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Passing laws, or legislating, is the primary role of Parliament.
In Britain, Parliament is the supreme law-maker. But law is also made by judges: this is called 'case
law' and is said to be set by 'precedent'. Judges are sometimes put in the position where a case they
are trying involves a completely novel problem and the judge then has to make a ruling in this new
area. This ruling then becomes a precedent for other judges to follow. In this way judges can make
new law, or legislate. But Parliament can then change this judge-made law. The Europe Union also
passes legislation which is binding in Britain. According to constitutional theory, this European law is
also subject to parliamentary supremacy. At a lower level, local councils (of the borough, city, district
and even parish) can make by-laws, on minor matters, which can be overruled by Parliament if
How effective is Parliament as a legislator?
1) In 1997-8, Parliament passed 52 bills; in 2000-1, it was 21; in 2005-6, it rose to 42.
These low numbers suggest that the process is a slow, careful one. Most legislation is
professionally drafted, and seems to keep pace with changes in society which require
changes in the law. Obviously, Conservative and Labour supporters will prefer the bills
passed by the government they voted for, so evaluation is particularly difficult here.
2) Parliament can pass constitutional amendments on a simple majority. In fact, in Britain
there is no difference between constitutional law and other forms of legislation.
3) Parliament can be very quick in passing legislation in times of crisis. For example, in March
2005, anti-terrorist legislation was rushed through the Commons in two days, although
the speed with which this was done was not without controversy.
4) What is called, rather confusingly, 'legislative scrutiny' - the process by which proposed
legislation is examined for problems with drafting -seems to work quite well because of
the adversarial nature of British party politics.
5) Almost all government bills become laws. If their content was included in the manifesto,
these bills can be said to have been approved by the electorate. If this has not
happened, the electorate can pass its judgement on them when it holds the government
to account at the end of its term.
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1) This is the simple point that Parliament does very little more than 'rubber-stamp'
government proposals. Hence, what is called executive dominance, combined with the
strength of party adversarial conflict, means that Parliament is a weak body. Bills can be
passed through too quickly.…read more