‘Parliament’s most important function is to scrutinise and challenge the government, not to maintain it in office until the next general election.’ Discuss.

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Serife Gunal
`Parliament's most important function is to scrutinise and challenge the government, not to maintain
it in office until the next general election.' Discuss.
Firstly, it is important to understand what is meant by `scrutinise and challenge'. It embodies the idea
that the opposition party, in the House of Commons, is able to pick apart and criticise proposals
made by the government. The mere fact that the opposing parties sit opposite each other in the
chamber, highlights the aspect of challenge that parliament offers. An example of when parliament
gives the opposing party the chance to scrutinise, is during the weekly `Prime Ministers Questions'
which is held every Wednesday. Scrutiny also occurs in the form of backbenchers (MPs without
ministerial responsibilities), perhaps having been a part of a select committee, criticising or
challenging the frontbenchers (members of the executive). Although it is an important function of
parliament, it is arguable as to whether it is the most important.
It could be said that parliament's main function is to maintain the government in office until the next
election, whereby the party discipline system, especially strong party discipline such as that in the
Westminster Model, ensures the commitment of party members to policies. It is common that MPs
will `toe the party line' in the hope of gaining a ministerial post perhaps, but this, in turn, ensures that
the government are very rarely defeated in parliament. As the House of Lords has no power to
dismiss proposals as of the Parliament act 1911 and 1949, it is said that party discipline therefore
makes for an elective dictatorship. In 2010, the coalition government proposed a rise in tuition fees
which was granted after having won by a majority of 21 votes. Though some Lib Dem and Tory MPs
spoke against the proposal, it is evident that the majority followed the advice of the chief whip and
voted in favour; highlighting the power that parliament has to maintain the government in office.
Some argue that it is impossible for parliament to be able to truly scrutinise the government. Not only
are they an elected body, in the current government's case gaining a total of 59% of votes, but they
have a mandate, which enables them to carry out exactly what they outlined in their manifestoes and
so essentially, what the electorate have voted for. Furthermore, the government acts under the
royal prerogative, so for example, the Head of state, or monarch who assents to all laws passed
(because they have no power to refuse them) may agree to an act such as the Financial Act 2012. In
short, it is an intended reform of the Bank of England but for the opposition to scrutinise it would be
for them to essentially scrutinise the royal prerogative, so it is difficult for them to challenge the
Although parliament has other functions, such as representation or legislation, maintaining the
government in office may be seen as the most important. The FPTP system is a majoritarian electoral
system which entails the winning party having to have the absolute majority. The UK is arguably a two
party system which means that Parliament is often used as an attempt to maintain the government
(whether it be Labour or Conservative at the time)'s position. For instance, as David Cameron nears
the end of his term in office, he is pledging to hold an EU referendum if reelected. This is a prime
example of the attempt to keep their place in power.
To conclude, both functions are important but I believe that Parliament is essentially there to
scrutinise the Executive and the government and so it is the most important function. Not only does it
expose holes in what the government are doing but it enhances British democracy.


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