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22 Cards in this Set

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The name given to representative bodies in many states, including the UK. Parliaments have a number of roles including legislating, calling government to account, and representing the community

Parliamentary Government

Parliament is the highest source of political authority;

- Political power may only be exercised if it has been authorised by parliament

The government must be drawn from parliament;

- All members of the government must be also be members of one of the two houses

The powers of the legislature and the government are fused;

- There is no strict separation of powers between that of the legislature and the executive

Government must be accountable to parliament

Presidential Government

The legislature and the executive, in the form of a president, have separate sources of authority;

- They are elected separately

The president is not part of the legislature;

There is a clear separation of power between the executive and the legislature;

There must be a codified constitutional arrangement that separates those powers

Parliamentary Sovereignty

Parliament is the source of all political authority;

- No individual or body may exercise power unless it has been granted by parliament

Parliament may restore itself any powers that have been delegated to others;

Parliament may make any law it wishes and they shall be enforced by the courts and other authorities;

- There are no restrictions on what laws parliament may make

Parliament is not bound by its predecessors;

- Laws past by previous parliaments are not binding on the current parliament, they may be amended or repealed at will

Parliament cannot bind its successors;

- This means that the current parliament cannot pass any laws that will prevent future parliaments from amending or repealing them

The Erosion of Parliamentary Sovereignty

1. A great deal of legislative power has moved to the European Union

- EU Law is higher than UK Law so when there is conflict EU Law will prevail

- Parliament may not pass any laws that conflict with EU Law

2. As executive power has grown considerably in recent decades there has been a transfer of political, but not legal, sovereignty

3. It is increasingly the practice to hold referendums when important constitutional changes are being proposed, such as devolution or the election of city mayors

- The rulings of referendums technically aren't binding on parliament but is is unthinkable that it would go against one

4. Despite the ECHR not being binding on parliament it is treated as if it is supreme

- Only in extraordinary circumstances would parliament assert sovereignty over the ECHR

5. Devolution has meant that political sovereignty has been transferred to separate bodies, but not legal sovereignty

The Structure of Parliament


- There are two houses, The Commons and The Lords, which complement each other

Plenary sessions are uncommon;

- It is very uncommon for either house to meet in full for debates

- It is most full on Prime Minister's Question Time in the Commons every Wednesday, or when a great issue of the day is to be debated. Debates on banning hunting with dogs, the 2003 War in Iraq, the 2001 Anti-Terrorism Act, Student Tuition Fees 2010, and on British membership of the EU in 2011 have all attracted full houses.

Legislative committees of either house;

- Governing party is always granted a majority on committees as membership is granted with a rough proportion to the makeup of the house as a whole

- Any changes proposed in the House of Lords committees must be approved by the House of Commons

- Pressure groups tend to be very active at this committee stage

Committees of the whole house;

- When a bill is of constitutional significance a committee of the whole house will be called

- Party whips apply here as well

Departmental select committees;

- Concerned with a specific area of government responsibility (they mostly shadow departments)

- Made up of 11 to 14 member and are elected by the whole House of Commons

- Chairperson of the committee is a significant parliamentary personality

- All committees are expected to act in a politically neutral fashion as such chairs will normally attempt to receive unanimous support for their conclusions

- Their role is to investigate the work of government departments to determine whether they have acted efficiently and effectively, to consider whether major departmental policies have taken into account relevant opinion, to consider whether proposed legislation is likely to be effective, to consider matters of major public concern that fall within the remit of the department and committee, to investigate serious errors or omissions made by the department with the view to make recommendations to correct the problem, and to propose future legislation where the need is overwhelming

- To do this they can call for ministers, civil servants, external witnesses, and official papers in their investigations

Other select committees of either house;

- The Public Accounts Committee checks that public spending has been used for the purpose intended by government. It is so independent that the chairperson is always a member of the opposition

- The Standards and Privileges Committee deals with disciplinary matters between MPs and comments on the way ministers and other public officials have conducted their relationship with parliament

- The Statutory Instruments Committee exists to check governments use of legislation that is without recourse to parliamentary debate

- The European Scrutiny Committee examines proposed legislation coming from the European Commission

- The Liaison Committee comprises of chairs of all the select committees and questions the Prime Minister twice a year on their policies and conduct

The Speakers

- Both houses have a speaker who's role is to oversee debates, select speakers from the floor, and arrange the business of their House with the party leaders

Functions of Parliament's Limitations: Private Member's Legislation

The House of Lords is not elected;

The Commons is seen to be dominated by the executive and therefore not independent;

The electoral system means that the Commons is not politically representative of the electorate;

Little time is devoted to private members' legislation;

Government is easily able to 'kill' any bills it opposes;

It is difficult for MPs and peers to gather enough support to force bills through

Functions of Parliament's Limitations: Deliberation

Both Houses lack enough time to consider bills thoroughly;

Standing committees are whipped so fall under government control

Functions of Parliament's Limitations: Calling Government to Account

Collective government responsibility makes it difficult to examine government decisions;

The opposition lacks the administrative backup of the government;

Skilful ministers and civil servants can evade questioning by MPs and peers;

MPs and peers may lack expertise and knowledge;

The power of patronage prevents governing MPs and peers being hostile or too inquisitive;

There remains a good deal of government secrecy, especially in the fields of defence security and foreign policy

Functions of Parliaments's Limitations: Financial Control

Parliament is traditionally not expected to challenge government seriously in this area;

House of Lords has no jurisdiction at all

Functions of Parliaments's Limitations: Representation

The electoral system makes the Commons highly unrepresentative;

The House of Lords is not elected;

Both houses are socially unrepresentative, especially in terms of women or social and ethnic backgrounds

Functions of Parliament's Limitations: Redress of Grievances

MPs lack time to deal with many constituents grievances

Functions of Parliament's Limitations: Reserve Powers

MPs of the governing party are especially reluctant to use reserve powers for fear of precipitating a general election in which they might lose their seats and/or their party might lose power

Functions of Parliament's Limitations: Scrutiny of Proposed Legislation

Legislative committees are whipped and rarely defy government

Functions of Parliament's Limitations: Delaying (House of Lords)

The Parliament Act limits this to one year

Functions of Parliament's Limitations: Amending (House of Lords)

Proposed Lords' amendments must be approved by the House of Commons, where government dominates

Strengths of the House of Commons

The Commons has the ultimate power to remove a government from office;

Under exceptional circumstances MPs can veto legislation, or threaten to do so and thus force compromises;

Also under exceptional circumstances, MPs can force legislative amendments from the government;

MPs can call ministers to account. This is particularly effective when conducted by select committees;

Every constituency can be effectively represented by its own MP who can raise grievances in the Commons;

Various interest and cause groups are represented by MPs;

With a coalition government, small groups of MPs can have influence as they can thwart the will of the government

Weaknesses of the House of Commons

Governments normally have a comfortable majority and so can dominate MPs through patronage and discipline in general;

The legislative standing committees are largely controlled by the party whips, so the amending function of the Commons is weak;

MPs have insufficient time and support to be able to call government effectively to account. Ministers are also quite adept at avoiding intrusive questioning;

MPs have a limited role in developing legislation;

The Commons is not socially representative, especially lacking women and members of minority-ethnic groups;

Governments are increasingly ignoring parliament and consulting groups and the public directly;

The belief that the government may fall t any time can promote obedience as, generally, MPs do not relish elections

Arguments for a Fully Elected Second Chamber

It is more democratic that current arrangements;

It will eliminate any corrupt practices in relation to appointments to the Lords;

It might act as a democratic balance against the power of government, especially if elected by proportional representation so that no party will win an overall majority;

If elected proportionally, it will allow smaller parties to be better represented

Arguments against a Fully Elected Second Chamber

If an elected second chamber simply mirrored the Commons it would create a deadlock between the two houses or no balancing effect at all;

Too many elections might lead to voter fatigue and therefore apathy;

A more powerful second chamber might lead to less decisive governments;

It might simply be another part of the legislature dominated by the parties, with too many 'party hacks'

Arguments for a Fully Appointed Second Chamber

It is an opportunity to bring people into the political process who would not wish to stand for election;

The membership can be controlled to ensure that all major groups and associations in society could be represented;

It can bring more independents into the political process

Arguments against a Fully Appointed Second Chamber

It could put too much power into the hands of those responsible for appointing members and could lead to corruption;

It is undemocratic and holds back progress towards a modern system;

It might lack legitimacy and public support because the people have no part in its composition