Functions of Parliament

Functions of Parliament

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Parliament is perhaps the most visible of the UK's political institutions. Its proceedings are reported in
the press and broadcast on radio and television. Whether or not Parliament is a focal point of political
power in the UK however, is far more debatable. Some commentators argue that the work done by the
Commons and the Lords make an important contribution to the shaping of legislation.
Others argue that, in reality, Parliament is little more than a talking shop were ambitious politicians
polish their egos and their public speaking skills.
But Philip Norton notes that: "The functions ascribed to Parliament...are not static. The form of
Parliaments may remain, but what is expected of them will change as political conditions change."
Political conditions have certainly changed during Parliament's long history. Relations between
Parliament and the monarchy and between the HoCs and the House of Lords are very which existed in
the 19th century or earlier.
Perhaps the most important development over the past 100 years or so is the growth in the power of
the executive (gov't) Today, it is the gov't which set the legislative agenda, and since it is formed from
the majority party (or parties) in the Commons, it is usually able to gather a majority in favour of its
proposed laws, regardless of the strength of feeling of Opposition MPs. But, even if the executive has the
upper hand, the HoCs still performs a number of functions. These functions are as follows:
Legitimation - The House of Commons is the elected part of Parliament. Following a general election,
the majority party in the House (or coalition of parties if there is a Hung parliament) forms the
gov't. In supporting the gov't (by giving their assent to gov't proposals to change the law and
agreeing to public policy in general), MPs of the governing party (or parties) provide the gov't with
legitimacy its exercise of political power. That is why the gov't is thrown into crisis if it loses a vote in
the Commons - the loss of a vote is a loss of legitimacy which can only be restored if a subsequent
vote of confidence in the gov't is passed. In addition, since assent to legislative proposals is based on
majority voting, a further dimension to the process of legitimacy comes from Parliament as a
whole. This is the general agreement from all sides in Parliament that once parliamentary approval
has been given to a change in law, the new law should be obeyed unless and until Parliament
agrees to the law being changed again.
Scrutiny - The policy proposals, executive actions and expenditure of gov'ts are all legitimate subjects
for examination and criticism by Parliament. They are of particular concern to the Opposition
parties, but a gov'ts own supporters (whose loyalty is needed by the gov't) are also involved in the
process of scrutiny.
Representation - The representative part of Parliament is the HoCs. Each MP represents a particular
geographical area (a constituency) in the UK. Although MPs are almost always elected according to
the party they belong to, after the election they are expected to represent the interests of all their
constituents, regardless of party affiliation. One of the functions of MPs, therefore, is to look after
the interests of their constituents in Parliament and to take up their grievances. In this sense,
Parliament is often seen (realistically or not) as an institution able to give expression to public
opinion and feeling.
The recruitment of government ministers - Parliament is the recruiting ground for the vast majority
of gov't ministers. Some members of the gov't are still chosen from the House of Lords, but most
ministers are selected from among MPs of the governing party in the HoCs. Many MPs (`career
politicians') have ambitions to become gov't ministers and see their backbench parliamentary role
as a preparation for future promotion to office. The PM can bring into gov't individuals from outside
Parliament, but they would normally would be expected to win a seat in the commons at a
by-election or by given a seat in the House of Lords.
Law-making - Much of the work done by Parliament involves the scrutiny of legislative proposals put
forward by the gov't. As far as the gov't is concerned, it is Parliament's job to give assent to the
gov'ts legislative programme. The process of scrutiny leading up to assent, however, can provide
MPs in the Commons and members of the House of Lords with the possibility of influencing the
content of legislation.
Deliberation - Both houses of Parliament are debating chambers and debates are held on, for example,

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