The Structure and Role of Parliament

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  • Created on: 10-04-19 17:30

The Structure and Role of Parliament: SCRUTINY

Both houses are responsible for holding the government to account.

Parliamentary committees in both houses scrutinise the government's performance and the Commons has the ultimate power to remove a government through a vote of no confidence. 

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The Structure and Role of Parliament: REPRESENTATI

A primary function of Parliament is to act as the nation's representative assembly.

Commons:

  • Represents the specific interests of constituencies and grievances of the constituents. 

House of Lords:

  • Represent a wide range of causes and other interests. 
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The Structure and Role of Parliament: LEGISLATION

Both houses are involved in. the passing of legislation. 

The vast majority of bills are government-backed and originate in the Commons.

The expertise of the Lords allows them to improve, amend and delay legislation for up to one year. 

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Select Committees

Select committees play a vital role in examining the performance of the government. 

Departmental select committees scrutinise each department of state, while the Public Accounts Committee has a more general brief. 

The Public Accounts Committee

  • Scrutinises all aspects of government expenditure, seeking to highlight the wastefulness and inefficiency.
  • The committee drew attention to NHS spending and has highlighted many activities of non-parliamentary bodies, especially large businesses considered to be paying too little corporation tax. 
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Select Committees

The Commons Liaison Committee

  • Made up of the chairs of all departmental select committees.
  • Requires the prime minister, by convention, to appear before it twice a year.
  • In December 2016, Theresa May was quizzed by the committee over Parliament's role in negotiations to leave the EU. 
  • Established in the 1970s and boosted by Margaret Thatcher in 1979, select committees are now a prominent part of Parliament's activites. 
  • UCL reviewed the policy recommendations made by the seven most prominent select committees between 1997 and 2010, concluding that the government had acted on 44% of policy recommendations. 
  • The inability of select committees to compel the government to comply with their recommendations is seen as a significant weakness.
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Public Bill Committees

All legislation passes through a committee stage when a group of MPs (15-25 members), made up in proportion to the party make-up of the Commons, evaluates a bill clause by clause.

These are not permanent committees but are set up wghile the bill is passing through Parliament - considering the legislation following its second reading - and disbanded when its work is complete. 

These committees often invite written evidence from interested parties in efforts to enhance legislation and clarify any imprecise aspects. 

Critics of the effectiveness of public bill committees point to the power of the government party who 'whip' committee members to follow party guidlines. 

(Public bill committees in the Commons consider legislation only after its second reading, by which stage the main provisions and principles of any bill are already firmly established). 

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Committees in the House of Lords

Despite its unelected status, the expertise and experience within the House of Lords can present a formidable check on executive power. 

In the 2014/15 parliamentary session, the Lords defeated the Commons 11 times, usually on issues involving the protection of vulnerable groups such as children and overseas workers.

Examples of executive scrutiny by commitees in the Lords include:

  • Legislation: in the 2015/16 session, the Lords examined 43 bills; at the committee stage where line by line scrutiny takes place. 
  • Scrutiny: HOL select committees are made up of around 12 members meeting to consider public policy and government action; their findings are published and debated in the second chamber. 
  • Inquiry: some committees take the form of an inquiry into a specific area - recent investigations include the UK housing market and the sustainability of Channel 4. 
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Committees in the UK and USA

It is often argued that committees within the UK Parliament are significantly weaker than their American counterparts.

USA:

Committees in the USA are regarded as the real 'powerhouses' in Congress, with huge financial and personnel resources to research issues in substantial depth.

They also have greatly enhanced legal powers to compel witnesses to testify before them. 

UK:

Despite this unfavourable comparison, committees in the Commons have grown in stature and relevance in recent decades and play a valuable role in scrutinising the government and examining legislation. 

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