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What is a hung parliament and what will the parties do next?

Text by FRANCE 24 (with wires)

Latest update : 2010-05-07

With no single party winning an absolute majority in the 650-seat House of Commons, the May 6 general election has left the UK with a hung parliament. FRANCE 24 examines exactly what the term means and its implications for the UK.

UK General Election Results

Conservative: 306 seats
36.1% of the vote

Labour: 258 seats
29.1% of the vote

Liberal Democrats: 57 seats
23.0% of the vote

Seats needed for a majority: 326
649 of 650 seats declared

So what does a hung parliament mean in practical terms for the UK?

Parliamentary rules provide the following guidelines:

Where an election does not result in a clear majority for a single party, the incumbent government remains in office unless and until the prime minister tenders his and the government's resignation to the Queen.

An incumbent government is entitled to await the meeting of the new parliament to see if it can command the confidence of the House of Commons, or to resign if it becomes clear that it is unlikely to command that confidence.

If a government is defeated on a motion of confidence in the House of Commons, a prime minister is expected to tender the government's resignation immediately.

A motion of confidence may be tabled by the opposition, or may be a measure which the government has previously said will be a test of the House's confidence. Votes on the Queen's Speech - in which the government's policy agenda is officially set out - have traditionally been regarded as motions of confidence.

If the prime minister and government resign at any stage, the person who appears to be most likely to command the confidence of the House of Commons will be asked by the monarch to form a government.

Negotiations between parties

Where a range of different administrations could potentially be formed, the expectation is that discussions will take place between political parties on who should form the next government.

The Queen would not expect to become involved in such discussions, although the political parties and the cabinet secretary would have a role in ensuring that the Palace is informed of progress.

A prime minister may request that the Queen dissolve Parliament and hold a new election. The monarch is not bound to accept such a request, especially when such a request is made soon after a previous dissolution.

In those circumstances, the Queen would normally wish the parties to ascertain that there was no potential government that could command the confidence of the House of Commons before granting the dissolution.

It is open to the prime minister to ask the cabinet secretary to support the government's discussions with opposition or minority parties on the formation of a government.

If opposition parties request similar support for their discussions with each other or with the government, this can be provided by the Cabinet Office with the authorisation of the prime minister.

As long as there is significant doubt whether the government has the confidence of the House of Commons, it would be prudent for it to observe discretion about taking significant decisions, as per the pre-election period. The normal and essential business of government at all levels, however, will need to be carried out.

Date created : 2010-05-07

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