What is a hung Parliament?
A hung Parliament is when no single political party wins a majority in the House of Commons. It is also known as a situation of no overall control.
The rules and conventions for forming a new government after a general election are set out in chapter two of the Cabinet Manual.
If no party has a majority, is there no Government?
When there is no majority, the Prime Minister in power before the general election stays in power and is given the first chance to create a government. They may decide:
- to negotiate with another party or parties to build a coalition
- to try and govern with a minority of Members of Parliament
- to resign, usually after failing to negotiate a coalition, and recommend that the leader of the largest opposition party be invited to form a government. They may decide to form a coalition or govern as a minority government.
It is usual for the party with the most seats to be asked to form a Government because they are most likely to have a majority.
A Government must be able to command a majority in the House of Commons on votes of confidence and supply. This majority can be all of one party, or include support from other political parties even if there is no formal coalition arrangement. If they cannot, the Prime Minister must ask the monarch to invite someone else to form a government.
A Prime Minister who does not have the confidence of the House stays in office only until they are able to recommend a successor to the monarch.
Evidence that they do not have the confidence of the House may be that they have failed to make a deal with other parties, or if they lose a confidence motion in the House of Commons. The first test of a government in a new Parliament would be the vote on the Queen's Speech.
There have been many times when no party had a majority following a general election.
In 2017 General Election resulted in a hung Parliament, with no party winning an overall majority. The Conservative Party won the largest number of seats and votes and formed a minority administration after negotiating a 'confidence and supply' agreement with the Democratic Unionist Party.
In 1923 the Conservative party lost their majority at the general election. It 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. By Monday Edward Heath had failed to form a coalition and resigned as Prime Minister.
In a second general election that year, Labour was returned with an overall majority of three. By 1977-78 the Labour Government had to draw on the support of the Liberal Party. They formed a Lib-Lab pact which lasted until May 1978.
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.
In 2017 the Conservative Government lost its majority and entered into a supply and confidence agreement with the Democratic Unionist Party.
The House of Commons Library produces briefing papers which provide in-depth and impartial analysis of legislation, policy and topical issues.
- Coalitions at Westminster: Commons Library briefing
- Hung parliaments: Commons Library briefing
- Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011: Commons Library briefing