Parliament Notes

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Parliament

The Nature of Parliament

  • The UK Parliament stands at the centre of the British political system.

    • This is because it is the source of all political power and is legally sovereign.

  • The government has to be drawn from Parliament and the government is accountable to Parliament.

  • The reform of parliament has been a major political issue since 2010 with proposals for the reform of both Houses.

  • House of Commons:

    • Made up of 650 MPs elected in constituencies.

    • MPs represent the interests of their constituents and constituencies.

    • The majority in the Commons forms the government.

    • Members of the government make up the government front bench.

    • The senior members of other parties make up the opposition front bench.

    • MPs not on the front benches are known as backbenchers.

    • There are departmental and other select committees that question ministers, civil servants, officials and other representatives with a view to investigating and evaluating the work of government departments.

    • There are legislative committees that look at proposed legislation with a view to improving it through amendments.

    • Each party in Parliament has whips who inform about business, maintain party discipline and act as channels of communication between party leaderships and backbench MPs.

    • The government front bench controls most of the parliamentary agenda.

    • A neutral ‘speaker’ presiders over its proceedings.

  • Bicameralism – describes a situation where a parliament has two chambers. The UK is bicameral.

  • Parliament – a body that has several role, including legitimising legislation, passing laws, scrutinising and amending legislation, calling government to account, representing voters and other groups and controlling governmental power.

    • The UK parliament has sovereignty - ultimate power. The Scottish Parliament performs a similar role in Scotland but is not sovereign.

  • House of Lords:

    • Known as the ‘upper house’, but it actually the junior partner of the Commons.

    • Its membership consists of 92 hereditary peers who have inherited their title, 26 archbishops and bishops of the Church of England and several hundred life peers who have the right to sit in the Lords for their whole lives.

    • The Lords has legislative committees but not departmental select committees.

    • As well as party members the Lords contains ‘crossbenchers’ who are not affiliated to any party so are highly independent.

    • No one party has a majority in the Lords.

    • A neutral ‘Lord Speaker’ presides over its proceedings.

The Function of Parliament

  • Accountability – the device whereby the government is accountable to Parliament, meaning it must make itself available for criticism and must justify its policies to Parliament. Ultimately, the government may be removed by Parliament. Accountability can also refer to the fact that elected representatives are answerable to their electorates.

  • Westminster Model – a description of the British central political system, which is used more rarely today. It describes the fact that Parliament is the central representative body, that all power flows from Parliament and that the government is accountable to Parliament. It also means that members of the government have to be drawn from Parliament.

  • Joint functions of both Houses:

    • Granting formal approval

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