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46 Cards in this Set

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Define Bicameralism

This describes a situation where a parliament has two chambers. The UK is bicameral.

Define Parliament

This is also known as the legislature. A parliament is a body with 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 is not sovereign.

What are some features of the House of Commons?

- 650 MPs elected in constituencies


- MPs represent the interests of their constituents and constituencies


- The majority (party/coalition) in the Commons forms the government


- Members of the government make up the government front bench


- Senior members of other parties = opposition front benches


- Other MPs = backbenchers


- There are departmental (+ other) select committees to questions ministers, civil servants and others in order to investigate and evaluate the work of government departments


- Legislative committees try to improve proposed legislation through amendments


- Each party has whips to maintain discipline, inform members about business etc.


- Govt. front bench controls most of the parliamentary agenda


- Neutral 'Speaker' presides over proceedings

What are some features of the House of Lords?

- The HOL = the 'upper house' (but is actually the HOC's junior partner)


- Membership = 92 hereditary peers, 26 bishops and archbiships of the COE, several hundred life peers


- Legislative committees, but no departmental select committees


- Has crossbenchers as well as party members


- No one party has a majority


- Neutral Lord Speaker presides over proceedings

Define 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. Can also refer to the fact that elected representatives are answerable to their electorates

Define the Westminster Model

A more rarely used description of the British central political system. Describes the fact that Parliament is the central representative body, that all power flows from Parliament and that the government is accountable to Parliament. Also means that members of the government have to be drawn from Parliament.

What are joint functions of the houses?

- Grant formal approval for legislation


- Calling government to account


- Scrutinise legislation, propose amendments


- Debate key political issues

What are some functions of the Commons?

- represent constituents/constituencies


- MPs might seek the redress of grievances of citizens and groups


- veto legislation in extreme circumstances


- remove a government from power if it has lost legitimacy

What are some functions of the House of Lords?

- delaying legistlation for at least a year to force government to reconsider


- representing various causes/interests in society


- proposing amendments to legislation to improve it and protect minority interests

Define representative and responsible government

this is a description of the British polity which simply suggests that the people are represented by both Parliament and government, and that government is constantly held responsible for its actions by Parliament

what is parliamentary government?

- No separation of powers between parliament and government


- government draws authority from parliament, not the people


- Government is not separately elected from parliament


- government is accountable to parliament


- members of the government must sit in the legislature

What is presidential government?

- executive and legislative branches of govt are separate


- the president is elected separately from the legislature


- the president does not sit in the legislature


- the president is accountable to the people NOT the legislature


- constitutional rules establish the limits of the president's powers

Define separation of powers

This is the principle that the powers of the executive and legislature should be firmly separated. Therefore, they can control eachother's power through a system of checks and balances. (doesn't exist in the UK)


Define fusion of powers

This means the overlap between the executive and the legislature. In practice the executive (government) dominates the legislature (Parliament). Therefore, members of government = members of parliament

Reasons why government dominates parliament (7)

- government can claim a mandate from the people for its policies. Parliament therefore can't legitimately ignore the mandate + tends to accept govt's right to govern.


- governments usually enjoy a clear majority of support


- MPs were elected on the understanding that they would help to implement the manifesto, so MPs of the governing party normally support the govt.


- party loyalty is strong in the UL


- Patronage, MPs want promotion so they support the PM and therefore the govt


- governments use whips to maintain party discipline


- the HOL is limited by statute and convention. can only delay for 1 year, cant interfere w/ financial policy, salisbury convention

ways in which parliament can control government (7)

- ultimately, parliament is sovereign so it can veto legislation if it is not in public interest/outside of govt mandate


- extreme circumstances = hoc can remove govt w a vote of no confidence


- parliament can amend legislation or remove offending clauses


- govts can't hope to override significant parliamentary opposition to a proposal


- HOL is quite independent because there is no govt majority and weaker patronage. can therefore defy the will of government


- MPs and peers can publicly call government to account


- powerful departmental select committees can be very critical of government

what are some examples of when parliament has defied government

- 1979 vote of no confidence removes James Callaghan's Labour govt


- 1994 VAT rise defeated (John Major's govt)


- 2005 detention of terror suspects, (Tony Blair's govt, wanted to allow 90 days questioning w/o trial defeated)

Describe a departmental select committee

- normally consist of 11 - 13 backbench MPs


- oversee the work of government departments


- can question ministers, civil servants, advisers, other witnesses


- produce reports that are often unanimous and cross party lines


- often critical of government work

describe a public accounts committee

- always chaired by an opposition backbencher


- investigates the financial aspects of government


- highly influential and often critical

Descrive HOC legislative committees

- 15 to 40 backbench MPs


- consider possible amendments to legislation


- have govt majority


- rarely pass amendments against government wishes


- largely ineffective unless an issue isn't controversial between parties

Describe HOL legislative committees

- 15+ members


- often contain expert peers


- weaker party discipline


- pass significant amendments to improve legislation/protect minorities


- often defy the government's wishes


- the amendments are subject to approval in the Commons (their power is therefore weakened).


- do sometimes force the govt to change its mind

Evaluate the effectiveness of the HOC at representation?

- Positive: Most MPs are very active in representing the interests of their constituency, and of individual constituents. Many MPs also represent the interests of large associations and pressure groups.


- Negative: The Commons is not socially representative. Only 1/3 are women, when women are the majority in society. Too few from minority ethnic groups or smaller religions. Members are mostly middle class professionals. Party loyalty = they tend to toe the party line vs represent national or group interests. Electoral system also = failure.

Evaluate the effectiveness of the HOC at calling govt to account.

- Positive: MPs regularly question ministers at question time sessions. Liasion committee questions the PM 2x a year. Ministers have to present policy to the Commons first before any other announcement to the public etc. Departmental select committees very active, examining govt business.


- Negative: Prime Minister's Question Time = a media sideshow, little relevance to actual policy. Many MPs are reluctant to criticise ministers of their own party for fear of being seen as disloyal.

Evaluate HOC effectiveness at scrutiny?

- Positive: The departmental select committees are very effective at scrutinising the policies of government departments and publicising shortcomings or failures.


- Negative: MPs are given relatively little time to scrutinise proposed legislation, so laws are often poorly drafted. Because the legislative committees are whipped into party loyalty, MPs aren't independent minded in scrutinising.

Evaluate HOC effectiveness at legislating?

- Positive: A key role of the Commons is to make legislation legitimate. This effectively means granting consent on behalf of the people. This operates well, on the whole. Laws are generally respected. The Commons can also block any legislation against the public interest etc.


- Negative: The procedures of Parliament in passing legislation are ancient and therefore inefficient and ritualised.

Evaluate HOC effectiveness at deliberation?

- Positive: some great and important debates on large issues are held at the Commons. For example, on the war in Iraq, how to deal with terrorism, funding of higher education.


- Negative: The Commons has relatively little time to debate on legislation itself, since its programme is so crowded. Debates on legislative proposals tend to divide along party lines so therefore losing some authority.

Evaluate HOC effectiveness at checking government power.

- Positive: The commons retains the power to veto legislation and this = discipline upon governments.


- Negative: Party loyalty and disciple means that many MPs are reluctant to challenge the government. The govt rarely loses major votes in the Commons.

Evaluate HOL effectiveness at representation

- Positive: in many ways the Lords is more representative than the Commons. Many sections of society and associations and represented by peers with special links and expert knowledge.


- Negative: The Lords is unelected and so could be said to represent no one because it is not accountable. Not socially representative (has high average age, shortage of women, ethnic minority members, few working class members).

Evaluate HOL effectiveness at calling government to account

- Positive: peers are more independent minded than MPs so they can be more active in their questioning and criticism of ministers.


- Negative: No departmental select committees in Lords.

Evaluate HOL effectiveness at scrutiny

- Positive: legislative committees in the Lords are more effective than those in the Commons. These committees divide much less along party lines and are more independent. Peers will often have special knowledge and expertise in the matters addressed by the legislation.


- Negative: Can't force amendments through the Commons.

Evaluate HOL effectiveness at legislating

- Positive: laws must be passed through the Lords to legitimate them. People can be confident that laws have been fully scrutinised.


- Negative: The Lords is unelected, so how can they provide legitimation to legislation?

Evaluate HOL effectiveness at deliberation

- Positive: The Lords has more time to debate. Also, the Lords contains as vast well of knowledge and expertise.


- Negative: The Lords has such weak legislating powers that the debates are largely symbolic.

Evaluate HOL effectiveness at checking government power.


- Positive: the govt can't really control the Lords, so the Lords act in a very independent way.


- Negative: the govt has several ways of bypassing obstruction by the Lords. The elected govt and HOC will win out over the unelected Lords.

Positives of MPs

- strongly represent the interests and grievances of constituents and constituencies.


- departmental select committees have a good rep for calling govt to account


- MPs can be effective in questioning ministers on the floor of the House.


- Some MPs can work effectively on behalf of pressure groups and political campaigns

Negatives of MPs

- conflict between party policy and constituency interest = party policy wins


- MPs on legislative committees are ineffective because govt dominates and they are strongly whipped.


- Whips enforce strict discipline on all key debates and votes


- MPs have little research resources and administrative back up


- Little time reserved for backbench business

Positives of Peers

- more independent of party control, can be mor effective as individuals


- many are experts in certain areas of policy and can improve legislation and quality of debate


- many campaigning peers do effective work on behalf of pressure groups


- they dont need to fight elections and can hold office for long periods, giving them continuity. No constituency duties, this frees up their time.

Negatives of Peers

- Paid little, lack of research and administrative back up.


- Powers of the HOL are limited. It is the junior house.


- Not elected so they lack democratic legitimacy and have less authority.


- not professional politicians, might find it hard to navigate the system.


What has the impact of EU membership been on Parliament?

- EU Law > UK Law


- UK laws can't contradict EU law. Parliament needs to take this into account.


- Some areas of policy = out of Parliament's hands (trade, fishing...)


- Parliament has committees to study proposed legislation from the EU, but they have limited influence.


- Consideration of European legislation happens more in the Lords, because the Lords has more time and expertise.


- Parliamentary sovereignty means the UK could actually leave the EU at any time.

What reforms were made to the HOC in 2010?

- june 2010 = the Backbench business committee was set up with a chair elected by MP. The committee controls debates for 27 days per year and can select any topic. - From 2010 onwards, the chairs of the departmental select committees are elected by backbench MPs. Takes the power away from party whips and leaders.

Proposed reforms in 2010

- House of Commons business committee to be set up to control the business of the house virtually entirely.


- Redraw constituency boundaries to make them equal size so MPs have equal responsibilities.


- Constituents could recall failing MPs, therefore forcing a by-election.


- Reduce the size of the house by 10% to save money and streamline processes

Why were these reforms proposed?

- Widespread disillusionment with politicians and MPs in particular. These reforms were designed to restore respect.


- Make the HOC more accountable


- Improve the ability of backbenchers to call govt to account- make voting power in constituencies more equal

What are some options for the reform of the HOL?

- Completely abolishing the second chamber


- having a completely appointed second chamber


- completely elected second chamber


-partly elected, partly appointed second chamber

Evaluate completely abolishing the HOL

- Advantages: saves money, streamlines the legislative process, remove obstructions to efficient government, force the HOC to be more responsible.


- Disadvantages: Loss of an important check on government power, deny many worthy individuals the chance to engage in politics, expertise of the second chamber = lost

Evaluate having a completely appointed second chamber

- Advantages: more knowledgable people brought into politics, can manipulate membership to ensure social and political balance, more independent than an elected chamber.


- Disadvantages: Too much patronage in the hands of party leaders, still seen as undemocratic and lacking legitimacy.

Evaluate having a fully elected HOL

- Advantages: very democratic, fully accountable members, more authority/better check on govt power, if elected by PR would reflect the strength of each party accurately.


- Disadvantages: too influential and could block government excessively, unnecessary to have two elected chambers, apathy of the people at too many elections.

Evaluate having a mixed elected/appointed HOL

- Advantages: same as the two main


- Disadvantages: same as the two main


lol