Britain has a system of parliamentary government, meaning that:
- Parliament is the highest source of political and legislative authority (parliamentary sovereignty).
- Government must be accountable to Parliament and Parliament should scrutinise the government's work.
- Parliament is the link between the people and the government- it represent the interests of the people.
It is arguable that parliamentary effectiveness is limited by:
- The executive's dominance of Parliament.
- Fults in Parliament's mechanisms in holding the government to account and for scrutinising it.
- The fact that Parliament is not socially representative of the people (only 142 female MPs, 8 Muslims etc)
"Parliament is still effective"
There are many arguments that can be made which demonstrate that Parliament is still an effective body and remains able to fulfil it's requirements (outlined in 'The Theory'). This is referred to as the Westminster Model.
- The House of Commons is the dominant chamber and is elected, and so is still representative of the people.
- Parliament still retains the power to 'veto' any proposed laws.
- Committees have the strength to scrutinise government policy.
- Parliament still has many reserve powers, such as 'votes of no confidence'.
- Parliamentary debates are highly effective.
"Parliament is no longer effective"
Despite this, there are still many arguments that can be made which demonstrate that Parliament is no longer an effective body, due to the limits outlined in 'The Reality'. This is referred to as the Whitehall model.
- The government almost always has a workable majority, which means that they can 'push through' legislation. (NB the coalition has already had many issues with this, though the raise in tutition fees seems to demonstrate that even they have this under control.)
- The committees have a ratio of how many members from each party sit on it, which is in line with Parliament. This means the executive also indirectly dominates committees.
- Planted questions in PMQs and ministerial question time.
- "Yah Boo" politics in PMQs etc.
- Reserve powers can only rarely be used (again due to the workable majority of the executive).
There is little doubt that the theory of parliamentary government faces many challenges.
The strength of the executive has undoubtedly increased in recent years at the expense of Parliament (specifically, the strength of the Prime Minister, e.g. Blair and Thatcher).
However that does not necessarily entail that Parliament is utterly ineffective. It retains the power to reject and/or embarass a government. This is referred to as the Transformative model.
It may be that the effectiveness of each Parliament varies, dependent upon:
- Party unity in the House of Commons
- The size of a government's majority in the House of Commons
- The impact of the House of Lords