Politics, Unit 2, FS 2, Functions of Parliament

Revision cards on the functions of Parliament, namely legislation and representation, the theories of how these aspects of Parliament work and how, in reality, they are challenged.

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  • Created by: Eleanor
  • Created on: 23-04-11 11:05


Governing the UK: The functions of Parliament.

1) Legislation

To make, unmake and amend laws (statutes).

The Theory

  • Parliament makes laws, hence it is the legislature.
  • It can make/unmake any laws it wishes- there is no higher body to challenge these laws and it is no bound by any previous parliament (this is due to Parliamentary Sovereignty).
  • It is not restricted by a codified constitution.
  • No other body can challenge Parliament's law-making power. Devolved bodies, local authorities and ministers (ministers make delegated legislation- they are 'statutory instruments') can only make law with Parliament's permission (with the exception of the EU).
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Legislation Cont.

  • Parliament gives ministers permission to make laws in their area under strict conditions. This is because Parliament hasn't the time to write all legislation necessary, and therefore passes an Enabling Act for ministers.
  • Parliament passes laws on behalf of the people, which is why the Commons, as it is democratically elected, plays the leading role.
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Legislation- In Reality

There are many challenges to the theory of Parliament as a legislative body.

  • The bulk of it's time is spent considering government legislation, not on private member's bills. This therefore challenges the idea that Parliament makes laws.
  • Party control using the whips means that government bills are rarely defeated, provided there is a workable majority. For example, Balir's government was rarely defeated in it's first two terms, in which it had large overall majorities.
  • The subordinate role of the Lords means that it is essentially a revising chamber, cleaning up bills not fully scrutinised by the Commons. Not many bills originate from the Lords as it is apointed, not elected.
  • The government controls Parliament's timetable, which means it can "kill off" bills it opposes from babckbenchers by not allowing them time to be fully debated.
  • Other bodies, such as devolved assemblies (the Welsh assembley recently gained the power to make primary legislation, as in the Scottish Parliament), local authorities and the EU, make many of our laws.
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Models of Representation

  • The Burkean model

MPs listen to voters within their constituency but ultimately use their own judgement when voting in the Commons.

  • The Mandate model

MPs should vote as their party leadership/ government wishes, as they have a national mandate.

  • The Delegate model

MPs are elected to represent their constituency and therefore should vote as their constituency wishes.

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Governing the UK: the functions of Parliament.

2) Representation

Parliament should represent and reflect the society that ahs elected it.

The Theory

  • Parliament is the link between the government and the governed.
  • The Commons, which is democratically elected, should represent the people of the UK.
  • This is done through the relationship between MPs and their constituencies- they hold weekly 'surgeries' within their constituency.
  • Constituents can also email, 'tweet', phone or even facebook their MP over various issues.
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Representation- In Reality

There are many challenges to the theory of representative Parliament.

  • The Lords is currently unelected, which is undemocratic. However, the coalition has laid down plans for a partially elected Lords.
  • The faults of our electoral system have resulted in an unrepresentative Parliament. First-past-the-post is not representative of national opinion. For example, in the 2010 General Election, the Liberal Democrats gained 23% of the vote and 9% of the seats in the Hosue of Commons.
  • The UK Parliament is not socially representative. "Parliament should reflect the society it seeks to represent". Currently there are only 143 female MPs, 8 Islamic MPs, 27 MPs from ethnic minorites, and yet a third are Oxbridge graduates.
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