Functions of Parliament, Put Simply

Below are the main functions of Parliament, all of which are fulfilled to some extent. We’re providing the evaluation so you can create an informed opinion.

Function Strengths Weaknesses
Legislating ·      Very thorough

·      Committees make detailed amendments

·      Efficient (w/ executive dominance) & bills passed with little opposition

·      Bill is checked by 2 houses

·      Lords have less partisan view

·      Long, convoluted drawn-out process

·      Executive dominance in process (i.e. govt. majorities dominate)

·      Subject to unelected bodies, like House of Lords

·      Backbenchers struggle to raise PMBs.

Accountability of government – Question Time ·      PMQs is a regular test for Prime Minister, which increases scrutiny

·      PM is forced to account for government’s spending/actions

·      Gives backbenchers an opportunity to question PM

·      All senior cabinet ministers are questioned roughly once a month

·      “Helpful” planted questions are a waste of time and don’t add to scrutiny

·      MPs have a poor reputation for bad behavior (heckling)

·      Limited opportunity for follow-ups.

Accountability of government – Select Committees ·      Scrutinize government policy

·      Bill committees examine government legislation

·      Non-partisan

·      Government has majority on committee

·      No executive power (can criticize, but not change, policy)

Accountability of government – Debates ·      Allows government policy to be scrutinized and examined

·      Causes government to have to explain itself

·      Poor attendance for many debates

·      Often disorganized

Accountability of government – the opposition ·      ‘opposition days’ the opposition party can choose what to debate and scrutinize à criticize policy and/or offer alternative policy ·      Sometimes they attack the government just for political point scoring

·      Culture of opposition

Representation ·      Constituents elected the MPs

·      Represent their constituents by:

·      – Burkean View: own judgement on behalf of constituents

·      – Doctrine of Mandate: serve constituents by toeing party line

·      House of Lords not elected; carries out no representative role; undermines democratic nature of parliament

·      FPTP

·      MPs and peers remain socially unrepresentative of larger society

Legitimation ·      Parliament ‘stands for’ the public. When it approves a measure, it feel like the public has approved it

·      Parliamentary approval based on assumption that government’s actions have been properly debated/ scrutinized with problems exposed

·      House of Lords as no democratic legitimacy

·      Respect for Parliament fading after scandals like ‘cash for questions’ and ‘cash for peerages’

·      Executive has majority in parliament. Parliamentary sovereignty = executive sovereignty à elective dictatorship

Recruitment of Ministers ·      Ministers must be MPs

·      Work their way up the ranks and gain understanding of how government works and policy formulation

·      Recruited from limited pool of talent, usually from largest party in the Commons

·      Parliamentarians may acquire speechmaking skills and learn how to deliver soundbites, but don’t gain bureaucratic/management skills to run a government department

·      Fewer and fewer ministers have experience of careers outside politics

Reserve powers ·      Ability to veto legislation

·      Can dismiss government through vote pf no confidence due to accusations of extreme incompetence.

·      1978, James Callaghan’s Labour government following collapse of British government requiring IMF bailout

·      Reserve powers are rarely used

·      Due to fact that governments will usually have majority support in the Commons

·      Only minority governments can be removed by this method.


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