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Motions of no confidence in the United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, confidence motions are a means of testing the support of the government (executive) in a legislative body, and for the legislature to remove the government from office. A confidence motion may take the form of either a vote of confidence, usually put forward by the government, or a vote of no confidence (or censure motion[1]), usually proposed by the opposition. When such a motion is put to a vote in the legislature, if a vote of confidence is defeated, or a vote of no confidence is passed, then the incumbent government must resign, or call a general election.

It is a fundamental principle of the British constitution that the government must retain the confidence of the legislature, as it is not possible for a government to operate effectively without the support of the majority of the people's representatives.[2] At the national level, this means that the UK government (the cabinet) must retain the confidence of a majority in the House of Commons.

It is possible for a vote of no confidence to succeed where there is a minority government or a small majority, or where there are internal party splits. Where there is a minority government, the government may seek agreements or pacts with minor parties in order to remain in office.

Despite their importance to the British constitution, for a long time the rules surrounding motions of no confidence were dictated solely by convention. However, since the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, a vote of no confidence must be passed in a specific form in order to create the possibility of an early general election. Under the Act, if a motion of confidence is passed in express terms, the house must then adopt a vote of confidence within 14 days, or a general election is held.

A no confidence vote was last successfully used on 28 March 1979, when the minority government of James Callaghan was defeated in a confidence motion which read "That this House has no confidence in Her Majesty's Government".[3] A no confidence vote can have the effect of uniting the ruling party; for this reason such motions are rarely used and successful motions are even rarer.[4] Before 1979 the last successful motion of no confidence occurred in 1924.[5]

While motions of no confidence regarding party leadership may have time limits, motions of no-confidence concerning challenges to a ruling government do not and allow for MPs from any political party to participate at any period of time.[6]

Contents

FormsEdit

Since 1945 there have been three votes of confidence and 23 of no confidence.[7]

Confidence motions fall into three categories:

  • Explicit motions initiated by the Government
  • Explicit motions initiated by the Opposition
  • Motions which can be regarded as issues of confidence because of particular circumstances [3]

GovernmentEdit

The first category is effectively a threat of dissolution by the government, in order to persuade backbench MPs to support a bill. One such threat occurred in 1993 so that John Major could pass the Social Chapter of the Maastricht Treaty.

OppositionEdit

Opposition motions are initiated by the Opposition party and often occur with little chance of a confidence motion succeeding. By convention a no confidence vote will take precedence over normal Parliamentary business for that day and will begin with Speeches from the Prime Minister and the leader of the Opposition rather than the Ministers for the policy area which may be the concern of the motion. Not every no confidence motion will profess no confidence in the Government itself, some no confidence motions only state no confidence in the particular policies of a government. Probably the most famous no confidence motion was on the night of 28 March 1979 when Jim Callaghan's Labour Government fell from office by one vote, 311–310,[8] in what was described by the BBC as one of the most dramatic nights in Westminster's history.[9]

Particular CircumstancesEdit

Although there is no commonly accepted and comprehensive definition of a confidence motion it is possible to identify confidence motions from their timing, the speakers and the terms of the motion.[3] Motions of confidence are supportive of the Government whereas motions of no confidence are unsupportive of the Government. It can be difficult to distinguish an opposition no confidence motion and other opposition motions critical of Government policy. The term censure motion can also refer a category of motion which does not attempt to remove the Government.

A Government can also be forced into resigning or calling an election by a lost vote on the Queen's Speech (The government's legislative programme), losing a Finance Bill or a vote on a major issue on which it fought a General Election campaign.[2][needs update]

Party PoliciesEdit

ConservativeEdit

Under the Conservative Party's Constitution,[10] if a motion of no confidence fails to pass when voted upon by party members, the incumbent Conservative government will be able to survive a whole year without having another such motion being brought forth.[11][12]

Successful no confidence votesEdit

Colour key
(for political parties)
  Whig
  Tory
  Labour
Prime Minister in office Date Subject of motion Result and majority against the government Consequences
Sir Robert Walpole, later The Earl of Orford 28 January 1742 Ministerial petition against the return of 2 Members of Parliament for Chippenham[13] 235–236 & 1 The Prime Minister resigned on 11 February.[14]
Lord North 27 February 1782 Motion to end offensive war in America[15] 234–215 & 19 The Government resigned on 22 March.[16]
William Pitt the Younger 2 February 1784 Motion of no confidence[17] 223–204 & 19 The Prime Minister advised King George III to dissolve Parliament, which he did on 25 March.[18]
The Duke of Wellington 15 November 1830 Motion to consider the Civil List in a committee[19][20] 204–233 & 29 The Government resigned on 16 November.
Sir Robert Peel 7 April 1835 Report on the Irish Church[21] 285–258 & 27 The Government resigned on 8 April.[22]
The Viscount Melbourne 4 June 1841 Motion of no confidence[23] 312–311 & 1 The Prime Minister advised Queen Victoria to dissolve Parliament, which she did on 23 June.[24]
The Viscount Melbourne 27 August 1841[25] Amendment to the Address[26] 269–360 & 91 The Government resigned on 30 August.[27][28]
Sir Robert Peel 25 June 1846 Irish Coercion Bill[29] 219–292 & 73 The Government resigned on 27 June.[30]
Lord John Russell (later The Earl Russell) 20 February 1851 Motion to assimilate county to borough franchise[31] 100–52 & 48 The Government resigned on 22 February but resumed on 3 March.[32]
Lord John Russell (later The Earl Russell) 20 February 1852 Local Militia Bill[33] 125–136 & 11 The Government resigned on 21 February.[34]
The Earl of Derby 16 December 1852[35] Budget[36] 286–305 & 19 The Government resigned on 17 December.[37]
The Earl of Aberdeen 29 January 1855[38] Vote in favour of a select committee to enquire into alleged mismanagement during the Crimean War[39] 305–148 & 157 The Government resigned on 30 January.[40]
The Viscount Palmerston 19 February 1858[41] Bill which made it a felony to plot in Britain to murder someone abroad[42] 215–234 & 19 The Government resigned on 21 February.[43]
The Earl of Derby 10 June 1859[44] Amendment to the Address[45] 323–310 & 13 The Government resigned on 11 June.[46]
The Earl Russell (formerly Lord John Russell) 18 June 1866 Amendment to the Parliamentary Reform Bill[47][48] 315–304 & 11 The Government resigned on 26 June.[49]
William Ewart Gladstone 12 March 1873 Irish University Bill[50] 284–287 & 3 The Government resigned on 12 March but resumed on 20 March.[51]
William Ewart Gladstone 8 June 1885[52] Budget[53] 252–264 & 12 The Government resigned on 9 June.[54]
The Marquess of Salisbury 26 January 1886[55] Amendment to the Address[56] 329–250 & 79 The Government resigned on 28 January.[57]
William Ewart Gladstone 7 June 1886[58] The Government of Ireland Bill[59] 311–341 & 30 The Prime Minister advised Queen Victoria to dissolve Parliament, which she did on 26 June.[60]
The Marquess of Salisbury 11 August 1892[61] Amendment to the Address[62] 350–310 & 40 The Government resigned on 11 August.[63]
The Earl of Rosebery 21 June 1895 The Cordite Vote[64] 132–125 & 7 The Government resigned on 21 June.[65]
Stanley Baldwin 21 January 1924 Amendment to the Address[66] 328–251 & 77 The Government resigned on 22 January.[67]
Ramsay MacDonald 8 October 1924 Motion in respect of the Campbell Case[68] 364–198 & 166 The Prime Minister advised King George V to dissolve Parliament, which he did on 9 October.[69]
James Callaghan 28 March 1979 Motion of no confidence[70] 311–310 & 1 Queen Elizabeth II dissolved Parliament on 7 April.[69]

Constitutional practiceEdit

If a government wins a confidence motion they are able to remain in office. If a confidence motion is lost then the Government is obliged to resign or seek a dissolution of Parliament and call a General Election. Although this is a convention, there is no law which requires that the Government resigns. However, it is very unlikely that one would not as such event would most probably cause uproar if it were to occur. Modern practice shows dissolution rather than resignation to be the result of a defeat. The government is only obliged to resign if it loses a confidence vote, although a significant defeat on a major issue may lead to a confidence motion.

During the period 1945–1970 Governments were rarely defeated in the House of Commons and the impression grew that if a Government was defeated it must reverse the decision, seek a vote of confidence, or resign.[71]

Brazier argues: "it used to be the case that a defeat on a major matter had the same effect as if an explicit vote of confidence had carried" but that a development in constitutional practice has occurred since the 1970s. Thatcher's defeat over the Shops Bill 1986 did not trigger a confidence motion despite being described as ‘a central piece of their legislative programme’. The government simply accepted that they could not pass the bill and gave assurances to Parliament that they would not introduce it.[72]

After a defeat on a major issue of government policy the Government may resign, dissolve Parliament, or seek a vote of confidence from the House. Recent historical practice has been to seek a vote of confidence from the House. John Major did this after defeat over the Social Protocol of the Maastricht Treaty.[72] Defeats on minor issues do not raise any constitutional questions.[72]

A proposed motion of no confidence can force a resignation. For example, in 2009 the proposed vote of no confidence in the Speaker of the House of Commons forced the resignation of Michael Martin in the wake of the Parliamentary Expenses Scandal. Several MPs breached a constitutional convention and openly called for the resignation of the Speaker.

Fixed-term Parliaments ActEdit

Under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, a passing of a motion of no confidence is one of only two ways in which an early election can occur (the other is a motion to hold an early election passed by at least two thirds of MPs). Following a successful motion, Parliament must dissolve, unless the motion is overturned within 14 days by the passing of an explicit motion of confidence. This procedure is designed to allow a minority government time to seek the support of other parties (as a formal coalition or with a confidence and supply arrangement) to avoid having to face re-election, or to allow an alternative government to be formed.[73]

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ "Censure motions". BBC News. 2008-08-13. Retrieved 2010-05-13.
  2. ^ a b http://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons-information-office/m07.pdf
  3. ^ a b c "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 15 April 2010. Retrieved 31 May 2009.
  4. ^ http://www.parliament.uk/parliament/guide/account.htm
  5. ^ http://library.thinkquest.org/C0126211/pag/gov/hc.html
  6. ^ https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/how-no-confidence-vote-government-13720023
  7. ^ "Parliamentary progress: HE Bill". BBC News. 2004-01-27. Retrieved 2010-05-13.
  8. ^ "1979: Early election as Callaghan defeated". BBC News. 1979-03-28. Retrieved 2015-04-19.
  9. ^ "The Night the Government Fell". BBC News. 26 March 2009. Retrieved 20 April 2010.
  10. ^ https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/uk/2018/12/theresa-may-survives-vote-confidence-her-leadership
  11. ^ https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-46547246
  12. ^ https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/12/world/europe/theresa-may-leadership-vote.html
  13. ^ "III. The Second Whig Opposition, 1722–42 – History of Parliament Online". Retrieved 15 June 2016.
  14. ^ Langford, Paul (1 January 1998). "A Polite and Commercial People: England, 1727–1783". Clarendon Press. Retrieved 15 June 2016 – via Google Books.
  15. ^ "Frederick North". Retrieved 15 June 2016.
  16. ^ "History of Lord Frederick North – GOV.UK". Retrieved 15 June 2016.
  17. ^ "A Handbook in Outline of the Political History of England to 1881". Rivingtons. 1 January 1894. Retrieved 15 June 2016 – via Google Books.
  18. ^ British general election, 1784
  19. ^ http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1830/nov/15/committee-upon-the-civil-list#column_549 |chapter-url= missing title (help). Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). House of Commons. 15 November 1830. col. 549.
  20. ^ O'Gorman, Frank (14 January 2016). "The Long Eighteenth Century: British Political and Social History 1688–1832". Bloomsbury Publishing. Retrieved 15 June 2016 – via Google Books.
  21. ^ http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1835/apr/07/church-of-ireland#column_969 |chapter-url= missing title (help). Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). House of Commons. 7 April 1835. col. 969.
  22. ^ Cook & Keith (1975), p. 4
  23. ^ http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1841/jun/04/confidence-in-the-ministry-adjourned#column_1241 |chapter-url= missing title (help). Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). House of Commons. 4 June 1841. col. 1241.
  24. ^ Rallings & Thrasher (2000), p. 120
  25. ^ A Friday
  26. ^ http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1841/aug/27/address-in-answer-to-the-speech#column_449 |chapter-url= missing title (help). Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). House of Commons. 27 August 1841. col. 449.
  27. ^ A Monday
  28. ^ Cook & Keith (1975), p. 6
  29. ^ http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1846/jun/25/protection-of-life-ireland-bill#column_1027 |chapter-url= missing title (help). Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). House of Commons. 25 June 1846. col. 1027.
  30. ^ Cook & Keith (1975), p. 8
  31. ^ http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1851/feb/20/county-franchise#column_869 |chapter-url= missing title (help). Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). House of Commons. 20 February 1851. col. 869.
  32. ^ "NEWS OF THE WEEK. » 8 Mar 1851 » The Spectator Archive". Retrieved 15 June 2016.
  33. ^ http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1852/feb/20/local-militia#column_874 |chapter-url= missing title (help). Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). House of Commons. 20 February 1852. col. 874.
  34. ^ Cook & Keith (1975), p. 11
  35. ^ House adjourned at 3.45AM on 17 December
  36. ^ http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1852/dec/16/ways-and-means-financial-statement#column_1693 |chapter-url= missing title (help). Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). House of Commons. 16 December 1852. col. 1693.
  37. ^ Cook & Keith (1975), p. 14
  38. ^ House adjourned at 1.45AM on 30 January
  39. ^ http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1855/jan/29/army-crimea-the-conduct-of-the-war-and#column_1230 |chapter-url= missing title (help). Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). House of Commons. 29 January 1855. col. 1230.
  40. ^ Cook & Keith (1975), p. 16
  41. ^ House adjourned at 1.30AM on 20 February
  42. ^ http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1858/feb/19/second-reading#column_1844 |chapter-url= missing title (help). Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). House of Commons. 19 February 1858. col. 1844.
  43. ^ Cook & Keith (1975), p. 18
  44. ^ House adjourned at 2.30AM on 11 June
  45. ^ http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1859/jun/10/debate-resumed-third-night#column_416 |chapter-url= missing title (help). Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). House of Commons. 10 June 1859. col. 416.
  46. ^ Cook & Keith (1975), p. 21
  47. ^ The vote is not recorded in the online Hansard, but is referred to at http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/lords/1866/jun/26/the-ministerial-crisis |chapter-url= missing title (help). Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). House of Commons. 26 June 1866.
  48. ^ "The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXVIII – Public and Parliamentary Speeches Part I November 1850 – November 1868 – Online Library of Liberty". Retrieved 15 June 2016.
  49. ^ Cook & Keith (1975), p. 22
  50. ^ http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1873/mar/11/second-reading-adjourned-debate#column_1863 |chapter-url= missing title (help). Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). House of Commons. 11 March 1873. col. 1863.
  51. ^ Barker, George Fisher Russell; Dauglish, Milverton Godfrey (1 January 1886). "Historical and Political Handbook". Chapman. Retrieved 15 June 2016 – via Google Books.
  52. ^ House adjourned at 1.45AM on 9 June
  53. ^ http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1885/jun/08/second-reading#column_1511 |chapter-url= missing title (help). Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). House of Commons. 8 June 1885. col. 1511.
  54. ^ Cook & Keith (1975), p. 33
  55. ^ House adjourned at 1.15AM on 27 January
  56. ^ http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1886/jan/26/allotments-and-small-holdings#column_525 |chapter-url= missing title (help). Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). House of Commons. 26 January 1886. col. 525.
  57. ^ Cook & Keith (1975), p. 36
  58. ^ House adjourned at 1.30AM on 8 June
  59. ^ http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1886/jun/07/second-reading-adjourned-debate#column_1240 |chapter-url= missing title (help). Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). House of Commons. 7 June 1886. col. 1240.
  60. ^ Rallings & Thrasher (2000), p. 121
  61. ^ House adjourned at 12.25AM on 12 August
  62. ^ http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1892/aug/11/address-in-answer-to-her-majestys-most#column_430 |chapter-url= missing title (help). Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). House of Commons. 11 August 1892. col. 430. http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1892/aug/11/division-list#column_433 |chapter-url= missing title (help). Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). House of Commons. 11 August 1892. col. 433.
  63. ^ Cook & Keith (1975), p. 39
  64. ^ http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1895/jun/21/army-estimates-1895-6#column_1712 |chapter-url= missing title (help). Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). House of Commons. 21 June 1895. col. 1712.
  65. ^ Cook & Keith (1975), p. 42
  66. ^ http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1924/jan/21/debate-on-the-address#column_680 |chapter-url= missing title (help). Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). House of Commons. 21 January 1924. col. 680.
  67. ^ Butler & Butler (1994), p. 8
  68. ^ http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1924/oct/08/attorney-generals-explanation#column_700 |chapter-url= missing title (help). Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). House of Commons. 8 October 1924. col. 700.
  69. ^ a b Rallings & Thrasher (2000), p. 122
  70. ^ http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1979/mar/28/her-majestys-government-opposition-motion#column_584 |chapter-url= missing title (help). Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). House of Commons. 28 March 1979. col. 584.
  71. ^ "House of Commons: Government Defeats". Retrieved 15 June 2016.
  72. ^ a b c "Revolts" (PDF). Revolts.
  73. ^ "Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011". www.parliament.uk.

BibliographyEdit

  • Butler, David; Butler, Gareth (1994). British Political Facts 1900–1994. Macmillan. ISBN 0-333-52616-3.
  • Cook, Chris; Stevenson, John (1980). British Historical Facts 1760–1830. Macmillan. ISBN 0-333-21512-5.
  • Cook, Chris; Keith, Brendan (1975). British Historical Facts 1830–1900. Macmillan. ISBN 0-333-13220-3.
  • Rallings, Colin; Thrasher, Michael (2000). British Electoral Facts 1832–1999. Ashgate. ISBN 1 84014 053 4.