Representation in Parliament

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  • Created on: 10-04-19 21:04

Representation and the Lords

255 CONSERVATIVE LORDS

206 LABOUR LORDS

182 CROSSBENCHERS (NO PARTY LOYALTY)

Despite being unelected, the Lords is praised for its inclusion of experts in the fields of:

  • Human rights
  • Science
  • Business and innovation
  • Health and education 
  • The Armed Forces

However, it is still seen as being socially elite and lacks any form of accountability. 

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The appointment of life peers

The Life Peerages Act (1958) was designed to revive an upper house seen as being out of touch with a rapidly changing society.

Although appointments are made by the monarch, the prime minister - on the advice of the House of Lords Appointments Commission - has a great deal of autonomy. 

The process has been the subject of controversy as several prime ministers have made peerages specifically to include members of their governments (Gordon Brown ennobled Peter Mandelson in 2009 and made him Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills).

Others have ennobled major party donors amidst accusations of cronyism (the practice of awarding roles and rewards to friends or supportive individuals regardless or their qualifications or abilities).

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How effective are backbench MPs?

When evaluating the effectiveness of MPs, consider the following areas: 

  • Much backbench impact occurs at committee level - while many committee amendments are defeated in the chamber, a large number are included to refine legislation. 
  • The threat of backbench rebellion is often enough to dissuade governments from introducing unpopular legislation. Backbenchers can mobilise this threat to extract key concessions. 
  • Select committee inquiries allow backbench MPs the chance to examine key witnesses, including senior officials and public figures. 
  • PMQ's allow backbench MPs to publicly cross-examine the prime minister on a regular basis, something rarely seen in other democracies. 
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How have recent reforms enhanced the power of MPs?

1. Changes to select committees:

- Elections of the committee chair now take place by secret ballot, negating government pressure on MPs to select a favoured candidate.

- Chairs are paid an additional salary, which has served to make them more independently minded.

- Select committees have increasingly sought to widen their remits, producing hard-hitting reports on major cross-departmental issues such as poverty, social care and inequality. 

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How have recent reforms enhanced the power of MPs?

2. The Backbench Business Committee (BBC)

- Created in 2010, the BBC controls the parliamentary agenda on 35 days a year (one day a week). 

- The chair must be a member of the Opposirion and members are voted in using proportional electoral systems.

- Many recent and significant political events have been prioritised by the BBC, such as the 2012 reopening of the investigation into the Hillsborough disaster. 

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How have recent reforms enhanced the power of MPs?

The less partisan character of the House of Lords ensures that it is seen as a place of genuine debate and effective, informed criticism of government activity. 

The strength of having experts involved in the legislative process is widely acknowledged and this only serves to enhance the legitimacy of the laws generated. 

In times of weak Commons opposition, the Lords can be a potent check on government power.

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