Government and Politics- Parliament

Covering the third topic of the EDEXCEL Government and Politics syllabus- for the UNIT 2 exam.

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TERMINOLOGY: Define- Bi-cameralism, Representative

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BiCameralism- Bicameralism is a legislature which consists of two chambers or houses, which is an essential and defining feature of the classical notion of mixed government. Bi-cameral legislatures tend to require a concurrent majority to pass legislation.

Representative government- An electoral system where citizens vote to elect people to represent their interests and concerns, those elected meet to debate and make laws on behalf of the whole community or society.

Responsible government- The principle of government accountability where governments are responsible to Parliament rather than the monarch.

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Provide a brief description for the five functions

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Representative function- Can be broken down into constituency representation, party representation, whips and social representation.

Scrutiny function- Parliament's primary modern function that is vital to maintain the responsible nature of Parliament ensuring government is accountable whilst constraining their power.

Deliberative function- The House of Commons is the focus of national debate on a number of occasions including departmental question time and Prime Ministers questions with controversial topics like the Iraq war. The House of Lords is praised for the quality of its debates and contains experts from various areas of society.

Legislative- The law making role of Parliament which provides political legitimisation to the actions and policies of the executive, important as Parliament is the sovereign body in the constitution, although its argued that governments with workable majorities have few checks on their scope for law making.

Recruitment- Parliament is a recruiting ground for potential government ministers with Lords tending to now occupy specific posts (Baroness Hayman Lords Speaker)- those seeking high office must now be elected retaining democratic and responsible government.

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What four areas can the representative function be

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1. Constituency representation

2. Party representation

3. Whips

4. Social representation

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Give two strengths and two weaknesses of constitue

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1. Represent the constituents in Parliament- MP's should raise areas of concern for the people who live in their constituencies. For example the loss of industry should be raused in an area whether an MP would wish to or not.

2. Serve their constituents- MP's can be approached by residents for practical help and advice. For example MP's hold weekly surgeries to help address their constituents needs.


1. MP's are not delegates and do not have to follow the views of the people- MP's can vote against the wishes of their constituents if they choose. For example Oona King voted in favour of the Iraq qar despite large opposition in her constituency.

2. MP's will not represent the political views of many constituents- Due to the single member constituency system MP's will not represent other voters.

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What 3 functions do the party whips perform?

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1. Organise the business of the House (management)- Liase with other parties and send out a notice every week with details about events. For example each whip that is sent out is underlined, the more underlinements the more importance the attendance is.

2. Channel of communication between front and backbenchers- This is particularly important given the permanent risj that members might vote against their own party. For example Labour MP's voted against their own party with the war in Iraq in 2003.

3. Persuasion- Formal sanctions are limited, whips achieve by persuasion, diplomacy and appeals to loyalty. For example whips hold the key to appointments and select committees.


1. Political scientists have claimed that the strength of modern Parties undermines democracy.

2. MP's consider their loyalty to a party more important then their loyalty to constituents.

3. Much of this criticism can be aimed at the job of the party whips.

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Give three reasons why Parliament is socially unre

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1. Dominated by the early to late middle aged- In 2005 the average age of election was 50 with only three MP's aged 18-29. For example with only three MP's aged 18-29 it is clearly not representative of the younger generation.

2. There is a dominance of men and lack of females- Less then a fifth of all MP's were female in 2005.

3. Lack of fair variation in previous occupations- Around 1 in 3 MP's comes from a legal background highlighting the limited variation. For example only 13% of MP's are drawn from manual workers which is unrepresentative.

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Give four reasons why the deliberative function is

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1. Most debates are adversarial- Mainly involve political point scoring, for example Brown and Cameron are generally not productive during Prime Ministers Questions.

2. Nothing really gets achieved- The Government has a clear majority. For example agricultural debates have limited effect as the EU has control of that area.

3. Rigid Parliamentary timetable- Commons are not always given enough time. For example legislation can be curtailed with the guillotine motion.

4. Commons have limited debating ability- The Commons have no right to debate issues of national importance if the Prime Minister decides. For example the Prime Minister can use powers of the Royal Prerogative to declare war, such as Tony Blair did in 2003.

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Give four reasons why the recruitment function is

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1. Ministers are only recruited from the governing party- Government is unlikely to choose able opposition unless there is a coalition.

2. It is possible to recruit ministers from the House of Lords- They are not democratically accountable or chosen and bypass Commons. For example Lord Mandelson as Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills.

3. Ministers are not selected for their expertise- But for their loyalty to the party. For example controversial but able MP Diane Abbot not selected.

4. Organisations outside of Parliament used to decide policy- For example the think tank institute for public policy research- IPPR.

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Give four reasons why Parliament is not effective

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1. Backbenchers do not always tow the party line- Can combine with opposition MP's to potentially defeat government. For example the Anti-terrorism Act of 2005 regarding 90 day detention clause.

2. MP's can introduce Private Members Bills- These can become law although it is extremely rare. For example the abortion reform act of 1967.

3. The Lords can make significant amendments- Due to the number of experts it has traditionally defended political minorities. For example the Criminal Justice Act of 1994.

4. The Lords can force Government to make significant amendments- If the government was reluctant to force delays they can insist on reform. For example The House of Lords Reform 1999.

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List four ways in which the governmental majority

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1. Government control the House of Commons- Governments have an automatic majority and control their MP's through whips. For example Tony Blair only lost one vote in his ten year term in office.

2. Government control the standing committees- Government have a majority on standing committees determined by party whips. For example legislation is passed through quickly as representatives say nothing.

3. Governments control the legislative timetable- Governments can decide when and where debates take place. For example Governments can sideline or shorten controversial debates like ID cards.

4. Governments can use the guillotine motion- Can limit the amount of time a bill is spent debated. For example anti-terrorism and other controversial bills.

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List two ways in which the lords has a limited leg

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1. It can only delay most bills by one session of Parliament (one year)- After one year it is possible for government to force through legislation. For example The Fox Hunting Bill using Parliament Acts of 1911 and 1949.

2. The House of Lords cannot oppose finance legislation- In addition the Salisbury convention maintains that they cannot oppose bills in a governments manifesto. For example Devolution.

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Give three ways in which laws are increasingly mad

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1. Membership of the EU removes a wide range of policies- Parliament cannot debate and scrutinise. For example agriculture and fishing.

2. Important decisions are made by the IMF and the World Bank- International trade and globalisation limited Parliament.

3. Important tasks given to quangos (devolved bodies) and greater reliance on the press- For example in 1998 the speaker criticised Labour for revealing policy outside of Parliament.

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Give five ways in which Parliament is meant to scr

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Select committees

Parliamentary Questions

The Official Opposition

Parliamentary Debates

The House of Lords

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Give two strengths and two weaknesses of the selec

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1. They have publicised the failings of government ministers- For example government transport policy in 2001.

2. Have been given greater access to information- For example Alistair Campbell giving evidence to foreign affairs committee over the Iraq War.


1. Membership is largely determined by whips who consider the political loyalty of candidates- For example Dunwoody from the troublemakers of the transport select committee.

2. Civil servants have occasionally refused to divulge information and there is no executive power.

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Give four ways the Official Oppositon can be seen

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1. Keeps the executive in check- leader of the opposition payed a public salary.

2. Opposition days- twenty days per Parliamentary calendar have precedence over gov business.

3. Censure Motion- A vote of no confidence. For example Callagher government 1979.

4. Questions- Can give questions to the Prime Minister in Parliament.

1. Lack significant power to scrutinise the government.

2. Government ministers can sidestep Parliamentary questions.

3. All they can invariably do is publicise the mistakes made by government.

4. Opposition have limited power to defeat a government bill- government has inbuilt majority.

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Give four strengths and four weakness of how debat

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1. A third of the time spent on the floor is spent on debates

2. An integral part of the Commons representative function

3. In times of emergency Chamber can articulate the needs of the nation

4. Epresses opposition and Government views

1. Sometimes little more then political point scoring

2. Offer little detailed and sustained scrutiny

3. Adversarialism prevents any co-ordinated scrutiny

4. As the ruling party has an inbuily majority significant policy changes are rare and defeats rarer.

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Give three strengths and three weakness of the scr

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1. Any criticisms of government carry weight and precedence - experts in the field.

2. Can amend and delay government legislation.

3. Stands up for civil liberties and the minorities.

1. Government can normally bully the House of Lords into accepting its decisions

2. Can put through legislation without the Lords approval by invoking Parliament Acts of 1911 and 1949.

3. Can use majority to pass acts through Lords- For example fox hunting bill in 2004.

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Give two strengths and two weaknesses of Parliamen

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1. Can be an effective way of governing ministers and helping to publicise any of their mistakes.

2. Ensures the Prime Minister and his minister is accountable to MP's.


1. Many questions do not receive an answer- the PM can easily avoid answering questions by alluding to another issue.

2. Seen as little more then party political point scoring- the PM can rely on backbenchers to ask helpful questions.

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Give five arguments in favour of an APPOINTED Hous

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Dangers of Partisanship- Appointed members are less partisan, allowing Lords to think for themselves and are able to tackle unpopular long term decisions. For example the current Lords rejected the old Labour governments bills frequently whilst commons only defeated government once!

Specialist Knowledge- Its members can be chosen on the basis of experience and expertise, careerist politicians would be no benefit to the political system. For example the current House of Lords contains experts such as Lord Sainsbury and Lord Sugar.

Descriptive representation- It is difficult for elected peers to make sure they resemble the social makeup of society as the makeup of the Commons demonstrates. For example only 1% of MP's elected in 2005 represented an ethnic minority.

Gridlock Prevention- Two Co-equal chambers would be a recipe for government gridlock , if both Houses have a mandate who is right? For example the policies of republican President Bush were repeatedly blocked by a Democratic Dominated Congress.

Electoral Apathy- Voting Apathy would increase with a new set of elections and Parliament has one democratic house, no public desire for another. For example voting turnout is already low.

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Give five arguments in favour of an ELECTED House

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Controlling the government- An elected chamber would have increased credibility and public support and therefore would be in a better position to challenge the growing power of the government and the PM.

Greater Powers- An equally powerful second chamber would be able to veto laws leading to better legislation and the abilitiy to check the Commons and prevent an elective dictatorship- full bicameralism requires two equal chambers.

Wider Representation- This would widen the basis for representation through the use of different electoral systems and dates to ensure representation meets the current view of citizens, this would reduce the dominance of the South.

Democratic Legitimacy- The only basis for legitimate rule in a democracy is popular consent delivered through competitive elections. Electing the seconf chamber would provide it with an electoral mandate with the backing and consent of the public.

Accountability- An appointed second chamber is not accountable to public opinion, by electing the second chamber they would become more responsive to public opinion and take into account the possible impact of their actions on the public.

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List three ways Parliament is legitimate and three

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1. Representative- House of Commons is democratic, elected by the adult population of the UK and the majority party forms the government. Any official has to come from within Parliament.

2. Responsible- the Government is kept accountable for its actions through elections at regular intervals, whilst MP's and Lords scrutinise their work in the meantime.

3. Ministerial and Collective Responsiblity- these conventions ensure that government ministers are accountable and make the correct decisions or face losing their jobs. For example Gordon Brown resigning as Prime Minister in the aftermath of the 2010 General Election.

1. Existence of non-elected Lords and Head of State- The hereditary principle is still evident in the Lords and with the Queen.

2. Electoral system of FPTP means Commons is not democratic- First Past the Post is unfair and disproportionate with executive dominance.

3. MP's can be seen as straying away from convention- the rise of the career politician portrays Parliament as unlegitimate as MP's serve their own interests over their constituents. For example Clare Short criticising Blair whilst still in cabinet.

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Answer the Questions in the box below


1. What is the composition of the House of Commons and the House of Lords?

2. How do you become a member of the House of Commons / Lords?

3. Does the House of Commons/ Lords fufil the representative function?


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1. House of Commons: 646 MP's House of Lords: 561 life peers / 92 Hereditary Peers

2. House of Commons: Stand for a party in your constituency and get elected above other candidates.

2. House of Lords: Be chosen by the government, more specifically the PM for experience in your area.

3. House of Commons: MP's are not delegates, there is no mechanism to remove an MP, MP's won't represent all constituents political interests.

3. House of Lords: Lords isnt elected, arent truly legitimate without popular consent.

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Give four reasons why the Lords powers are relativ

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1. The Parliament Act of 1911 prevented the Lords from vetoing any legislation originating in the Commons.

2. The Parliament Act of 1949 meant that the Lords could delay bills from two sessions over over one year.

3. The Salisbury convention prevents the Lords from blocking bills provided in a government manifesto.

4. Lords does not have popular consent and experts would be harder to elect, this makes the process for introducing bills streamlined at the expense of the Lords.

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Lots detail! But why do you only answer questions that are negative? But still great

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