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Committee announces launch of constitutional implications of coalition government inquiry

8 July 2013

The House of Lords Constitution Committee has today announced a new inquiry into the constitutional implications of coalition government. The inquiry comes as the current coalition Government, the UK’s first in peacetime since the 1930s, enters the last two years of the current Parliament. The Committee is inviting written evidence by Friday 30 August 2013.

The Committee’s Call for Evidence states that the increase in the general election vote share for parties other than Conservative and Labour means that government by coalition may become more common in future as single parties are unable to secure an absolute Commons majority. It asks to what extent the UK’s existing constitutional conventions and practices are unsuitable in the context of coalition government.

Key questions

This raises a number of key constitutional questions. The Committee will focus its inquiry on three main areas:

  • The impact of coalition government on the principle of collective ministerial responsibility.  Examples of disagreements within the current coalition that have raised questions in this area include those announced at the onset of the coalition, such as on the renewal of Trident, and some which have emerged during the course of the Parliament—for example the amendment to the Electoral Registration and Administration Act 2013 which delayed the constituency boundary review.
  • How democratic legitimacy is secured under coalition governments.  The classic model of a majority government implementing its manifesto as endorsed by the electorate does not necessarily translate to a hung Parliament. This raises questions about the practices and procedures that should be adopted to secure democratic legitimacy, including the status of coalition agreements drawn up following a general election and whether manifestos should be changed to reflect the possibility of a hung parliament.
  • The organisation of the executive under coalition government.  The Committee will explore what is the most effective and accountable way to run a coalition government, including areas such as the appointment of ministers and the structure of the Cabinet and its committees.

Chair of Committee

Commenting, Baroness Jay of Paddington, chairman of the House of Lords Constitution Committee, said:

"The current coalition government is our first in peacetime since the 1930s but it is possible we may not have to wait that long for the next one.  Our constitutional arrangements in this country have developed in the context of majority governments; the current coalition has raised some constitutional issues that need further exploration.

"Coalition government can affect a range of issues, including the principle of collective responsibility, how Parliament holds a coalition government to account, the status of coalition agreements, the role of the House of Lords and the role of civil servants role in supporting coalition negotiations.

"We will explore these issues and more, with a view to reaching conclusions and making recommendations which ensure our constitutional arrangements are able to cope with coalition governments in the future."