Hung Parliament

Hung Parliament

When a general election results in no single political party winning an overall majority in the House of Commons, this is known as a situation of no overall control, or 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.

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.

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 would be the vote on any amendment to the Queen’s Speech.

The 2010 General Election produced a hung Parliament. The Labour Government remained until a majority government could be formed.

A coalition government was formed on the 12 May 2010 between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.

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.

The House of Commons Library produces briefing papers to inform MPs of key issues. The papers contain factual information and a range of opinions on each subject, and aim to be politically impartial.

Government formation post-election

The Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee carried out an inquiry into the formation of the government post-election. The Committee published its report on Thursday 26 March 2015.

Report by the House of Commons Justice Committee

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

Cabinet Manual

The Government's Cabinet Manual sets out the main laws, rules and conventions affecting the conduct and operation of government. It includes a chapter on elections and government formation.

MPs on the Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee have carried out an inquiry on the Cabinet Manual.

Cabinet Office guidance

Before the 2010 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.

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2015 election timetable

The general election took place on Thursday 7 May 2015. Read the timetable for what is expected to happen, from the end of the current Parliament through to polling day and beyond.

Election timetables

The Electoral Registration and Administration Act 2013 increased the length of Parliamentary election timetables, both for general elections and by-elections.

Websites of the political parties

Below are links to the websites of the political parties that are represented in the House of Commons:

Parliament is not responsible for the content of external websites.

Government websites

GOV.UK is the website for the UK government. On the site you can find information and services for citizens and businesses, detailed guidance for professionals and information on government and policy.

10 Downing Street is the office of the British Prime Minister. The office helps the Prime Minister to establish and deliver the government's overall strategy and policy priorities, and to communicate the government's policies to Parliament, the public and international audiences.