AS: Goverment and Politics, Unit 2: Governining the UK, Parliament Notes

AS: Goverment and Politics, Unit 2: Governining the UK, Parliament Notes

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HOUSE OF COMMONS - Composition, Powers and Role
Composition of the H of C
· The House of Commons is the democratically elected chamber in our Parliamentary system where
important matters are debated and decisions reached. Together with the House of Lords and the
Monarch it forms Parliament.
· The House of Commons is made up of 650 Members of Parliament who have all won their seats in
the same way- elected by a single member parliamentary constituency using first past the post
voting system.
· MP's are usually representatives of a party and are subject to a system of party discipline
· MP's are either categorised as frontbenchers (an MP who holds a ministerial or shadow ministerial
position, who usually sits in the front benches) or backbenchers (an MP who does not hold a
ministerial or a shadow ministerial position, who usually sits in the back benches).
· Conservatives = 306 seats
· Labour = 258 seats
· Liberal Democrats = 57 seats
· Others = 29 seats
· Total = 650 seats in House of Commons
· Democratic Unionists = 8 seats
· Scottish National Party = 6 seats
· Sinn Fein = 5 seats
· Plaid Cymru = 3 seats
· Social Democratic and Labour party (SDLP) = 3 seats
· Green Party = 1 seat Caroline Lucas, Brighton Pavilion
· Independent = 1 seat (Sylvia Hermon, North Down NI previously Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) but left
after the UUP secret deal with the Conservative Party)
· Alliance = 1 seat Naomi Long, Belfast East
· Speaker = 1 seat John Bercow (Conservative)
· Total = 650 seats in House of Commons
All Parties = 650
· 507/650 male = 78%
· 143/650 female = 22%
· 26/650 ethnic minority = 4%
· Average age of MP = 50
· Youngest MP = 25
· Oldest MP = 80
Power of the House of Commons
· Politically and legally the dominant chamber of Parliament
· The H of C has supreme legislative power. In theory, the Commons can make, unmake and amend any law it
wishes, with the Lords only being able to delay these laws. The legal sovereignty of Parliament is exercised in
practice by the Commons (subject to the higher authority of EU laws and treaties).
· The H of C alone can remove the government of the day (this will still be the case if fixed term
Parliaments are introduced). This power is based on the convention of collective responsibility. A
government that is defeated in the Commons on a major issue or a matter of confidence is obliged
to resign or to call a general election.
Role of the H of C and MP's
· Legislation ­ improves and makes new laws
· Scrutiny ­ check the work of Government by asking questions and debating decisions
· Representation ­ speaking for and on behalf of members of the public
Role of MPs
· Members of Parliament (MPs) divide their time between Westminster and the area they represent,
known as their constituency. They hold meetings or `surgeries' where members of the public can
come to them to discuss any questions or problems they might have. An MP is elected to represent
all the people living in their constituency, known as constituents, whether they voted for them or
· The House of Commons meets Monday to Thursday as well as some Fridays to discuss and vote
on ideas for new laws as well as attend committees, meetings and debates.
Making laws
· The House of Commons spends nearly half of its time making laws.

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Bills which are considered in the Commons include Government Bills and Private Members' Bills.
Both of which are Public Bills, i.e. they are designed to affect the public as a whole.
· Government Bills are sponsored by the Government
· Private Members' Bills are promoted by individual back-bench MPs.
· Private Bills are designed to affect individuals or groups
Controlling Finance
· Before the Government can raise or spend money it must have permission from Parliament.…read more

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Archbishops = 2
Party strength May 2010
· Conservative = 186
· Labour = 211
· Crossbenchers (no party support) = 186
· Liberal Democrat = 72
· Bishops (no party) = 26
· Total = 681
· Labour still dominate the Lords despite the Conservative/ Liberal Democrat coalition
forming the government. However, the Sunday Times on 24th October 2010 reported that David
Cameron plans to introduce 50 new peers into the Lords by Christmas to make it easier
for the government to pass legislation.…read more

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Speaker of the House of Commons). They also cannot
defeat measures outlined in the government's manifesto, under the Salisbury convention.
· Although the House of Lords can only delay a bill for one year of parliament, it forces the
government to think again about the bill and ensures that there is enough support for the
· Furthermore, the threat of delay from the Lords is often important enough to obtain important
concessions by way of amendments.…read more

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The government must be members of Parliament (eg either the H of C or the H of L)
· Due to this, there is no separation of powers between the legislature (law making body) and the
executive (body responsible for implementing laws and policies made by Parliament). The powers
of the government and the legislature are fused and interlocking.…read more

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Fusion of powers Separation of powers
Govt formed through parliamentary elections Govt separately elected
Overlap of personnel (members of Parliament) Separation of personnel
Govt removable by legislature Govt not removable by legislature
Flexible term elections Fixed term elections
Cabinet government Presidentialism
Head of govt separate from head of state President is Head of govt & head of state
Parliamentary Sovereignty
· The most important principle of the UK constitution.
· It is Parliament's absolute and legal authority.…read more

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In reality though, the House of Commons holds legal sovereignty because the House
of Lords can only delay bills, not make new laws.…read more

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Functions of Parliament
· Representation of constituents by ensuring that the grievances of citizens are
expressed to government and forcing government ministers and officials to listen to
· Legitimation by granting authority and approval to government to allow it to
govern legitimately.
· Legislative role by improving, revising, amending and making new laws
· Accountability and scrutiny by calling the government to account, making it
account for its actions, scrutinising and possibly amending legislation.…read more

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How could representation be improved in Parliament?
· Elected H of L would make Parliament more responsive of various groups needs and
give the H of L a representative role.
· Reform the electoral system. Lib Dems argue that STV would allow the electorate to
choose their candidate from a list and have cross party voting.
· Allow constituents the power of re-call. If their MP does something wrong they
should be able to remove the MP.…read more

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Legislation is therefore passed through by Parliament rather than actually made by
· The H of L is merely a `revising chamber' and spends most of its time making H of C
bills better instead of actually scrutinising them.
Legislative: Private members bills
· Backbench MP's from the governing party are able to put forward legislation.
· However, little time is dedicated to Private members legislation.
· MP's or peers have to win a ballot to be allowed to put forward their private
legislation.…read more


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