decisions do not have to be taken by a caretaker administration, has been missed.

We welcome the fact that parties involved in negotiations in 2010 have made formal changes to their internal processes so that there is greater consultation with Members of Parliament, but Parliament needs to be put at the centre of this process. It should return as soon as possible after the election, and that date should not be in the Prime Minister’s hands.

The Committee concludes

  • Any caretaker administration required to take significant decisions during a period of Government formation should consult each of the parties taking part in negotiations relating to the formation of the next Government.
  • It is wrong in principle that the decision on the date of Parliament’s return should be in the hands of the Prime Minister, and that Parliament may not be recalled until after a new administration has been appointed.
  • In the event that no single party has a majority in the House of Commons to be elected on 7 May 2015, Parliament should return as soon as possible.
  • In the event of a House of Commons with no overall majority and an extended negotiating period, the public should expect to see Ministers who have lost their seats in the House continuing in their ministerial roles until a new Government has been formed.
  • In the next Parliament the Cabinet Manual should be updated to differentiate more clearly the reasons behind the periods of restriction on Government activity before and after an election. This will give greater clarity to the public about what should and what should not happen during these periods.

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