Confidence motions

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18.44From time to time the Opposition has put down a motion on the paper expressing lack of confidence in the Government or otherwise criticising its general conduct. By established convention, the Government always accedes to the demand from the Leader of the Opposition to allot a day for the discussion of a motion tabled by the official Opposition which, in the Government's view, would have the effect of testing the confidence of the House. In allotting a day for this purpose, the Government is entitled to have regard to the exigencies of its own business, but a reasonably early day is invariably found.1 This convention is founded on the recognised position of the Opposition as a potential government, which guarantees the legitimacy of such an interruption of the normal course of business. For its part, the Government has everything to gain by meeting such a direct challenge to its authority at the earliest possible moment. The operation of the convention in the context of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, under which the passing of a motion in the statutory terms ‘That this House has no confidence in Her Majesty's Government’ would have specific legal consequences for the continuation of the Government, but a differently phrased motion would not, was uncertain, and that Act has now been repealed.1A A motion in the terms of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act tabled by the smaller opposition parties was not given time for debate.2

Motions critical of the conduct of Ministers, either individually or collectively, have not been treated as falling within this convention, and in practice have generally been debated in opposition time.3

Footnotes

  1. 1. For example, CJ (1984–85) 196, and ibid (1990–91) 35, 308. Such motions are, of course, the mirror image of motions tabled by the Government expressing confidence in its own policies, eg CJ (1992–93) 780.
  2. 1A. For discussion see Joint Committee on the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, Report (2019–21) HC 1046, HL 253, paras 61–71.
  3. 2. Early Day Motion No 1943 of Session 2017–19, tabled on 18 December 2018; see HC Deb (10 December 2018) 651, c 112.
  4. 3. For example, CJ (1980–81) 412 (Conduct of the Secretary of State for the Environment); ibid (1996–97) 235 (BSE: reduction of ministerial salary); ibid (1998–99) 159–60 (Conduct of Ministers and Sierra Leone); Votes and Proceedings, 23 May 2018 (East Coast franchise: reduction of ministerial salary); ibid 11 July 2018 (Universal Credit: reduction of ministerial salary).