General Information

  • Parliament is the legislative branch of the UK government, made up of the House of Lords, House of Commons and the Monarch. the other branches are the executive and the judiciary
  • HOC- primary chamber of Parliament, directly elected by voters
  • HOL- secondary chamber of Parliament, not directly elected by voters
  • all three must approve any new legislation
  • backbenchers- MP's who do not have a ministerial position, main role is to represent their constituences
  • opposition- party with the second-largest numer of seats in the commons, role is to criticise the government and oppose many of its legislative proposals. also seeks to present itself as an alternative government
  • Bi-cameral parliamentary system
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Members of the HOC and HOL


  • chosen through election to represent single-member consitutuencies, using FPTP system
  • No. of candidates seeking election rising, 4000 in 2015
  • Under fixed term Parliament act 2011, general election held every 5 years, 
  • 3/4 of MP's in the commons are backbenchers
  • rest are frontbenchers, sub-divided into members of the government and 'shadow-ministers'
  • early general election can be held in two situations- if a government loses a vote of no-confidence and PM cannt form another administration within 13 days, and if 2/3 of MP's cannot support a motion calling for an early election


  • no upper limit on size of membership, 2016- 809 peers
  • three main categories- hereditory peers, life peers, and 26 Lord Spiritual peers
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Main Functions- passing legislation

  • commons and Lords, most important function of parliament
  • supreme legislative body in UK, authority to pass or amend laws on any subject
  • HOC has power to give consent to taxation, as elected branch so represents the people. HOL cannot interfere with money bills. HOL can amend non-financial amendements
  • most legislation initiated by the governement. Parliament mainly reacts to what is put infront of it by the Executive. both houses have to approve the bill/amendment, unless money bill or been approved by HOC two years running
  • Party whips- due to opposition constantly confronting and challenging the government, party whips are responsible for ensuring MP's attend parliamentary votes. Whips can impose sanctions for those who do not comply and if it happens a lot, the whip may be withdrawn, making them independents
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Parliamentary Scrutiny

  • parliament has a responsibility to exercise oversight of the executives actions
  • opposition seeks to hold the government to account and expose its errors
  • ministers have a duty to explain and defend their policiesin parliament

Number of ways in which the function of scrutiny are performed:

  • Questions to the PM- PMQ, weekly question and answer session in the chamber of the commons, criticised for being largely theatrical and a point scoring exercise dominated by the PM and leader of opposition
  • Select Committees- shadow individual government departments in the commons
  • Debates- can be impressive set piece events. debates in the Lords are often accredited for their high quality, with participants often including retired individuals with expertise in certain fields
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Providing Ministers

  • commons and Lords
  • acts as a recruiting ground for future ministers, with whips making recomendations to the Prime minister on who may be suitable for promotion 
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Representing the electorate

  • commons only
  • representative function as is elected house
  • Lords do not reflect composition of society, 3/4 male, 1/2 over 70, 5% ethnic minorities
  • FPTP system means strong link between MP and constituency
  • MP's are expected to respond to issues raised by individual constituents and stand up for local interests in Westminster. e.g. a number of the 44 MP's who voted against high speed rail construction represented constituencies that would be affected
  • if MP does not fulfil expectations, constituents have the right to choose a different representative at the next general election
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How effective is it at it's representative functio

  • concern is that MP's loyalty to their party plus their desire for promotion to the government, may come in conflict with the need of their constituencies
  • although there has been considerable improvement since 1980, commons is still not representative of society as a whole. 29% are women, 6% ethnic minorities
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Parliament Sovereignity

  • parliament is the supreme law-making body in the UK
  • only body that ca make, alter or remove laws
  • a parliament cannot bind future parliaments
  • responsible for making its own laws
  • is why UK is known as a Unitary state, no other body has power over parliament- unlike supreme court in USA
  • local government does not have guaranteed existence or rule
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So how does it work

arguement that there are multiple barriers to parliament sovereignity 

  • changing balance within parliament- Monarch has lost power, Queens speech written by gov. coomons have been elected more democratically so Lords have lost power voluntariy and through legislation- Commons supremacy?
  • party discipline- as commons has become more powerful, need for majority to form an effective government, led to increase in discipline, majority government rarely defeated on key issue. FPTP means theres usually a majority government
  • devolution- creation of Scottish Parliament and Welsh/Northern Ireland assemblies reduces power of parliament over policy in those areas of the UK 
  • Human Rights Act 1998- gave European convention some authority in UK law, 
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Legislative Function

  • bills put forward by ministers, MP's and Lords
  • must be given three readings in each house and recieve Royal assent to become a statute. normally this must be within a parliamentary session (1 year)
  • private members bills are often developed by pressure groups who apprach MP's to put their bills forward
  • principles of bills dicussed in second reading, if this is passed committee stage cannot change the fundamentals of the bill, only detail
  • both houses must agree a common format of the bill
  • any amendments put by the Lords must be agreed by the Commons or dropped by the Lords or the bill will not pass that session

Can government dominate the legislative function?

party discipline is a very important part of this, it allows these other points to operate. Governments with a working majority very rarely lose these second readings

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