13 June 2017

Historically, the Queen’s Speech has been considered a vote of confidence, with governments resigning if they lose it. Dr Catherine Haddon argues that while this vote is important, the Fixed-term Parliaments Act (FTPA) changes things.  

The Queen’s Speech is the first point at which a government’s ability to command the confidence of the House of Commons is tested. Along with other key votes like Budgets and certain big bills, it has historically been seen as an effective vote of confidence. The last time one was lost was in January 1924 when Stanley Baldwin called an election and lost his majority, but stayed on to the King’s Speech. He resigned and a minority Labour government took over.

What happens if the Conservative Government lost the Queen’s Speech?

The FTPA stipulates that if a government loses a specifically worded vote of confidence (“That this House has [or ‘has no’] confidence in Her Majesty’s Government”), this then triggers a 14-day process for a new government to be formed and for it to get a vote of confidence passed. If a new government cannot be formed a further election is called.

Theresa May used the FTPA for the first time to trigger the recent election, but none of its other clauses have been tested, so constitutional experts and politicians have different views about its meaning.

Some question whether other votes – including the Queen’s Speech and Budget – can still be viewed as confidence motions in the old tradition. However, the political reality is that if the Conservatives lost a vote on the Queen’s Speech, they would be under enormous political pressure to resign or would face an immediate vote of no confidence from Labour.

FTPA confuses the manner of that resignation and what happens next.

If Theresa May did lose the Queen’s Speech and felt compelled to resign immediately, then the question is whether Jeremy Corbyn would be the one to form a new government or refuse (refusals have occurred in UK government history), or whether the Conservatives would argue they could try again under a new prime minister. If Corbyn refused, either May would have to stay on or an alternative Conservative prime minister would have to form a government. Either way, two things are clear: the Queen cannot be put in the position of making a choice between prime ministers and we cannot have no government.

If the Conservatives struggled on, it would lead to Labour putting down a no confidence motion. This would provide a second opportunity for all Conservative MPs and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to reject it. Of course, this would prove controversial.

If May offered her resignation immediately and Labour took office, it could not call an election without going through the FTPA motions (which, since Corbyn has indicated he wants another election, seems likely). Labour would still either need two-thirds of all MPs to vote in favour of another election (i.e. Conservative support) or would have to use the FTPA’s vote of confidence mechanism and vote down its own government.

So, the FTPA could help the Conservatives stay in power. It allows them to say to the DUP that if they don’t help prop up the Government for the Queen’s Speech, but also in any subsequent votes of confidence and the Budget, a minority Labour government (or progressive alliance) could be formed.

However, political realities would play an important role. If neither the Conservatives nor a subsequent Labour government could manage to keep the confidence of the House of Commons, in the end there will be no alternative to a second election.

Comments

With a Labour minority government, the Conservatives together with the DUP could PREVENT a vote of no confidence from succeeding, resulting in a lame duck Labour government for up to five years. They would then vote down every measure proposed by Labour until Labour's popularity reduced to a level making a Tory win likely. They would then call and win a vote of no confidence. Am I wrong?

I'm not sure, but I imagine that if a Labour government called an election under the FTPA after the Tories had failed to get a QS through, then I cannot see how the Tories could survive politically without eventually giving into a further election. The DUP definitely would vote for another election, as they're the biggest winners so far, and their core would be further emboldened.

Andy, yes I think you are wrong. Labour dont have the numbers in the Commons to pass a Labour Party Queen's Speech. Hence, another election would be inevitable because if Labour were trying and failing to pass their own Queen's Speech it would mean the Conservatives had already tried and failed with their attempt. As far as I am concerned, the maths of it is very straightforward. Labour lack the numbers to get past the first hurdle even with SNP and Lib Dem support.

Unless enough Tory MPs were to abstain in order to allow Corbyn to form a government without risking an election, with Corbyn and Labour getting the blame for a disastrous Brexit negotiation.

You are all assuming that MPs will vote with their party. To be honest, at the moment, anything could happen and all bets are off. The thing we should be expecting is....the unexpected - and it's unforeseen consequences. What a mess.

Yes, she is technically PM as she went to the Palace and the Queen 'asked' her to form a government (or rather she announced that she was going to do this). It's not the same as Brown's 'caretaker' role in 2010 while coalition negotiations happened. However, as all this debate shows, her hold on that position is still to be proven. But it is for the Commons to make clear that May's government does not have its confidence.

It seems to me that Mrs May's government will not need to resign unless and until it loses a vote of confidence in the terms prescribed by the FTPA, even if it loses the vote on the Queen's Speech. It also seems overwhelmingly unlikely that the May government will lose either vote, since the DUP is not going to risk being responsible for a Corbyn government, and neither are any Tory MPs. If I'm wrong and Mrs M manages to lose a vote of confidence, I don't see how the involvement of the Queen in choosing whom to invite to try to form a new government -- a different Tory, or Mr Corbyn? -- could be avoided. The FTPA purported to abolish the Queen's personal prerogative in deciding whether to dissolve parliament and call a fresh election, but not, as far as I can see, the similar personal prerogative to decide whom to invite to form a new government. If the Queen is not to make that decision, who else can? In my view this is a useful prerogative and should be preserved and used. Peter Hennessy's 'golden triangle' would informally consult the politicians and advise the Queen. It's not a decision that can safely be left to the politicians.

Very useful, thanks. What happens if DUP (say) won't support Queen's speech or vote of no confidence?

If the Conservatives face a formal vote of confidence as set out in FTPA and no DUP support, then that would trigger the 14 dy period set out in the Act (for another vote of confidence to be passed). Two things aren't clear
1. How much political weight is still placed on the vote on the QS. If they lost it it would look very bad. Old tradition would be for them to resign. But if they argued FTPA (which their manifesto said they wanted to abolish) does not mean they have to, Corbyn would almost certainly put down a motion of no confidence). But this then would be a second test for Con to get DUP onside.
2. If FTPA is triggered by the government losing a specifically worded vote of confidence, it is not clear what happens in the next 14 days. It only says that there is a 14 day period in which a second vote of confidence can be won, or an election is triggered. So does the PM have to resign and Corbyn just wait down the clock, or what. It's untested so we don't know.

This is not correct; if the government loses a precisely worded confidence motion, the election is automatic unless the government wins a confidence motion within 14 days. This could only happen if the Conservatives abstained.

As I read the FTPA, the Tories would have 14 days after Mrs May's government loses a vote of confidence in the terms prescribed in the Act to agree on a new candidate for prime minister (Theresa May could remain as Tory party leader to avoid the delay in holding party elections for a new leader). If the Tories' choice were to win a vote of confidence (with or without DUP support, or with some abstentions to avoid a new election), the new prime minister can form a new government, kiss hands and accept appointment as prime minister by the Queen, and start governing without the need for a fresh election. Or Jeremy Corbyn could seek to amend the second vote of confidence to substitute his name for that of the Tories' nominee, and if successful he too could form a government without the need for an election -- less likely in view of the arithmetic, but possible, I think.

Irrespective of pressure put on them to tow the party line it is hard to believe sufficient Tory MPs will be able to bring themselves to vote in a manner that maintains that dreadful woman and her totally deficient cabinet in power. It makes one wonder just how incompetent the commons was when it enacted the FPTA. They say the people get the government the deserve but the majority did not vote for or deserves the May charade.

If a vote of no confidence happens surely it means May can't be Prime Minster... it would have to be some other Tory right? I for one hope a vote of no confidence happens as she wants to privatise the NHS which means you'll all be paying for broken legs and arms by paying an arm and a leg. Just look at America's hospital prices.. extortionate. Labour on the other hand, might not be 100% but surely with the FPTA and a vote of no confidence (if this happens) would then get Parliament through another election as May would have failed in her duties.

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