AS Politics UK


  • Created by: Leah
  • Created on: 14-06-11 18:48

Functions of parliament Legislation

  •  Legislation
  • Scrutiniy of Executive
  • Debate
  • Representation
  • Provide ministers
  • Legitimisation
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House of Commons Legislative Process

The House of Commons Legislative process:

 Pre-legislative scrutiny

First reading - formal presentation

Second reading - main debate on the principle of the bill

Committee stage - detailed scrutiny of each clause + amendments

Report stage - amendments made in committee are considered by the full house.

Third reading - debate on the amended bill on the floor of the house and no further amendments are permitted

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Departmental Select Commitees

 Departmental select committees


· There are 19 committees made up of 11-14 members that shadow each government department. Party whips influence the liaison committee to get who they want on it

· The chair is usually a significant parliamentary person

·Members are expected to behave in a NEUTRAL way, They have significant powers and can call for ministers, civil servants, external witnesses and official papers for their investigation                                 

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House of Lords Legislation Process

House of Lords stages:

·       The bill is sent to the Lords where it follows the same procedure. A bill may go back and forth between the two houses: "parliamentary ping pong". 

·       Committees and bills: Standing committees (public bill committees)

·       MPs and peers Consider each bill on a line-by-line basis

·       Amendments are made to prospective legislation through vote by majority 

·       Once the bill is passed, the committee is disbanded 

·       Relevant MPs/peers sit on the committee

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Scrutiny and Accountability

Accountability: the principle that an office holder or institution must account for its actions. In a system of parliamentary government, ministers are accountable to parliament and to the electorate. They have duties to explain their policies and actions to parliament. Ministers may also be held responsible for policy failures. MPs face the electorate at a general election where their constituents may take their record in office into account when deciding whether to vote for them.

How the executive is scrutinized?

 1.    Question Time/PMQs

2.    The Opposition

3.    Debates

4.    Select committees

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MPs are elected to represent their…


  • Parties; however at the time of the general election they can withdraw support for some policies.
  • Constituencies
  • The country as a whole, national interest
  • Other groups they may be involved in
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Private Members Bills

Private member's bills

  • These Bills are Introduced/sponsored by backbench MPs they Aim to change the law for whole population
  • They Can be introduced as a result of winning a place in "top 20 ballot", held early in a new session.
  • They can be "ten-minute bills" - MPs spend ten minutes raising the profile of an issue
  • Few PMBs become law, but have created publicity. There are Lack opportunities for introduction, lack of time for consideration and lack of civil service help
  • Often deal with socio-moral topics (no strict party view)
  • An example of an important private members bill that has been enacted, the Abortion Act 1967
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Effectiveness of legislation

 The UK parliament is a policy influencing legislature. These can modify or reject legislative proposals from the executive but are unable to develop extensive legislative proposals of their own. Parliament's effectiveness in making and scrutinizing law is limited by the dominance of the executive. This is evidence by:

1.    Government bills - most bills originate from the government

2.       Parliamentary timetable - the executive controls much of the legislative timetable

3.       Party discipline - the whip system ensures that the government proposals are rarely defeated

4.       House of Lords - the upper house scrutinizes and revises legislation, but does not alter the key features of most bills

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Question Time/PMQs:

Government ministers/PM face questions from MPs on the floor of the house.

Captures the essence of adversarial politics

Can be seen as political point scoring

Hold the ministers/PM to account - allow questions to be directly presented to the ministers/PM in which s/he has to answer

Has brought light to some scandals and large issues in the past that have attracted huge media attention (e.g. Blair - cash for honors)

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Select committees:

  • ·         They are a effective agent of the scrutiny of the actions of the executive (government departments) and holding it to account, run by backbenchers
  • ·         Spend a lot of time questioning members of the executive Have the ability to call for "papers, persons, and records"
  • ·         MPs are allocated to select committees by party whips, and the numbers from each party is proportionate to party strength within the Commons. So there is always a majority of MPs from the governing party Reports issued.

 Select committees are often critical of the government Limitations:

  • 1.    MPs often lack the knowledge/expertise to scrutinize ministers;
  • 2.    The government is under no obligation to take action on the recommendations made;
  • 3.    Ministers are very skilled at avoiding answering questions;
  • 4.    Ministers are at no obligation to attend, some simply refuse to attend the hearing (e.g.Brown in his time as chancellor)
  • 5.    Whips decide who sits in a committee, rebellious MPs can either be demoted or kept out
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The Opposition:

  • The second largest party in the house is the official opposition It will oppose many of the government's legislative proposals, and attack the government throughout the legislative process by tabling amendments and forcing votes
  • The leader will confront the PM at PMQ
  • Appear as an alternative government-in-waiting
  • Opposition days (20 days) given to the opposition to raise issues of interest, ask the government awkward questions and try to present the government in a negative light.


  • Half-hour adjournment debates at the end of each day give MPs a chance to raise a particular issue.
  • Ministers also make statement to parliament on major issues.
  • Many are poorly attended
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Functions of House of Commons


Parliament is now virtually the only source of legislation. The main, but very limited, exception is legislation under the prerogative e.g. in regard to civil servants at GCHQ. This power to legislate is especially important in so far as Article 4 goes on to provide that Acts of Parliament alone, can authorise the levying of taxes. Together ensuring that the executive accounts to Parliament, and both give Parliament some leverage over the Government. The Government constantly needs grants of taxation (the annual budget is about £250billion). Because of the effect of the Parliament Acts 1911-49 and convention, the House of Common is of far greater importance in these matters than the House of Lords. But, as with the first function, one can exaggerate the power of Parliament. In reality, Parliament largely reacts to legislation initiated by the Government. It does not initiate its own legislative programme reflecting its own policies, and few Acts are passed which are not sponsored (i.e. put forward) by Government Ministers. As before, our constitution is said to enshrine the idea of Parliamentary Government. This does not mean that Parliament governs but that the Government must work through Parliament.

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Functions of House of Commons

Scrutiny of policies and administration:

The Commons next has the task of scrutinising the Government's policies and administration of its policies. Once again, Parliament has few policies of its own and certainly no coherent overall programme which rivals that of the Government - its functions are mainly to examine and react to the Government's policies and actions. Parliament is expected to sustain, scrutinise and influence rather than block Government. After all, most MPs are elected on the basis that they support the Government's policies. Parliament thus provides legitimacy for Government in the sense that its approval can be seen as representing the assent of the electorate.  The UK has a representative democracy rather than a participatory democracy. MPs, once elected, are not then the direct agents of the electorate but are allowed a wide discretion to represent their electorate as they think fit. The electorate has no further say, whether by referendum or otherwise, but merely endorses at election time – possibly as far apart as every five years - one candidate or another. This position has been changed to some extent by an increase in party activism in the Labour Party/government and more generally by a post-1945 growth in pressure groups.

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Function of House of Commons


The final task of the Commons is the redress of specific grievances. All MPs, even the Prime Minster, are elected by a specific locality (constituency) in which they are the sole representative and link with Parliament. It follows that they are seen as having constituency interests and responsibilities. In other words, they ask questions or raise matters in debate concerning the problems of their area and constituents. This work is often done informally and behind the scenes by meetings in the constituency and by letters to, and discussion with, ministers or civil servants. MPs receive millions of letters a year primarily from their constituents (as many as 50%). The majority of these letters are concerned with individual matters - council housing, welfare benefits and so on. Its political impact may be limited nationally but is locally significant.

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Government whips are one of the most important jobs in Parliament. At the minute, the chief whip is also Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury – Patrick McLaughlin. The importance of the whip is dependant on the size of the majority i.e. if a party were to win by 51% it is important that no MP votes against the party. You can ague that a whip’s job is divided into 3 main roles:

  • a)      Business Management
  • b)      Liaison and Communication between Government and MPs
  • c)      Maintenance of Party Discipline

 Liaison and Communication The whip becomes the information network between MPs and the government – feed information up and down i.e. what the government is doing, what the MPs are thinking. They also communicate whether it is a ‘one line whip’, ‘two line whip’ or ‘three line whip’.

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Business Management All parliamentary business is organised by the chief whip – promotes bills, prevents bills, runs PMBs out of time etc. He is responsible for the Parliamentary timetable and therefore must ensure all MPs know when to turn up and how to vote – most important type of bill is ‘three line whip’ when you must turn up no matter what and vote e.g. a manifesto bill on the economy. As a whip, you need to cooperate with the other party whips i.e. tell the opposition when there is a vote, question time or discussion.

Maintenance of Party Discipline Effectively, MPs are required to obey the whip and if they don’t they can be ‘deselected’ by their own constituency, or they can be no longer considered as part of the party showing disloyalty. Whips are more powerful on discipline when there is a small majority, as when there is a larger majority the job is easier and the whips succeed more. Largest rebellion was in 2003, when 122 MPs defied the Labour Party on the Iraq Bill – however the conservative votes meant the bill was still passed.

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House of Lords

The House of Lords

The Lords are involved in legislation, scrutiny and debating and specialist committees. 2/3 of the members of the HOL affiliate themselves with a party – the largest being the labour. This is down to two things: The banning of hereditary peers and the fact Labour have appointed large numbers of life peers since they came into power.

The leader of the Lords is Lord Strathclyde whose job is to help push legislation through the House of Lords. The reasons Lords exist are because they are selected for their expertise and aren’t expected to be biased. They do have whips however they are meant to be persuasive rather than threaten with discipline – Lords cannot be deselected. Their job is to be advisory, rather than to sanction.

Lords Spiritual (Bishops)  The government has always officially been linked to the Church of England because the Queen is the head of state. 26 Bishops from the Church of England exist in the Lords and offer a religious voice to the government e.g. Abortion Bill. Obviously Britain is multicultural and multireligious but there are still opportunities for the PB to give peerages to other faiths e.g. Lord Jacovites, the ex-Chief Rabbi in England.

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House of Lords

Life Peers These are peers picked by the Prime Minister under his power of patronage. Since the creation of life peers, activity in the House of Lords has greatly increased as they are a dominant group within the Lords – July 2010: 94% of Lords were life peers. Ex-leaders of parties can become life peers e.g. Margaret Thatcher (Baroness Thatcher), Ian Paisley (Lord Bannside) or if you are an expert in science, medicine, technology etc you may receive a peerage e.g. Lord Winston.

 Hereditary Peers This is when a title is passed on to an eldest child – means the landed aristocracy (who own land) have had parliamentary privilege for hundreds of years. This has been problematic for two reasons – undemocratic (they are not elected) and they have always been more conservative due to their upbringing. They tend not to favour socialist and liberal parties and therefore do not favour reform.

 ince 1999, they were banned from voting in the House of Lords but the Wetherill Amendment allowed 92 to remain who had useful committee jobs and who made a valuable contribution. The government will officially ban them when Lords Reform is progressed but would have the opportunity to create life peers of the useful hereditary’s.

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Select Committees

Select Committees are meant to investigate and advise, and are made up of MPs selected for the task at hand. Almost all members are back-bench MPs and committees normally consist of between 9 and 18 MPs (commonly 11) – these people do not have to be great technical experts and indeed there is some reason for them not to be: they ask common-sense questions of experts and make sure to receive proper answers. There is great suspicion that the whips exercise too much power in the selection process e.g. in 2001, Gwyneth Dunwoody of the Labour Party was not put forward for the transport select committee, when she had been an excellent chairperson previous to this, exercising a great degree of scrutiny

Each committee has a chairman: government always want its party in charge of the key committees – e.g. Defence (e.g. James Arbuthnot, Conservative – current), Home Affairs, Foreign Affairs, Treasury. Departmental select committees created 1979 – scrutiny and advisory function, while established to look at the work of government departments e.g. health. Cross-cutting’ select committees look at the bigger picture e.g. Liaison Committee, consists of the chairmen of all the permanent select committees. Legislative Committees deal with legislation and bills e.g. Human Rights.

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Select committees

A committee grilling in front of the TV cameras acts as a useful deterrent to ministers who are wary of potential reactions to their decision. Committees try to influence policy but usually make inquiries into failings or areas where concern has been raised e.g. Government’s Iraq polic

Select Committees:

  • a)      Provide independent scrutiny of government
  • b)      Question ministers
  • c)      Explain policies
  • d)      Concerned with legislation

In 2002, the government accepted the recommendation of the Home Affairs Select Committee to downgrade cannabis from a Class B drug to Class C  

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Select Committees



1. Gives back-benchers a purpose

1. Whips still control MPs

2. Scrutinises ministers

2. Can’t demand ministers to turn up – ask

3. Deterrent for ministers

3. Govt sets aside no time to debate report

4. Write reports on Government

4. Party divisions in committees evident

5. Call for witnesses and experts

5. Embarrass govt = lose job in election

6. Cross-party consensus e.g. Lib/Lab/Con

7. Reports used by opposition and media

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Explain how Departmental Select Committees act as

1.     Explain what is a Departmental Select Committee. Why 1979 reform?

2.     What powers do they have? Can call for ‘persons, papers and records’. Some examples of witnesses, experts, ministers, civil servants, information from government etc, any records of previous discussions or debates.

3.     Take evidence from sub-committees, make a report to Parliament. (Nolan Committee)

4.     Initiate enquiries into their department/Minister’s actions

5.     How well do they do this? Do they do a good job? 2001 Air traffic control./ 2010 Counter terrorism measures in British airports. Then focus on the limitations. Information can be denied to a DSC  eg: Edwina Currie refused to give evidence to the Health Committee; secrecy and National security eg: Arms to Iraq; Whips trying to control MPs on DSCs eg: Dunblane (Home Affairs Committee); In 2001 the government tried to remove Gwyneth Dunwoody and Donald Anderson from their chairperson positions  as they were hampering the government. This failed as the Commons rebelled and they kept their posts. They lack the expertise to examine complex issues eg: 2003 Foreign Affairs Select Committee inquiring into the Iraq war.

6.     Conclusion

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Examples for Departmental Select Committes

  • An example of which was in 2001 when a Departmental Select Committee produced a critical report into the privatisation of air traffic control. The government or minister may have decided to make a few concessions. In this way we can see how they can act as a check on the government
  • The Nolan Committee examined concerns about the standard of conduct of public office bearers and many of its recommendations were implemented, even though many MPs were very unhappy about them. This is an example of the Government listening to a Select committee and taking its advice.
  • In 2001 the government threatened two rebellious chairs of these committees Gweneth Dunwoody and Donald Anderson , with removal because of the damage they were causing to the government. The Commons opposed this move, not liking interference by the whips, thus highlighting that they can act as a check on the government.

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Examples for Departmental Select Committes

Resources and time are limited for the Select Committees, and there have been examples where information has been withheld from Committees openly and deliberately, e.g. in 1986 The Defence Select Committee investigating the “Westland Affair” was denied access to interview key civil servants by Thatcher. It is possible that had some Committees had extra time or had access to all of the persons, papers and records that they asked for, some Select Committees may have reached a substantially different conclusion – e.g. The above example of a committee failed to discover whether Thatcher was responsible for the improper leaking of a letter from the Attorney General. This makes some departmental Committees somewhat ineffective.

 Select Committees, even if they do reach a conclusion, if it unfavourable to the Government it can be rejected – making them appear rather pointless. For example, in 1996 the Home Affairs Select Committee investigating the need for a ban on handguns concluded that no ban was necessary. The Labour minority on the Committee, the police, doctors, parents, and even the Government rejected their report.

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Standing/ Public Bill Committees

·          First introduced in the late 1800s to save the full HOC time – good piece of Commons reform. Public Bill Committees are not permanent – new members are appointed or each Bill and once they report back, the committee is dissolved. Membership usually between 16 and 30 – includes three whips (Labour, Liberal and conservative)

·          A government minister and a government whip will always be members of the standing committee in addition to opposition front bench members. Public Bill committees have no research or staff resources of their own. The government, who make the majority of the committee, rarely allow an opposition amendment so proper scrutiny can only really happen in the commons chamber. A problem is that they all basically argue along the same adversarial lines and the debate drags on – government normally uses guillotine motion against it. Little is achieved in the aspect of scrutiny – the whips control their members who are seen as a quiet voting majority

·          If the government can get the bill through unamended there will be no report stage – therefore MPs see this process and Public bill committees as a chore

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The role of an MP

The representative: rather than delegates. They hold regular surgeries (meetings with their constituencies) in order to deal with constituency issues and gauge opinion. Each MP represents a constituency – voters can remove MPs through the ballot box, but in reality they owe their positions to those who selected them as their party’s candidate. Few MPs have sufficient personal support to be elected without the party label apart from Martin Bell in 1997.

The loyal party drone: most MPs are elected by virtue of the party label they carry throughout the election. Party whips cajole and punish troublesome MPs. Such MPs might find their chances of promotion limited. Some MPs choose to resign the whip or even cross the floor of the House and join another party by taking that party’s whip. They can do this without seeking re-election.

The watchdog: ie scrutiny. MPs have had the role of holding government accountable through the various debates, committees, question times and ultimately, by voting on government bills. Though there have always been MPs who prioritise this role e.g. Tony Benn, individuals such as the Parliamentary Commissioner carry more weight than the individual MPs.

The local trouble-shooter: All MPs play an important role in trouble-shooting within their constituency and representing the interests of constituents facing problems.

The legislator: For a bill to become an act, it must be passed through the House of Commons – for this reason, it seems MPs have total power over legislation, but they do not – they are under pressure to conform and debates can be cut short etc

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Should an MP in the House of Commons vote on their

  • All MPs have a constituency office where they hold surgeries
  • It is not feasible for MPs to be with their constituency all the time – priority is Westminster
  • Essential they have an office or assistants to deal with complaints
  • MPs only have power over issues that are answerable to Parliament and dealt through taxation e.g. health, security etc not rubbish collection times
  • MPs can write letters, get publicity for local issues, meet ministers and ask questions in Parliament Sometimes it is essential to try and please your constituents over the party (they vote you in)  Example: The government is in favour of NUCLEAR energy but any local MP will always have complaints if the power plant were to go up in their area                          MPs have roles in scrutinising the government:
  • Oral or written questions
  • Prime Minister's Question Time
  • Committee Work
  • Table amendments and debating legislation
  • Rebelling against the government and voting against them
  • Back bench MPs join back bench committees – tell the whips what they don’t like
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Scrutiny in the House of Lords

On the Floor…

  • Bills –60% of the House of Lords time is spent on legislation - revise, amend, debate, pass/fail
  • They also scrutinise the government through questioning ministers (oral or written), debates (Wednesdays) and statements – made by the minister responsible for the subject. (Most statements are made in the commons and repeated in the Lords by a junior minister)

 Off the Floor…

  • Off the floor scrutiny takes place in committee rooms away from the chamber – it is no less important
  • These committees are in the House of Lords and are different to the Commons
  • Select Committees e.g. European Union Select Committee, Science and Technology Select Committee (Lord Krebs), Constitution Select Committee, Economic Affairs Committee, Ad-Hoc committees (set up to examine issues outside the remits of the main investigate committees e.g. the use of animals in scientific procedures and stem cell research)
  • Judicial work – the HoL is the Supreme Court of Appeal for the whole of the United Kingdom in both civil and criminal cases. The work is carried out by salaried Lords of Appeal who are life peers. The Law Lords also take part in legislative work of the House
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Scrutiny in the House Of Lords

Powers and the House of Lords

Limited by a combination of law and convention

The Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949 – Money bills are certified by the Speaker and deal with taxation of public expenditure. They start in the commons AND MUST RECEIVE royal assent. The Lords hold up most other Commons bills if they disagree and then guillotined.

Private bills, bills which start in the Lords etc. are not subject to the Parliament Acts

 * The Salisbury Convention – ensures that major Government bills can get through the Lords when the government has no majority in the Lords. In practice, the Lords do not try to vote down a bill in the government manifesto. The ‘Salisbury doctrine’ emerged from the working arrangements reached during the Labour Government when the Marquess of Salisbury was leader of the Conservative Opposition in the Lords.

 Legislation – there is no guillotine motion in the House of Lords, meaning it cannot delay a bill deliberately by endlessly debating it (leads to a backlog of bills). When the ‘hunting with dogs’ bill appeared in the HOC in 1997, it had massive support yet the government let it run out of time (posh Lords). They can force bills through by invoking the Parliament act but this is used quite rarely for extremely important bills.

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Identify and explain ways in which the judiciary c

  • Background Judges are felt to be unrepresentative of the society they serve; the majority are white, male, upper class and elderly.Political Bias The judiciary is felt to have a right wing bias and to be pro-establishment and conservative.   
  • AppointmentThe appointment process is said to be dominated by politicians (the Prime Minister, Lord Chancellor), is too secretive, and discriminates against those who are not from the 'usual' background of the present judiciary. 
  • Bias Against Women It is argued that our judiciary have outdated and old fashioned views towards women.  This is particularly so in cases involving sexual offences.  For example, the comments of Cassell J in 1990 that a man who had sexual intercourse with his 12-year-old stepdaughter was understandably driven to it by his pregnant wife's loss of interest in sex.  
  • Lack of Time A major concern is that British judges are not given enough time to read the papers concerning a case before the trial or appeal takes place.  For example, Court of Appeal judges are only given four reading days per month when they can do their legal research.  The rest of the time they are expected to be hearing cases. 
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Role of the Judiciary

  • To interpret the law, the law may say that a person may use reasonable force to defend themselves or their property. A judge has ruled thath beating a burglar with a criket bat causeing him brain damage was unreasonable and imprisoned the man who attacked the burglar.
  • To administer the law and carry out the will of parliament , managing trials in accrodance with the law and sentencing in criminal cases.They act as the decision maker in most civil cases, such as dispute between companies over a contract, or between parents over custofy of children. Their role is to carry out the will of parliament in legal matters.
  • To Carry out judical review, this is the area which tends to attract the most publicity. It means a judges review or examine the actions of the executive and decide whether they have acted within the law
  • To Chair public enquires. oftern they are asked to chair major pulic enquires into contriversial issues and report and make reccomendations. An example of this would be Dame Janet Smith looked into the Shipman Mass murder case in 2005, and Lord Saville chaired the Bloody Sunday inquiry which dealt with the shootings of civilians by the army in Northern Ireland 1972.
  • To enforce EU law and the European Convention on Human Rights. In addition to enforcing UK Law.They have ensure that EU law is implemented and deal with occasions where EU and UK law might conflict.
  • To debate in the Lords or elsewhere. Traditionally judges were not expected to speak outsied their courts but increasingly they are getting invloved in debates on relevant issues such as those on assisited suicide or age of consent , either in the Lords or in the Media.
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Judicial Review

‘Judicial Review is a direct challenge to the lawfulness of the government’s action and clearly involves the courts in judgements which have political fall-out’ (Davis 1995). Judges are responsible for reviewing the actions of public agents (including ministers) to find out whether their actions are ‘ultra vires’ (beyond their powers). Roberts 347-8.

Greater activism in recent years has led to over 3000 applications for judicial review each year.  Only when you get leave to appeal will the case be heard. The Maastricht Treaty was challenged unsuccessfully by Lord Rees-Mogg in 1993.  The House of Lords challenged Michael Howard’s 1995 Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme – in 1996 it was declared unlawful for Howard (Home Secretary) to make public petitions into consideration in increasing the sentence of those who murdered Jamie Bulger.  More recently the courts said that these murderers could remain anonymous on release. The government may win most cases and most do not even get leave to proceed but when the government looses it gets a lot of publicity.

It has been argued by Pyper that it difficult to get a judicial review. Only one third of actions get a hearing and some judges are more likely to grant leave than others. Only one in six cases result in a ruling against a public body. Roberts p.349.

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Judicial Inquiries

 Judges also have an important role in Public Inquiries. Some of these are set up to help the government make a decision, others are set up to investigate the past conduct of ministers, MPs or other public officials. A Minister will set them up. The report produced by an inquiry is published and reasons are given for the inquiry’s recommendations.  They advise the minister and the minister is ‘obliged to consider the advice of the inquiry, but may choose to ignore it.’  A clear set of recommendations may pressure the government into taking action.  If a judge refuses to ‘rock the boat’ then issues can become clouded , the individual view and competence of the judge is often crucial.See Roberts p.254 on Scott Inquiry. The Saville Inquiry into ‘Bloody Sunday’ broke new ground in both costs and the implications for public inquiries. All 14 who died on ‘Bloody Sunday’ were exonerated and the PM David Cameron apologised to their families in 2010.Other important Inquiries:

  • Nolan on Standards in Public Life 1995
  • Scott on Arms to Iraq 1996
  •  Lawrence Inquiry into the murder of Stephen Lawrence
  • Hutton Inquiry into the WMD for the war in Iraq.
  • Chilcot Inquiry into Iraq.
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To what extent are judges independent?

 Under the Act of Settlement 1702 judges hold office ‘during good behaviour’ and can only be removed by the Queen in Parliament. Only one senior judge has ever been removed Jonah Barrington, an Irish judge in 1830. Judges pay is paid without having to go to Parliament each year and by convention MPs, ministers and Civil Servants do not refer to court cases.

Judges are supposed to refrain from politically partisan activity. The Kilmuir Rules 1955 sought to prevent judges making public statements.  This has been relaxed recently.

The Lord Chancellor is not the only law officer in Parliament. The Attorney General, Solicitor General, the Lord Advocate for Scotland and the Solicitor General for Scotland are all officially part of the Government. The Lord Chancellor no longer sits in the Lords. They have now become the Justice Secretary and more  separation of powers exists.

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Who are theese Judges?

Labour research in 2002 examined the background of 774 senior judge, Britain’s judges are still overwhelmingly an elite group in terms of educational background 67% attended public school and 60% Oxbridge. 90% of Supreme Court Judges. They are older on average than ten years ago.The vast majority are white males 8% female, 1% Black.

Some Judges are well out of touch with the public.  Mr. Justice Harman had never heard of the footballer Paul Gascoigne, the band Oasis or the singer Bruce Springsteen (Guardian 25 Feb.1998). Their background is more likely to make them conservative and sympathetic to the rich and well educated.  Judge Pickles remarked that women who are ***** may have been ‘asking for it’. Judge Sutclyffe once remarked that ‘women and small boys were liable to tell untruths’. Judges Pickles also said in a **** case ‘who would want to **** you, you’re ugly’. The first female Law Lord was appointed in 2003, Brenda Hale.  In 2003 Labour announced plans to reduce the power of the Lord Chancellor and to place most senior judicial appointments into the hands of a new independent Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC). This was brought into law by the 2005 Constitutional Reform Act. It was hoped that the judiciary would be more representative of the UK public as a whole. In January 2008 the Guardian reported that 21 individuals had been approved to become High Court judges, ten were then appointed. All were white, male former barristers,

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What is meant by the term Cabinet Re-shuffle?

In the parliamentary system a cabinet shuffle or reshuffle is an informal term for an event that occurs when a head of government rotates or changes the composition of ministers in their cabinet. Commonly, a cabinet shuffle refers to certain ministers being shifted from one department to another. Cabinet shuffles happen periodically as moving ministers is often necessary to replace ministers who have resigned or retired. Forming cabinets is also one of the most important ways for a head of government to reward or punish supporters, a practice that leads to shuffles whenever a new faction within a party takes over. It is common after elections, even if the party in power is retained, as the prime minister's reading of public opinion as evidenced by the election may require some change in policy, in addition to any changes resulting in the retirement and (occasionally) outright electoral defeat of some former ministers. Furthermore, when a new prime minister enters office from the same party as the previous one, he or she will typically change the cabinet to remove loyalists of the previous leader or simply to reflect his or her policies; an example is Gordon Brown's government, formed in 2007 after the departure of Tony Blair.

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The Cabinet

 The main roles of the Cabinet are: Decision making, Co-ordinating departments & Forward planning. Blair’s first Cabinet included the likes of Cook, Brown and Prescott(NB: Cook resigned over collective responsibility over the Iraq war in 2003, alongside Short) The role of Cabinet today:

  •  It is the central clearing house for decisions
  • Vital for the coordination of government
  • Place where policies are endorsed by all members of the government
  • Responsible for crisis management
  • Sets the agenda for Parliament
  • Acts as a brake on the Prime Minister or a radical minister (not presidential)
  • Referees disputes between departments
  • Provides a vital link between party, Parliament, the legal system and government
  • Thatcher criticised for downgrading the status of the role of cabinet
  • Sometimes at risk of becoming too large for effective decision making
  • The composition of the cabinet is subject to the Prime Minister, it normally consists of 20+ people (including key ministers e.g. defence, chancellor) and includes 2 or 3 members of the House of Lords – the rest are MPs
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Cabinet Respoinsibliity and Committees

  • Cabinet Committees
  • Cabinet committees are designed to deal with the increased workload
  • These committees are appointed by the Prime Minister to deal with specific areas of government e.g. the economy.
  • They are smaller than main cabinet, usually consist of 7-9 ministers (can include non-cabinet ministers too)
  • May be appointed on an ‘ad-hoc’ basis to deal with issues such as flu, May make recommendations for the Queen’s speech (legislation) and deal with long term strategic planning
  • Collective Responsibility
  • The theory that cabinet are all collectively responsible for their decisions therefore if policy failed, ministers would not have to shoulder responsibility alone
  • When appointed as a member of the government, a minister has to accept the principle of collective responsibility (a long-established convention)
  • It requires the minister to treat all cabinet business as confidential and to support other ministers and their policies in the public eye
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 Role responsibility is when you make a mistake in your cabinet post which means you have to resign. Or it can be when you disagree with the government’s policy and under no circumstances want to be associated with it. Example of Role Responsibility – Treasury Minister 1995 David Heathcoat, resigned over the government’s policy towards European single currency. Personal Responsibility is when you do something in your private life that embarrasses the government and means you have to resign. Example of Personal Responsibility – Deputy Prime Minister 2007 John Prescott, didn’t resign despite punching a protestor who threw an egg at him.

  • The role of the media is widely criticised because personal responsibility depends on what you have done, but otherwise you may have been a hugely talented, successful MP
  • IMR is different to collective responsibility because this is when an individual minister themselves have made a mistake in their job meaning they have to resign. All MPs are under greater public scrutiny when they are either running for an election or when they become minister e.g. education minister
  • The PM and whips even interview them to see if they have done or said anything in earlier life that could embarrass them e.g. photos of an MP in University taking drugs
  • Ministers can actually be protected by collective responsibility. Chancellors are protected by this the most when the economy goes badly e.g. Norman Lamont withdrew the £ from the ERM, collapsing it and the economy (economy – concern of the entire cabinet)IMR doesn’t work very often, as there is often no clear role to judge the ministers on. If they do badly in their job, they tend to just be removed by the ‘cabinet reshuffle’ rather than having their feelings exposed. The PM shields people who are doing badly in their job for the reason that it makes his cabinet look bad.
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Collective Responsibility within Government

  • Convention exercised by today’s cabinet and shadow cabinet – upholds idea that each member must not openly disagree with cabinet to show united front. Cabinet will be held equally responsible for the failure of legislation, even if they had no input in the failure
  • Early 50s showed a decline in this policy when a cabinet was sectioning into committees where many of the legislation and policies were only presented to the cabinet to be approved. The degree of collective responsibility present in Cabinet depends entirely on the Prime Minister in charge and their approach to cabinet e.g. plenary meetings or one-on-one meetings
  • Margaret Thatcher diminished the whole concept of collective responsibility by operating her cabinet within the ‘Presidential’ model of cabinet – Bilateral meetings (one on one: ministers unlikely to speak up directly against PM)
  •  Refusal to concur with policies follows the collective responsibility model whereby the minister is expected to resign e.g. Michael Heseltine resigned after dispute with Margaret Thatcher over the Westland Affair. John Major was not voted into cabinet and therefore relied on his cabinet heavily, adopting a more traditional Prime Ministerial role – however he ignored principal of collective responsibility when he let his Chancellor (Norman Lamont) take the blame for the failure of policies which had been endorsed by numerous colleagues
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Collective Responsiblity

It is important in a question to briefly mention advisors – their existence in numbers makes the PM very presidential in style and therefore failings are much more linked to the PM personally as opposed to the party e.g. Blair relied heavily on his chief strategist Andrew Adonis as his education advisor – why not Ruth Kelly, the education minister?

 As CR only really applies when the government is united, if the PM relies far more on advisors, they are seen as being more presidential and this theory applies less and less. Key advisors should be a collective cabinet due to the nature of the British political system. The use of advisors distances the PM from cabinet as they will not tell the cabinet anything, they are personal to the PM and are not available to the rest of Cabinet.


The public views the government in terms of the PM and not necessarily the party as a whole. PMs have therefore perhaps been forced to adopt a more selfish stance to maintain their image. The idea that elections are based solely on image is referred to as ‘Spatial Leadership’.

Current situation: Cameron has advisors but he is in a unique position as he is in a coalition with the Liberal Democrats. He has also pledged to reduce the amount of special advisors in an attempt to show ‘openness’. He has become the first PM since Winston Churchill to appoint a personal military advisor – Colonel Jim Morris. Cameron’s top advisor is Andy Coulsen (ex editor of News of the World) who earns more than the Deputy PM, Nick Clegg.

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Scrutinising the executive?

Committee Action

Standing Committees play a role in scrutinising legislation however they lack power and therefore are less effective. They scrutinise through report-writing, expertise, amending bills, consulting professionals and giving paper evidence.

Judicial Action

The courts can provide a powerful check on the executive if ministers are found to have acted ultra vires (beyond their powers). The European Court of Justice can also step in where the UK Government has violated EU law e.g. the Factortame Case (1990)

Prime Minister’s Questions

PMQs consist of a single 30-minute slot every Wednesday. However this time is regarded as being more ‘theatre’ than serious politics. However it can be seen as good as some MP questions are genuine and force the Prime Minister to disclose some information e.g. expenditure or address a particular subject.

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Scrutinising the executive?

The work of backbenchers

In theory have the power to reject government proposals outright as they outnumber frontbenchers 6:1. Backbenchers can put forward their own legislative proposals (PMBs), ask questions at PMQT and put down motions. However the whips ensure that government defeats in the Commons are rare.

Lords Action

The Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949 have removed the right of the Lords to reject bills outright in nearly all cases, but they can still check the government by scrutinising their proposals and offering amendments. Most acts passed are the product of compromise between the Commons and the Lords. Exception: The 2004 Hunting Act

Debates and Motions

MPs can call for Commons’ debates on specific issues by tabling an Early Day Motion. Though such debates rarely result in legislation, they provide an opportunity for MPs to hold the government accountable to their constituents.

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