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British Parliament 3 Pages 663 Words

             The House of Commons and the House of Lords              The British parliament consists of the Queen and two chambers, the House of Commons and the House of Lords. The functions of the parliament are to pass laws, to provide taxes and to control the actions of the government. The Queen still plays a role, but only a formal one. In law, she is the head of the executive, a part of the legislative and the head of the judiciary.              The members of the house of commons are elected directly by general majority in geographically defined parliamentary constituencies.The minimum age for franchise is 18 since 1969. At present, the house of commons is consisting of 659 MPs which are distributed on the base of the number of inhabitants (around 60.000 in each constituency in the United Kingdom) and the total number of MPs which is fixed only by the house of commons itself.              The parliament has a quorum when 40 MPs are present. The legislative period lasts 5 years by law – in case of special national crisis, for example war, there can be exceptional decisions to break up the period earlier or lengthen it.              All of the members of the house of commons can be elected again. It is not possible for any member of the house of lords, certain clericals, employees of the government, peace lawyers or officers charged with realization of elections to be candidate for the house of commons.              Theoretically every member of parliament can initialize bills of law, practically most of the bills are initalized by the ministers in charge.The bills passed by parliament are mostly rather general – they get passed more detailed either through royal prescriptions(decrets???) or are prepared by the ministries in charge and then proclaimed by the crown. The cabinet appears along the pinciple of collective responsibility as a unit. If the parliament votes against an important legislative intiative or puts up a vote of no confidence, the consequence i              ...

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House of Commons and Parliament

Info: 1812 words (7 pages) Essay Published: 7th Aug 2019

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A Key Function Of The House Of Commons Is To Hold The Executive To Account. How Effectively Does The House Of Commons Carry Out This Function?

Parliament in the UK is made up of the House of Commons and the House of Lords. The House of Commons is the lower, pre-eminent chamber of Parliament, which contains more legislative power than that of the upper chamber, the House of Lords. One of parliament’s primary functions is to hold the executive to account, this means that the house of commons forces the government to do things such as justify bills, explain decisions and their motives defend their actions, and defend their policies. This form of accountability is the most frequent case, as whatever the government decides to do; the House of Commons will always look for a reason why they decided to carry it out. The only time this does not happen is during election times, where the general public holds the executive to account by voting for or against them.

Firstly, the meaning of ‘accountability’ is a complex concept, and has been used in a variety of ways. The main meaning is; being held account, scrutinised or being required to give an explanation. Lord Sharman in his 2001 Report reviewing audit and accountability for central government split the notion into four different aspects;

To hold the government to account, in constitutional theory, there are a lot of parliamentary mechanisms, or ‘checks’ carried out by the House of Commons, such as questioning, debates, and select committees. The government relies on these, and parliament, to stay in power. It does not matter as to how much of a majority the party may have in government, if there is a vote of no confidence from the House of Commons, the party in office will be expected to resign and a general election would be called. The last time this happened was in 1979, when James Callaghan was the Prime Minister of the UK.

The main methods of holding the government to account in the Commons are; Parliamentary Questions, Parliamentary debates and the select committee system. Firstly, Parliamentary Questions are seen as the best method of gaining and accessing information on the government’s intentions, these are also seen as opportunities for MP’s to ask questions regarding their constituency, and allow them to get answers to questions asked by their constituents. Obviously, this can be seen as a very effective method, as topical political questions will be asked, and answered by the Prime minister and his ministers, this can make the government accessible and transparent.

However, Parliamentary questions can also be seen as quite ineffective. During Parliamentary questions an MP may only ask up to two oral questions and any amount of written questions a day, and only one per minister. Supplementary questions can only be asked if the speaker allows it, and questions can be examined as to whether or not they comply with the rules. This lack of freedom to ask as many questions, to whoever, on any issue is surely detrimental. Furthermore, all questions must be given in advance, so that the ministers of the specified departments are able to draft an answer, this, and the fact that some questions (relating to security service, or commercial confidence) are refused to be answered by ministers, weakens the effectiveness of Parliamentary questions. If MP’s are given the chance to draft a generic answer then it means they aren’t put on the spot spontaneously with the expectation of being able to answer a question. Some may think this makes a mockery of the job they are doing, as they aren’t able to answer a question on it, however it must be said that giving the MP time to formulate a good response can increase the likelihood of the person questioning receiving a good answer.

Furthermore, in relation to Parliamentary questions, Prime ministers question time takes place every week. This, like earlier stated, can be effective in that the Prime minister is able to explain policies and answer any questions; however, it can also be seen as ineffective because he is also able to formulate a generic answer. Also, some believe that it has become more of a ‘contest’ between the opposing party leader and the Prime minister, in which a ‘slagging match’ takes place, which is more like a media show than real accountability.

Parliamentary debates are also ways in which the government is held to account. Adjournment debates take place during an adjournment period for half an hour at the end of every working day, in these, MP’s can use a motion to adjourn the House of Commons to raise issues which relate to their constituency. Again, questions are given in advance and answers are drafted, a ballot is then held once a week and four MP’s are given the chance to ask questions. This is a good thing as backbenchers are given the opportunity to speak and question the government, however not for long, as four MP’s asking questions in half an hour gives them less than ten minutes each. Also, again, answers are drafted so generic answers will be given.

This is typical in the other types of debates, Opposition day debates where the opposing party is given the chance to choose the topic for debate, these take place 20 times a year, 17 times the ‘government in waiting’ is given the chance, and the other 3 days are given to the second largest opposition party. These are a good thing as the opposing parties are given a duty to scrutinise and criticise government bills. Similarly in estimates day debates and early day motions, generic answers tend to be given, underlining the ineffectiveness of them.

Most debates are undermined by the fact that most people who vote on them in the House of Commons are in fact ‘whips’ and members of the party in power. This means that most of the time the leading party will win any debates being held. This is a similar situation to the select committee system.

The purpose of select committees is to supervise policies, decisions and the various activities carried out by their specified government department, they then report on their findings. In 2002 the Liaison committee set out core tasks which select committees are expected to undertake. MPs who are part of select committees are expected to cross examine and question ministers in relation to their department, allowing in-depth examination of departmental activities, which cannot be sought by debates and parliamentary questions. Select Committees are advantageous, as they tend to have specialist knowledge in the department of which they scrutinise, and have the ability to decide on what issues to look at, meaning they can decide to look at the more topical issues. Their reports include useful public records of information on government policy, which usually wouldn’t have been publicised. Also, the reports can influence current political debates in regards to the governmental powers and they draw media attention to them. Furthermore, they can influence debates on the provisions of a bill in concerns to the legislative process. The government is then expected to respond to reports, meaning that they are always forced to explain themselves.

Although they can be seen as effective, select committees do have disadvantages. Sometimes they do not always get the information they want (i.e. the arms Iraq affair), so scrutiny cannot be carried out effectively. Also, reports can be ignored by a strong government as they are merely recommendations and are not enforceable. Another problem is the lack of assistance available to a select committee, although they contain specialists in the required field, there can sometimes be a lack of resources for a select committee. Moreover, there is a problem in regards to the composition of a select committee, as backbenchers tend to have too much control over them, and therefore, like with debates and questions, the party in government will have a lot more control and power, and committee reports will tend to favour the government.

In my opinion, the way in which the House of Commons holds the executive to account can be very effective, if it is done in the correct way. It gives the Prime Minister and ministers a chance to explain policies and actions, and answer any queries regarding them. This way, there is theoretically a lot of transparency in the government, so the public is aware of what is going on in the country and whether or not it is being run in the correct way. However, it is not as well carried out as well as it can be for a variety of reasons, making it quite an ineffective process in some circumstances. Generic answers to questions which are given previous to debates and question times undermines their value as ministers aren’t expected to spontaneously answer questions, also the mass support in the commons for the leading party in the form of whips means that there is a tendency that all debates go their way, this is also the case as I have mentioned with the select committee system, as the members are chosen by the Prime minister and powers tend to lie with the backbenchers, so, again all decisions are leaned towards the favourable outcome of the leading party, which I believe makes a mockery of the whole system.


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How Much Power Does the British Parliament Have?

Essay, 2013

11 pages, grade: 66, tim pfefferle (author), introduction.

Earlier this year, David Cameron shocked analysts, journalists and President Obama by giving parliament the ultimate decision-making power over the deployment of the British military forces in the Syrian conflict (BBC, August 30 2013). As the leader of the executive branch, he could have made this decision without feeling the need to necessarily include parliament in the decision-making process. Yet, the shockwaves produced by this development indicate the power the House of Commons has at its disposal; in fact, Cameron ended up ultimately losing the vote, as a majority in the House voted against military action in Syria. It is regarded as highly unusual that the House would be given the right to make a decision of this scale independent of the executive. Even though parliament is sovereign, it is usually seen as subservient to the will of the executive. All of this begs the question: How much power does parliament have, really?

This essay will tackle this question from a three-dimensional perspective of power. In line with the notions of power as developed by Dahl (1961), Bachrach and Baratz (1962), and Lukes (2004) and applied to parliament by Norton (2013). This multi-dimensional framework will facilitate a differentiated discussion of parliamentary power, rather than merely stating the obvious point that parliament possesses little legislative freedom. In order to illustrate an answer to this question, comparisons to other legislatures will be employed to better understand where the UK parliament is situated vis-à-vis its counterparts. Thus, the combination of the theoretical framework and empirical findings should suggest a clear indication as to how parliamentary power in the UK may be understood. The essay will conclude that parliament’s powers remain weak in the face of executive dominance, and that, when compared to other legislatures, the House of Commons rates as one the most feeble parliaments.

Concepts of Power

In his textbook, Norton employs a multidimensional framework of power in order to differentiate how power may be understood in the context of assessing parliamentary power in Britain (2013: 5-7). Roughly speaking, Norton’s framework corresponds to the three dimensions of power; coercive and persuasive power, agenda-setting, and institutional power. These views are derived from the works of Dahl (1961), Bachrach and Baratz (1962) as well as Lukes (1974).

Conventional wisdom would indicate that power as understood within the concepts of the first dimension materializes within the actual legislative process. The government can assert its power over parliament and vice-versa. Whichever gets their way could be said to have exercised power over the other. Norton also points out a second manifestation, persuasive power (2013: 5). Thus, parliament may exercise power by persuading the executive of the merits of a certain bill, which may then be adopted. Even though the government is not coerced, parliament has exercised a degree of power.

Agenda-setting refers to a facet of power which is not initially accessible by merely looking at the outcome of a given process. Rather than looking at who gets their way, agenda-setting power is important in the context of what actually makes it onto the floor of the House, and what is being left out. As will be explained subsequently, the UK executive has significant agenda-setting powers.

Thirdly, institutional power looks at the constraints imposed not only by concrete agency, but also at those generated by legal frameworks, historical developments and implicit understandings, all of which have a bearing on what is and is not a legitimate course of action within parliament. Thus, institutional power is about the structure which parliament is subject to, and which binds both private members and the government.

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Title: How Much Power Does the British Parliament Have?

British Parliamentary System: Advantages and Disadvantages Essay

Introduction, advantages of the british parliamentary system, disadvantages of the british parliamentary system, works cited.

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A parliamentary system is a form of governance in a nation from where the executive branch obtains its power (Rodner 54). The executive is accountable to the House of Commons in Britain. Hence, the two are interrelated. It is important to note that the head of state is different from the head of government. Thus, it is different from the presidential form of democracy. It is usually practised in monarchies and parliamentary republics. A parliamentary system could be a bicameral system that consists of two chambers, or a unicameral house (Rodner 58). This essay focuses on discussing the advantages and disadvantages of the British Parliamentary system.

In order to understand the advantages of the British Parliamentary system, it is important to highlight its components (Rodner 59). First, the executive is linked with the legislature. Second, the executive organ is composed of the prime minister and cabinet ministers. Finally, it has a separate head of state and head of government (Rodner75). The above features give the system many advantages. One of the main advantages of this system is unity (Rodner 79). This is for the reason that the executive and the legislative organs support each other. According to Rodner (83), unity is key because the legislative arm can pass a vote of no confidence if it is not contented with the performance of the executive branch. The process of making and amending laws is easier and faster (Rodner 85). The executive arm has the majority party in the parliament, meaning that it has the majority votes. This implies that it is easier to pass legislations without much resistance from the opposition (Rodner 85). Moreover, the British Parliamentary system draws the attention of ethnic communities, making the leadership very effective in achieving national and regional goals (Gamble 404). Gamble (406) states that power is spread evenly on the platform of the British Parliamentary system. The prime minister is as important as the monarch because voters focus on voting for party ideas, but not for persons. Gamble (409) contends that the system also allows serious debates in parliament that could lead to changes of power without holding elections. Elections in Britain can be held anytime, especially if the assembly passes a vote of no confidence vis-a-vis the executive (Gamble 411). Parliamentary system in Britain is associated with less corruption (Gamble 411). In fact, leaders who do not perform as expected are removed from offices. The system is also advantageous for the reason that the nation functions without a formal constitution (Bevir and Rhodes 216). Through the parliamentary arrangement, relatively small political parties grow and achieve national outlooks with a lot of ease (Bevir and Rhodes 218). For example, some leaders are indirectly elected by different districts that vote for representatives of the legislative body. Bevir and Rhodes (220) argue that in the British Parliamentary system, there is a dual relationship between the Upper House and the Lower House. This is for the reason that both cooperate to promote the developments of the state. It is vital to state that proponents of parliamentary system argue that all political parties are included in the executive, including the minority parties (Bevir and Rhodes 224). This implies that diverse views are incorporated during the law-making process. Notably, the system has made the monarch and members of the House of Lords depend on the parliament (Bevir and Rhodes 226). This has resulted in the promotion of accountability and transparency of the government towards citizens’ representatives. The system has developed a progressive and innovative electoral system that ensures efficiency during elections (Bevir and Rhodes 229; Lijphart 165). It allows the executive to implement its manifestos through the legislature (Bevir and Rhodes 131). This is because the executive and the legislative organs are interrelated. The British Parliamentary system has allowed a relatively peaceful change from monarchical to a liberal democracy (Bevir and Rhodes 232). This has improved efficiency in the running of the country’s affairs. It has also allowed flexibility of legislative structures (Bevir and Rhodes 234). For example, the bicameral house is composed of the Upper House and the Lower House, which consults each other to avoid conflicts during implementation of government policies.

The British Parliamentary system has many advantages compared with other systems of governments. Despite the many advantages, it has been characterised by many disadvantages. First, the executive power is not separated from the legislature (Oliver 154; Lijphart 167). As a result, laws that are not good have been passed. Although the parliament can pass a vote of no confidence, there are limited checks and balances (Oliver 156; Lijphart 168). This has been the case because the majority party forms the government and would always aim at protecting the government. Cabinet members are appointed from the upper house, which interferes with the functions of the upper house with regard to monitoring what the executive does (Oliver 156; Lijphart 169). Nonetheless, the informal constitution that is used in Britain can be changed at anytime by the executive and the legislative arms through a bill or an amendment (Prosse 479). It would be important to note that the powers that are inherited are undemocratic and could cause constitutional crises (Prosse 483). Reserve powers are derived from conventions, and issues could arise when employing them. The absolute powers of the executive and the legislature have contributed to an autocratic form of government that is controlled by the prime minister (Prosse 483). This has interfered with effective functioning of other organs. Prosse (485) supports the fact that the prime minister is not elected directly and has little autonomy, interferes with his or her decision-making process. In addition, voting of the prime minister that is done strategically might not represent the voters’ interests (Prosse 487). It is crucial to note that the British Parliament is as a result of historical processes that derived power from an absolute monarch (Prosse 487).

In conclusion, the British Parliamentary system has advantages and disadvantages. It has been used as an example that has achieved a lot across the world. It is typified by the dependence of the executive on the parliament. Prime minister and the monarch are answerable to the House of Commons, promoting accountability and transparency as aforementioned. The fact that the system lacks a clear distinction between the legislature and the parliament makes the two collaborate. Voting that is done on the basis of party manifestos implies that citizens’ interests would be addressed. However, the system utilises informal constitution that is based on multiple sources of the law. Thus, it can be manipulated by the legislature and the executive.

Bevir, Mark, and Rod Rhodes. “Studying British government: reconstructing the research agenda.” The British Journal of Politics & International Relations 1.2 (1999): 215-239. Print. Gamble, Andrew. “Theories of British politics.” Political Studies 38.3 (1990): 404-420. Print. Lijphart, Arend. “ Patterns of democracy: governance forms and performance in 36 countries .” New Haven, CT: Yale university press. (1999). Print. Oliver, Dawn. “Constitutional reform in the United Kingdom.” Oxford, United Kingdom: OUP Oxford. (2004). Print. Prosser, Tony. “Understanding the British constitution.” Political Studies 44.3 (1996): 473-487. Print. Rodner Brazier. “ Constitutional practice: The foundations of British Government .” Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford university press. 1999. Print.

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