The Westminster Model and the Role of Parliament

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The Westminster Model

The British system of govt is also known as the Westminster model, which has certain features:

  • There is no strict separation of powers between the executive (govt) and the legislature (Parliament). 
  • Govt is drawn from Parliament, but it accountable to Parliament. 
  • Parliament is the main way to represent citizens, groups and localities. 

This model is often described as 'Parliamentary government':

  • This is in contrast to 'presidential govt' where the executive (president) is separately elected to the legislature.
  • The elected president is accountable to the people rather than legislature. 
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Parliament's role

Parliament has a number of roles which include:

  • It formally passes legislation, such as statute laws, which represents the consent of the people indirectly, which is done using MPs and Peers. 
  • It scrutinises legislation to check if it is in line with the govt's electoral mandate and that it will be effective. 
    • It also allows Parliament to propose amendments to improve legislation or to protect sectional interests.
  • Parliament makes govt accountable, where they must explain and justify its policies to Parliament, and must make itself open to scrutiny, criticisms and face dismissal. Ministers must also appear regularly before MPs and committees to answer questions adn explain their actions. 
  • It also checks on the govt that they do not exceed its mandate or govern inefficiently or ineffectively. 
  • Parliament can veto legislation or dismiss a govt with a vote of no confidence, in extreme circumstances. 
  • MPs must represent individuals, constituents and sections of society.
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Parliament's work

Most of Parliament's work is done by committees. This includes:

  • Departmental select committee, which is in the HOC, checks the work and policies of all govt departments. 
    • They do this by examining expenditure, efficiency and the desireability of its policies. 
    • E.g. the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, chaired by John Whittingdale, examined the behabiour of the press and was responsible for the formation of Leveson Inquiry.
  • The Public Accounts Committee, which is in the HOC, looks at the govt expenditure and taxation.
    • They do this by examining the efficiency and effectiveness of govt spending and tax collection.
    • Since 2010, Margaret Hodge MP played a leading role in issues such as tax evasion and avoidance, the expidenture of the BBC, corporate taxation and govt waste.
  • Legislative Committees, which are in the HOC and the HOL, examine proposed legislation. 
    • They do this by suggesting amendments which might improve the legislation.
    • The Lords' Committees contains many experts and independent minded peers. For example, the Lords made amendments to proposals to reform both the NHS and the benefits system, during 2011-13.
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