Legislatures and executives
The nature of Parliament
Parliament is bicameral, meaning it has two chambers with distinctive memberships and functions. These are described as below.
House of Commons
The House of Commons has the following features;
· It is made up of 650 MPs elected in constituencies.
· MPs represent the interests of their constituents and constituencies.
· The majority (either a single party or coalition) 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 benches.
· 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 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 members 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’ presides over its proceedings.
***Typical Mistake*** Many students mix up ministers and MPs. This is probably because they know ministers are also MPs as they also sit for a constituency. However, it is very important to distinguish between the role of ministers who are part of the government, and MPs who represent constituencies, even though the same person may perform both functions.
***Typical Mistake*** It is very common for exam candidates, when asked about Parliament to consider only the HoC, you MUST also consider the HoL.
Bicameralism describes a situation where a parliament has two chambers. The UK is bicameral (HoC + HoL)
Parliament is also known as the legislature. A parliament is a body that has several roles, 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 it is not sovereign.
House of Lords
The House of Lords has the following features:
· The House of Lords is known as the ‘upper house’, but is actually the junior partner to the House of 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 the whole of their 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 and so are highly independent.
· No one party has a majority in the Lords.