PLEASE NOTE THE BULLETS AND NUMBERING MAY NOT HAVE TRANSFERRED WHOLLY ACCURATELY FROM MY INITIAL WORD DOC. GET THE ORIGINAL FROM OUR SCHOOL SYSTEM ON THE SHARED AREA.
- Parliament examines and challenges the work of the government.
- Both the House of Commons and the House of Lords use similar methods of scrutiny, although the procedures vary.
- The principal methods are:
- questioning government ministers,
- Questions to government ministers may be answered orally or in writing.
- Ministers from each government department attend the Commons on a rota basis to answer oral questions.
- The Prime Minister answers questions every Wednesday (PMQs)
- In the Lords, the House questions government ministers at the start of each day’s business, but there are no set days for government departments.
- Debates in the Commons look at national and international issues and can be on any subject.
- Votes are often taken to see whether a majority of Members either support or reject any discussed proposals.
- In the Lords, one day a week is set aside for general debates and short debates take place on most days (lasting one and a half hours). There are no votes on such debates.
- the investigative work of committees.
- Committees of smaller groups of MPs and/or Lords look at specific policy issues or legislation in detail.
- Different committees have different roles ranging from offering advice, to producing reports (Select Committees – further detailed below) or altering legislation (Public Bill Committees – further detailed below).
- Both Houses have permanent and temporary committees.
- MPs and Lords also work together in Joint Select Committees.
- The government issues responses to most committee reports.
- The government can publicly respond to explain and justify policies and decisions.
A focus on Select Committees:
- Select Committees work in both Houses.
- They check and report on areas ranging from the work of government departments to economic affairs.
- The results of these inquiries are public and many require a response from the government.
- House of Commons Select Committees are largely concerned with examining the work of government departments.
- Committees in the House of Lords concentrate on four main areas:
iv. and the UK constitution.
Commons Select Committees
- There is a Commons Select Committee for each government department, examining three aspects:
- policies and
- These departmental committees have a minimum of 11 members, who decide upon the line of inquiry and then gather written and oral evidence.
- Findings are reported to the Commons, printed, and published on the Parliament website.
- The government then usually has 60 days to reply to the committee’s recommendations.
- Some Select Committees have a role that crosses departmental boundaries such as the Public Accounts or Environmental Audit Committees. Depending on the issue under consideration they can look at any or all of the government departments.
- Other Commons Committees are involved in a range of on-going investigations, like administration of the House itself or allegations about the conduct of individual MPs.
- The majority of Select Committee Chairs are now elected by their fellow MPs. This applies to departmental committees and the Environmental Audit, Political and Constitutional Reform, Procedure, Public Administration and Public Accounts committees.
Lords Select Committees
- Lords Select Committees do not shadow the work of government departments. Their investigations look into specialist subjects, taking advantage of the Lords’ expertise and the greater amount of time (compared to MPs) available to them to examine issues.
- There are currently five major Lords Select Committees:
- the European Union Committee
- the Science and Technology Committee
- the Communications Committee
- the Constitution Committee
- the Economic Affairs Committee
- These five committees are re-appointed at the beginning of a new session.Each one runs inquiries and reports on issues within their specific areas.
Occasionally, other committees are set up to look at issues outside of the five main groups.
Parliament also scrutinises legislation and holds the govt to account that way:
A focus on General / Public Bill Committees
- The main role of General Committees is to consider proposed legislation in detail.
- This committee system allows faster processing of Bills and is unique to the House of Commons; the Lords meet as a whole House in this function.
- The committees reflect the political makeup of the House.
- The government always has a majority.
- A Public or Private Bill Committee is appointed for each Bill that goes through Parliament.
- Depending on its complexity, the consideration of a Bill can take a few minutes to a few months.
- The Lords meet as a whole House in this function (in the debating chamber) or as a Grand Committee away from the chamber. Proceedings in a Grand Committees are the same as Committees of the whole House with an important exception: motions must be passed unanimously, so a dissenting voice from one Member could block an amendment to a Bill.
- Each Public Bill Committee is named after the Bill it considers. For example, a committee considering a Bill titled the Climate Bill would be called the Climate Bill Committee.
- Each committee is assigned a chairman and debate Bills as they would do in the Commons chamber, with broadly the same rules of debate applying.
- Public Bill Committees, unlike the Standing Committees they replace, have the power to take written and oral evidence from officials and experts outside of Parliament. This is intended to give Committee members more information on which to make their decisions.
- The minimum number of Members in a committee is 16 and the maximum is about 50.
- The proportion of Members in a Public Bill Committee mirrors the political parties’ strengths in the Commons, so there is always a government majority.
- Public Bill Committees examine each Bill line by line.
- Once a committee has finished looking at a Bill, it reports its conclusions and any amendments made to the Commons, where Members debate the Bill further. (Report Stage)
- The Bill is printed again with the amendments made by the Public Bill Committee; this is publicly available in printed and online formats.
- Although the Lords do not meet in Public Bill Committees, they have a report stage to allow further consideration of Bills.
How they work
NB* Additional General Committees exist to debate matters in specific areas, such as the Scottish Grand Committee, the Welsh Grand Committee, the Northern Ireland Grand Committee; committees on Delegated Legislation and European documents. These are not Public Bill Committees though!
Consider Executive dominance of the legislature:
Does the Executive dominate and control Parliament?
Is Parliament just a “rubber stamp?”
In essence the executive normally dominates Parliament. There are a number of reasons for this:
- Party loyalty is very important in the ‘adversarial system’ and MPs are reluctant to rebel.
- It is almost certain that the elected government will have an overall majority. The First-Past-the Post electoral system ensures this. The Coalition government in 2010 is the exception, not the rule!
- The ‘whips’ are in a powerful position, not only in influencing key votes, but also in their control of both General and Select Committees and in selecting the membership and Chairpersons of Committees.
- PM patronage and the ‘payroll vote’ creates loyalty in both the Commons and the Lords.
- The government’s control over parliamentary business means that MPs have little influence over the legislative process.
- It is political tradition to have a government that ‘can get things done’ without an overly interfering legislature.
It should be noted however that there are examples of parliament reasserting itself from time to time and it is probably too strong to call it merely a rubber stamp. Perhaps government’s with large majorities and united parties and desirable economic conditions are the strongest. Tony Blair’s New Labour Government enjoyed such conditions from 1997-2005. Although even Blair, since 2003/04, faced a number of large parliamentary rebellions – Iraq; student Top-Up Fees, Foundation Hospitals…
Finally consider the impact of coalition:
Is Parliament’s powers be increased by “coalition politics?”
Obviously the argument suggesting that backbench MPs/parliament can assert itself against the coalition government is the stronger one.