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Confidence motions

Published Monday, May 13, 2013

This Standard Note provides background information on the practice of confidence motions in Parliament before the passage of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 and notes the circumstances in which an early general election can be called under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act.

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Until the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 received Royal Assent, the rules concerning whether a motion in the House of Commons was a motion of confidence and the consequences of a Government defeat were matters of convention. On two occasions, since 1895, the loss of a motion of confidence prompted the Prime Minister to call an immediate general election.

Now, however, the Fixed-term Parliaments Act provides for general elections at five yearly intervals and specifies the wording of a motion of no confidence that could trigger an early general election.

This note describes the provisions in the Fixed-term Parliaments Act that allow an early general election and reviews the occasions before the Act’s passing when questions of confidence arose in the House of Commons.

Section 2 and the Appendix provide background information on the practice of confidence motions in the House of Commons and a history of confidence motions since 1895, the date of the last defeat of a Government with a working majority on such a motion. It lists the last four Government defeats on confidence motions (1895, 1924 (twice) and 1979), and debates on confidence motions since 1945, with related information, such as the day(s) of the week on which they took place, and the full terms of the motion(s).

Commons Briefing papers SN02873

Authors: Richard Kelly; Tom Powell

Topic: Parliament

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