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The 2017 Government at Westminster: Governing as a minority

Published Thursday, October 5, 2017

This Commons Library Briefing Paper considers the formation of the Government following the 2017 general election and the agreement between the Conservative Party and the Democratic Unionist Party.

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Following the 2017 general election, on 8 June 2017, the Conservative Party was returned as the largest party with 317 seats, but did not have a working majority in the House of Commons.

Government formation

On 9 June 2017, the Prime Minister Theresa May visited the Queen to inform her that she would seek to form a Government. At the time, she indicated that the Conservative Party “will continue to work with our friends and allies in the Democratic Unionist Party”. On 9 June 2017, Arlene Foster, the leader of the DUP, announced that she would hold discussions with the Conservative Party. A confidence and supply agreement between the parties with additional financial support from the UK Government for Northern Ireland was announced on 26 June 2017. The House subsequently passed the Humble Address to the Queen’s Speech without amendment on 29 June.

The agreement

There are two documents that make up the agreement. The first is the agreement itself, detailing in what votes in the House of Commons the DUP will support the Conservative Party and detailing policy agreements between them. It states that the DUP will support the Government in:

  • All motions on confidence;
  • Votes on the Budget, finance bills, money bills, supply and appropriation legislation and Estimates (these all constitute “supply”);
  • Votes on legislation pertaining to the UK’s exit from the European Union;
  • Votes on legislation pertaining to national security;
  • Other matters on a case by case basis.

The second document contains information about the financial support being granted to Northern Ireland as part of the arrangement. This financial support totals around £1billion over 5 years, primarily in the first two years of the arrangement.

The House of Commons

The composition of select committees and public bill committees generally reflects the party balance of the House of Commons.  The nomination of such committees has traditionally been a role of the Committee of Selection.  On 12 September 2017 the House agreed to establish a new Committee, the Selection Committee.  The House instructed the Selection Committee to give the Government a majority on public bill and delegated legislation committees that have an odd number of members.

The Government has not yet lost a division in the House of Commons.  On 13 September 2017 House debated two Opposition Day motions tabled by the Labour Party on policy areas which were not covered by the agreement between the Conservative Party and the DUP.  The Government did not object to the motions before the House and the House therefore did not divide. 

There have been reports that the informal arrangement between parties known as “pairing” that allows Members to be absent from votes by neutralising the effect of their absence will not operate in this Parliament.



Commons Briefing papers CBP-8103

Authors: Gail Bartlett; Lucinda Maer

Topics: Constitution, House of Commons

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