The Constitution Committee of the House has today published its report on Constitutional implications of coalition government. You can read the report here. Among its recommendations are that as far as possible the convention of collective responsibility should continue to apply under a coalition government and that, where parties in a coalition cannot agree, there should be a clear process in place to govern the setting aside of collective responsibility
In my evidence to the committee (pp. 70-85 in the evidence volume here) I covered both the impact of coalition government on collective responsibility and the implications of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act. The two points are not unrelated in that the terms of the Act mean that the Prime Minister can no longer advise the Queen to call a general election. He therefore loses a major weapon in enforcing loyalty on the part of coalition partners and his own backbenchers. The Committee report touches upon this aspect in discussing a vote on the Queen’s Speech, which it notes is a way of demonstrating confidence in the government of the day. The problem now is that if the Queen’s Speech is voted down, that by itself cannot force an election. Under the 2011 Act, there are only two ways in which an early election can be triggered. One is by passing the motion ‘That this House has no confidence in Her Majesty’s Government’, with no new government then being formed and winning a vote of confidence within 14 days. (The other is if the House votes by a two-thirds majority for an early election.) The terms are quite precise. Losing a motion traditionally regarded as one of confidence – as on the Queen’s Speech – is not sufficient to meet the terms of the Act. There are thus significant implications flowing from the passage of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act which have not yet been fully comprehended.