Hung parliament

When a general election does not result in one party commanding a majority of the House of Commons this is known as a situation of no overall control, or a 'hung parliament'.

What happens in a hung Parliament?

The previous government might remain in position whilst there is a period of negotiation to build a coalition, or they might decide to try and govern with a minority of Members of Parliament. 

If the incumbent government is unable to command a majority and decides to resign, the leader of the largest opposition party may be invited to form a government and may do so either as a minority or in coalition with another party or parties.

Will the party with the most seats form a Government?

In order to form a Government, a party must be able to command a majority in the House of Commons on votes of confidence and supply. This majority can include support from other political parties, whether or not there is a formal coalition arrangement.

In a situation of no overall control the Government in power before the General Election gets the first chance at creating a government. If they cannot do so, the Prime Minister will resign.

Does the Prime Minister have to resign?

The Prime Minister only has to resign if it is clear that they cannot command a majority of the House of Commons on votes of confidence or supply. This would be the case if the incumbent government fails to make a deal with one or more of the other parties, or if they lose a confidence motion in the House of Commons. The first parliamentary test will be the vote on any amendment to the Queen’s Speech. 

Has there been no overall control before?

There were a number of times during the twentieth century when no party had a majority of Members of Parliament following a general election. For example, in 1923 the Conservative party lost their majority at the general election and was unable to form a coalition. The party, led by Stanley Baldwin, lost a vote on the King’s speech in January 1924. The Labour party under Ramsay MacDonald then took office and governed as a minority administration until October of that year.

In 1974 the incumbent Conservative administration lost its majority. Edward Heath remained as Prime Minister for a few days while he tried to form a coalition. The General Election was held on a Thursday, and it was not until the Monday that Edward Heath resigned as Prime Minister having failed to put together a coalition. In a second general election that year, Labour was returned with an overall majority of three but by 1977-78 the Labour Government had to systematically draw on the support of the Liberals. A Lib-Lab pact was formed, which lasted until May 1978.

Related information

Cabinet Office

Before the General Election was called, the Cabinet Office published draft guidance on elections and government formation, including procedures that would take place in a hung Parliament situation.

Justice Committee

The House of Commmons Justice Select Committee published a report in March 2010, looking at how constitutional principle, provision and practice apply after general elections.

House of Commons Library

The House of Commons library note sets out situations where there has been no overall control of the House of Commons during the twentieth century and considers the precedents and conventions on government formation.