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olitics – AS Parliament

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Page 1: As parliament

Politics – AS Parliament

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Politics – AS Parliament

What is parliamentary government?

• A political system in which the Government governs in, and through, the legislature.

• Britain is the oldest parliamentary system in the world, and Westminster has been described as “the mother of all Parliaments”

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Politics – AS Parliament

Comparison of UK & US System

UK• In a parliamentary government, the

executive derives from the legislature

• The executive is formed by the party with the most seats in the House of Commons

• Fusion of powers• The PM chooses his cabinet from

the legislature (Lords and Commons)

• Parliament can remove the Government on a vote of no confidence

• Date of the election is called by the PM

• Bi-cameral, but the Commons predominates

US• In the United States, the chief

executive (the President) is directly elected by the people. The USA is therefore a Presidential system

• The President is not a member of the legislature (called Congress), and neither are any of his Cabinet members

• Separation of powers• Fixed term elections• Also bi-cameral, but equal powers

between the two chambers• US system can result in legislature-

executive deadlock

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Politics – AS Parliament

What is Parliament?

• A term used to describe the UK’s legislature (or law-making body)

• 2 branches; the elected House of Commons, and the unelected House of Lords

• 646 MPs are elected to the House of Commons. Each one holds legitimacy, because they have gained consent to legislate from the people (or demos) via an election

• There are over 700 peers in the House of Lords

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Six Main Roles of Parliament

• Representation• Lawmaking• Scrutiny• Legitimacy• Recruitment of ministers• Deliberation

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• Parliament awards legitimacy to the government via the following four steps;

• The people elect representatives to the House of Commons, …

• … who thus gain legitimacy from the people.• The Government derives from Parliament, thus …• … the UK Government is legitimate • Also bear in mind that Parliament can remove the

Government on a vote of no confidence. The last successful motion was called in March 1979 against the Labour government of James Callaghan

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• One element of a representative democracy is the ability to hold the executive to account. As such, the members of the legislature must be able to scrutinise the actions of the executive

• The Modernisation Committee looks at ways to improve accountability and scrutiny, and the Committee on Standards in Public Life considers allegations of sleaze

• There are 6 ways in which the legislature scrutinises the executive;– Standing Committees– Select Committees– Ombudsman– Opposition Days– PMQs– House of Lords

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Politics – AS Parliament

What is the difference between standing, and select committees?

• Standing Committees• Examine every Bill that

passes through Parliament• Every MP will be assigned

to a standing committee at some stage

• Select Committees• Permanent committees

made up of MPs appointed on the basis of party strength

• More powerful than standing committees

• Can ask ministers to attend their meetings

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Are Committees effective?

• YES• Backbench MPs have the

opportunity to scrutinise the executive and bills passed through Parliament

• Select Committees can be effective (e.g. the government was forced to do something about the ‘Gulf War Syndrome’ due to pressure from the Defence SC), and in some cases prestigious (e.g. the Public Accounts Committee, and the EC Committee in the Lords)

• NO• Limited powers, and few

resources• The government often ignores

the reports published by select committees

• Some ministers (e.g. Brown) have refused to attend Select Committees

• Party whips hold the upper hand• There is always a majority from

the Government of the day• The more able (and ambitious)

MPs tend not to get involved with committee work

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• MPs are elected to represent the people• As they are not delegates, an MP is expected to

follow his / her conscience (the Burkean notion)• However in practise, an MP may also be

influenced by party whips, the national interest, self – interest, etc.

• Whilst members of the Lords are not elected, they can represent certain interests. In recent years, the Lords has taken a particular interest in defending civil liberties against an increasingly authoritarian government

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Politics – AS Parliament

Does Parliament scrutinise the executive effectively?

• YES• A great deal of Parliamentary

time is spent on scrutiny• Select Committees have been

relatively effective in holding ministers to account, even in the House of Lords

• A bad performance by a Minister or PM can weaken their power

• Backbench Labour MPs have become more rebellious since 2001 (e.g. over education reforms, and the Iraq war)

• NO• Strong party discipline makes

effective scrutiny very difficult to achieve

• Parliament suffers from limited powers, and few resources

• Parliamentary sovereignty has been transferred to the EU

• Referendums undermine Parliamentary sovereignty

• The House of Lords has few powers

• Since 1997, certain powers have been transferred to the devolved assemblies

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How representative is Parliament?

• In theory, the Commons should represent all the people (i.e. “Government for the people”). However in practise, the Commons and the Lords is dominated by white, male, middle-class members of society

• Women, ethnic minorities, the young and the working – class are heavily underrepresented in the UK Parliament. This has always been the case, although the situation in the Commons has improved in recent years

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Some facts on representation

• There are 126 women MPs, just under 20% of the House of Commons

• 18% of the Lords are women• Some parties do better than others. Just 9% of Tory MPs

are women, which has led Cameron to place pressure on local associations to select more women candidates (the A list)

• There are 15 ethnic minority MPs, or just over 2%. In contrast, 8% of the population is non-white

• The youngest MP is Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire). She was born on the 5/2/1980

• The average age of an MP is 51

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• A great deal of Parliamentary time is spent making laws• Most Bills derive from the Government, but some are

instigated by backbench MPs. They are called Private Member Bills

• Both the Commons and the Lords are involved in the legislative process

• The Commons is the predominant body because it’s members are elected (and therefore hold democratic legitimacy)

• The power of the Lords is limited by the;– Salisbury convention (where the Lords will not block a commitment made in

the Government’s manifesto) – Power of delay limited to just 1 year– Lords cannot consider a Finance Bill

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Recruitment of ministers

• All ministers derive from Parliament• The overwhelming majority are taken from the

House of Commons• Only members of the governing party can join the

executive• The members of the executive are appointed by

the Prime Minister. He / she can also fire them (e.g. Charles Clarke in 2006). These powers are called patronage powers

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• Deliberation is the defining role of Parliament (a word that derives from the French verb ‘parle’ – to speak)

• Many people have criticised the way in which Parliament performs this role. For example, the decision to send troops to Afghanistan was made at 2 am, and Parliament spent over 700 hours debating the issue of fox hunting

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Politics – AS Parliament

What is the difference between an MP, and a peer?

• MPs• Elected during a General

Election (or by-election in some cases)

• Anyone over the age of 21 can stand as a candidate

• All bar 2 MPs belong to a political party

• MPs have been dismissed as little more than “lobby fodder” due to their weak powers vis-à-vis the party whips

• Peers• Unelected. Most peers are

appointed by the PM, although there are 92 hereditary peers

• The Lords is home to some of the finest legal minds in the country

• 181 peers sit on the cross-benches (i.e. they are independent)

• The main power of peers is the ability to amend legislation. They also spend a great deal of time scrutinising the executive

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Politics – AS Parliament

What powers are held by the House of Lords?

• Legislative powers (albeit limited). In practise, the Lords is more concerned with the revision of bills

• Judicial powers – Law Lords are the highest court in the UK (although a case can go to the European Court of Human Rights)

• Powers of deliberation• Clearly, the Lords is much weaker than the

Commons, although no Government can completely ignore the House of Lords

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Arguments in FAVOUR of the Lords

• Can act as a check on the power of the executive• Peers are more independent of party whips than MPs• The quality of committee work is often high• An opinion poll taken in 2005 revealed that 72% believe the Lords did a

‘fairly good’ or ‘very good’ job• Part of British tradition• Peers hold a wide experience of public life, sometimes more so than

their elected counterparts• Final constitutional safeguard against the Government of the day• The Lords can be an effective agent of scrutiny• Last court of appeal in the UK• The traditional conservative with a small c argument against change;

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Politics – AS Parliament

Arguments AGAINST the Lords

• Unelected, unaccountable, and therefore undemocratic• Life peers owe their loyalty to the PM of the day, thus

weakening the independence of the Lords• Idea of hereditary peers is out-of-date• The “loans for peerages” scandal of 2006 raised

considerable doubts over the integrity of the whole process of appointing members of the Lords

• Under-representation of women (around 18% of peers are women) and ethnic minorities

• Power of the Lords is weak (e.g. power of delay, Salisbury convention, can’t get involved with Finance Bills, etc.)

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Politics – AS Parliament

Is the Westminster Parliament effective?

YES• Parliament does represent the people on a

variety of issues• The House of Commons holds democratic

legitimacy• Parliament can remove the Government on a

vote of no confidence• Laws are passed in a democratic and fair

manner• Parliament can often scrutinise the executive

in an effective manner• It is a useful recruiting ground for government

ministers• Legislation is often improved via amendments

made by Parliament• Opinion polls suggest that the public consider

Parliament to be an effective institution

NO• EU / the Government are more important

sources of legislation than Parliament• Referendums tend to undermine

parliamentary sovereignty• MPs have been described as “lobby fodder”

due to strong party discipline• Ministers often ignore Select Committees• The power of the Lords is weak, and its’

members are unelected• PMQs is little more than a “point-scoring

exercise”• Parliament is weak in comparison to the

“elected dictatorship”• The government has often bypassed

Parliament in favour of the media• Certain law-making powers have been

transferred to the devolved assemblies• Parliament can often appear “out of date” with

modern Britain