Unit 2 Government & Politics AS Parliament


What is a parliamentary government?

  • The executive and legislative branches are fused
  • Parliament can dismiss the government through a vote of confidence
  • Power is exercised collectively within the executive branch
  • The prime minister is the person who can command a majority in the parliament following a general election
  • The head of the executive is not the head of state
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What is a presidential government?

  • There is a clear seperation of powers between the executive and legislative branches
  • The legislature cannot dismiss the president, execpt in specil circumstances, and the executive cannot dissolve the legislature
  • Power in the executive is concentrated in the office of president
  • The president is directly elected by the people
  • The president is also head of state
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What is the structure of parliament?

The UK has a bicameral legislature, i.e. a parliament of two chambers

Formally the UK parliament is made up of three institutions:

  • The house of commons
  • The house of lords
  • The monarchy
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Describe the composition of the house of commons

  • 650 members of parliament (MPs)
  • Elected in a single member constituency
  • By the first past the post electoral system
  • For a single parliament (up to 5 years)
  • The number of MPs is not fixed, but can change following the reviews of parliamentary constituencies
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Describe the composition of the house of lords

The lords is an unelected chamber and consists of:

  • Hereditary peers
  • Life peers
  • Lords spiritual
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What is the monarchy and their role?

The monarchy is head of state but also retains a formal and ceremonial role in parliament

This includes:

  • Giving royal assent the legislation
  • Appointing the prime minister
  • Dissolving parliament
  • Reading the Queens speech
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What are the functions of parliament?

The most significant functions of the UK parliament are:

  • Legislation
  • Scrutiny and holding the government to accountancy
  • Representation
  • Recruitment of ministers
  • Legitimacy
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What is legislation?

Making laws is known as legislating

Proposals for legislation are contained in bills which must be approved by both houses of parliament and the monarch before they become law

There are several different types, the most common being public bills

If a bill is approved by parliament it becomes an act of parliament 

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What are the forms of pre-legislative stages to a

  • There may have been a green paper in which the government sets out a series of options
  • There may have been a white paper which sets out the governmnets policy in this area
  • There may have been additional pre-legislation scrutiny of the proposed bill
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What are the stages of a public bill?

  • First reading
  • Secomd reading
  • Committee stage
  • Report stage
  • Third reading

The bill is then sent to the house of lords, where it follows the same procedure. If amendments are made in the lords, the commons may agree to them; a bill can go back and forth between the two houses until it is agreed or forced through the lords using the parliament acts

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What other types of legislation is there?

  • Private members bills promoted by individual MPs
  • Secondary or delegated legislation
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What are the different types of legislatures and w

Professor Philip Norton has categorised legislatires into:

  • Policy making legislatures
  • Policy influencing legislatures
  • Legislatures with little or no policy influence

The british parliament is a policy influencing legislature

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How is parliaments power of legislation limited?

  • The fact that most bills are government bills - and it usually has a majority in the commons
  • The reality that private members bills have little chance of success unless they are backed by the government
  • The executive control of the legislative timetable
  • Party discipline
  • The constitutional, legal and poltical dominace of the commons over the lords
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What is accountability and how are MPs and ministe

  • In politics, accountability is the principle that an office holder or institution must account for their actions
  • In a system of parliamentary government, ministers are accountable to parliament and to the electorate
  • Ministers may also be held responsible for policy failures
  • MPs face the electorate at a general election, where their constituents may take their record in office into account when deciding whether to vote for them
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How does parliament hold the government accountabl

  • Questions, for example at question time
  • Debates, for example on bills
  • Commottees, both selcte and general
  • The activites of the opposition
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Are select committees effective in scrutinising th

  • Select committees scrutinise the policies and actions of governmnet, conducting detailed examinations of controversial issues
  • They question ministers, civil servents and outside experts, and can request access to governmnet papers
  • Many select commottees recommendations are accepted by the governnment
  • The elction of chairs and members by MPs has enhanced the independence of select committees
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Are select committees effective in scrutinising th

  • A government with a majority in the commons will also have a majority in committees
  • Ministers and civil servents may not provide much information when questioned, and access to documents may be denied
  • They have no power to propose policy - governmnets can ignore recommendations made by slect committees
  • Some members do not attend regularly; some may be overly abrasive when questioning witnesses
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How are MPs able to be represented in their consti

  • The geographical nature of representation is supposed to ensure that individual 
    MPs can be identified as the exclusive representatives of their constituents, as opposed to the multi member constiticies produced by proportional representation
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What groups are under represented in the commons?

  • Women
  • Ethnic minorities
  • The young
  • The old
  • Sexual orientation
  • Eduction
  • Social class
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How are ministers recruited?

Government ministers must be members of either the commons or the lords - parliament is, therefore, a recutiting ground for government

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How does Parliament help to maintain legitimacy of

  • Scrutinising and discussing government policy
  • Holding the executive to account
  • Representing the interests of the electorate
  • Debating major issues
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What is the relationship like between parliament a

  • The relationship between parliament and governmnet is an unequal one, with the executive the dominant actor
  • This does not mean, however,that parliament is impotent:
  • The power to dismiss the government is an important weapon
  • Select committees have enhanced parliaments ability to scrutinise the government and hold it to account
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What three factors determine the relationship betw

  • The government's parliamentary majority
  • The level of party unity
  • The assertivness of the house of lords
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How big on an impact does a parliamentary majority

  • The size, or absense, of a majority for the governing party is an important factor in the relationship between the legislature and executive
  • The larger a governments majority, the less likely it is that the other parties in the commons will be able to defeat or amend government bills
  • If no single party commands an absolute majority of seats then, a minority government or coalition government is likely which will make it much more harder for the government to get its way
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What is party unity and what are rebellions?

  • It is a common perception that MPs slavishly follow the party whips without exercising their own judgement
  • It is true that MPs vote with their party on the overwhelming majority of divisions in the house of commons
  • And when a parliamentary rebellion does occur, it is usually small an can be easily absorbed by a government with a working majority
  • But rebellions have become more fequent in recent decades, and some have been highly dramatic
  • In the 2005-10 parliament there were rebelions by Labur MPs on 28% of divisions, and a total of 174 Labur 
    MPs voted against the party line at least once
  • In November 2005, the Blair government was defeated by 332 votes to 291 on its proposal to allow terrorist subjects to be detained for up to 90 days without charge
  • It also lost two votes on house of lords amendments to the racial and religious hatred bill in 2006
  • The Brown government lost a 2009 vote on a liberal democrat motion on the right of Gurkhas to live in the UK
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Has loyalty increased since 2010?

  • In the 2010-12 parliamentary session, 153 MPs from the coalition parties voted against the whip and rebellions occured on 44% of divisions
  • Conservative MPs tended to rebel more on constitutional and european union issues and the Lib Dems on welfare and social policy
  • If the whips expect significant opposition to a measure, the government may withdraw or revsie it rather than risk defeat or cause ill will by exerting pressure on MPs
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How has the lords become more assertive?

  • No party has a majority, so the government must win cross party support for its legislation
  • The lords is more confident of its legitimacy and more willling to flex its muscles on lega; and constitutional issues
  • Labour governments, it has been argued, did not have a mandate because they were elected with the support of fewer than a third of the electorate
  • Backbench MPs have been willing to support bthe lords

Examples of this include:

  • Counter terrorism: in 2005, the lords amended proposals on control oders for terrorist suspects and insisted that the legislation had a limited lifespan
  • Religious hatred: proposals to introuce a new offence of incitement to religious hatred were emended or blocked by the lords in 2001 and 2005
  • Trial by jury: the lords blocked Labur's proposals to restrict the right to trial byjury in 2000 and 2007
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Is parliament an effective check on the power of t

  • The executive's control over the parliamentary timetable has been weakended
  • Backbench MPs provide greater checks on government policy than in the past - increased incidents of rebellion are a consraint on government action
  • The reformed house of lords is a more effective revising chamber
  • Select commottees have become more influential
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Is parliament an effective check on the power of t

  • The executive exercises significant contol over the legislative timetable and MPs
  • Government defeats are rare
  • The governmnent is usually able to overturn hostile amendments made on the house of lords
  • Select committees have little power
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How has the commons been reformed since 1997?

  • Pre legislative scrutiny
  • Carry over of legislation
  • Modernisation committee
  • Liasison committee
  • Prime ministers questions
  • Westminster hall sittings
  • Hearings on public appointments
  • Westminster no longer makes law on policies that have been devolved or asks questions on devolved issues
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What did the coalition agree to and drop in 2010?

Agreed by the end of 2012:

  • Fixed term parliaments
  • Implementation of the wright proposals


  • Alternative vote
  • Reduction in the size of the commons
  • Recall of MPs
  • West lothian question
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Describe the timeline of the house of lords reform

  • 1997 Labour promises reform in its manifesto
  • 1999 house of lords act removes the right to attend and vote from all but 92 of the hereditary peers
  • 2000 the wakeham commission reports with further proposals for reform
  • 2001 white paper proposes seven options for a reformed membership - MPs reject all of them
  • 2003 White paper proposes an wholly appointed house
  • 2005 in its manifesto, labour proposes to set a limit of 60 sitting days for the consideration of most bills in the lords
  • 2007 white paper proposes a hybrid house
  • 2008 White paper explores how a wholly elected or 80% elected house might function, with members chosen over three elections
  • 2012 joint committee created to issues proposals on a wholly or mainly elected lords
  • 2012 house of lords bill abandoned after conservatives rebellion and labour opposition
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Should the house of lords be wholly elected? Yes b

  • A fully elected house of lords would have the legitimacy that can only be derived from democratic elections
  • It would be better placed to scrutinise and amend government bills, improving the quality of legislation
  • If no party has a majority, as would be likely under proportional representation, it would be able to challenge the executive
  • If elected by proportional representation, it would be more representative of the electorate
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Should the house of lords be wholly elected? No be

  • It would come into conflict with the house of commons, as both would claim democratic legitimacy
  • Institutional conflict between two elected chambers with similar powers would produce legislative gridlock
  • An appointed house will retain the expertise and independence of crossbench peers
  • The shortcomings of party control found in the house of commons would be deplicated in an elected upper house
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