This chapter discusses the administrative organization and governance of the UK Parliament — that is, the way in which the two Houses of Parliament are directed, managed, and led. More specifically, it deals with the administration or governance of services to Members of Parliament (MPs), and how that is organized. The discussion begins with an overview of the peculiar nature of Parliament as a public institution, highlighting five features which make governance and reform of governance difficult. The chapter then considers the basic structure of governance in the House of Commons and in the House of Lords, taking into account the statutory House of Commons Commission and the non-statutory House of Lords Commission, before describing contemporary developments in both Houses. It also looks at two future developments that may affect parliamentary governance and administration: the restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster, and the issue of shared parliamentary services.
3. The Administrative Organization and Governance of Parliament
Sarah Petit and Ben Yong
31. Parliament and Freedom of Information
This chapter considers the impact of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act 2000 on the UK Parliament. Since 2005, FOI 2000 has helped make both the House of Commons and the House of Lords more open and accountable. The most high-profile effect of the law came in 2009, when it played a part in exposing the abuse of the expense allowance system. Despite the scandal, it is not clear whether FOI has transformed the culture of the two Houses. Nevertheless, the law has indirectly sparked a series of other reforms, so that FOI now sits alongside a whole range of instruments intended to make Parliament more open and accessible. The chapter first provides an overview of what FOIs consist of, their application to legislatures and Westminster specifically, before analysing the extent of the impact of FOI 2000 on the UK Parliament.
This chapter looks specifically at the UK Parliament as this is the central institution of the UK political system. It describes the people in Parliament, its internal makeup, and the way in which it is changing. The chapter examines the roles of members of the House of Commons and House of Lords. It considers the four basic functions of Parliament: providing a basis of government, holding government to account, producing legislation, and interacting with the wider public. The chapter describes three practical examples to help illustrate some of its themes. These are the following: the 2010–15 coalition government’s attempts to reform the House of Lords; the 2009 Wright Committee proposals for parliamentary reform and their implementation; and the practice of pre-appointed hearings conducted by parliamentary committees.
1. Introduction: Exploring the UK Parliament in the Twenty-first Century
Paul Evans, Louise Thompson, and Cristina Leston-Bandeira
This text examines changes and continuities in the UK Parliament, the institution's contemporary work in its wide range of roles, its relevance in the twenty-first century, and the challenges it is facing today. It describes both the formal and informal work of Parliament and its members, focusing on common notions about the institution's relationship with the executive as a one-sided affair. The goal is to offer a rounded view of the work of Parliament as a multilayered and complex actor and its place in the wider political context as well as to highlight the importance of its historical development to its work today. The text looks at various aspects of Parliament, from governance to the legislative cycle, and even its design and space. This introduction discusses the ever changing relationship between the monarch, the House of Commons, and the House of Lords.
4. Supporting Members and Peers
Marc Geddes and Jessica Mulley
This chapter examines the way the UK Parliament is administered and organized in terms of the support offered by the institution to Members of Parliament (MPs) and peers to fulfil their parliamentary, political, and policy functions. The House of Commons employs roughly 2,500 and the House of Lords around 500 members of staff, in addition to staff in the bicameral Parliamentary Digital Service. These staff provide invaluable and impartial support to Parliament. This chapter considers the political and non-political sources of support provided to MPs and peers in carrying out their role and how the resources available to parliamentarians have increased over the past two decades through a range of parliamentary reforms. It also discusses key issues and debates arising from the support given to MPs and peers, including the issue over whether staff exist to serve the institution of Parliament or to support parliamentarians.
3. Debating Politics and Making Laws
This chapter evaluates the institution of the UK Parliament, where parliamentarians have a chance to debate issues of the day and to make laws. It reviews classic arguments about the power of Parliament in relation to the executive, before looking at the role of the House of Lords and the House of Commons. The account is still influenced by the Westminster system of government, whereby the executive in the form of the government is sustained in power by having a majority in the House of Commons. The chapter then considers what Members of Parliament (MPs) and other representatives do in office, and how their behaviour links to other features of the political process, such as public opinion and constituency interests. It also compares other legislatures, such as the Scottish Parliament, with the UK Parliament.
1. The Starting Point
Understanding the Political System
This chapter discusses what makes British politics distinctive and recognizable: its parliamentary democracy, uncodified constitution, and pattern of party government. It begins by outlining some recent events that have made British or UK politics so fascinating and controversial. The chapter then describes the political system, particularly the institutional rules that affect what happens and govern how politics takes place. Parliament, composed of the House of Commons, House of Lords, and the Crown, is the supreme legal authority in the UK. The chapter also provides a summary of the British constitution. It places the UK in a comparative context, to be studied alongside other nation states. Finally, the chapter sets out the information and concepts that help in understanding the nature of and limits to British democracy.
16. Select Committees
This chapter examines the role of select committees in the UK Parliament, and more specifically how they enable lawmakers in the House of Commons to pool their scrutiny efforts by working together as a formally constituted team. Select committees are cross-party, with membership restricted to backbench Members of Parliament (MPs) and reflecting the party balance in the House. These committees determine their own work agendas and decide for themselves which topics to investigate. Committee work is structured around running focused inquiries into specific issues, ranging from antisemitism to foster care. The chapter first considers the effectiveness of select committees before discussing some major developments that the departmental select committee system has undergone over the last four decades with regard to elected committee chairs and membership, committee activity, addressing highly controversial topics, and developing policy expertise.
18. The Role of a Backbench MP
Mark Shephard and Jack Simson Caird
This chapter considers the nature and roles of backbench Members of Parliament (MPs) as well as their impact and influence, placing emphasis on the Backbench Business Committee. The term ‘backbench’ refers to where the MPs or peers sit in the House of Commons — behind those with either ministerial frontbench or shadow ministerial frontbench positions. The definition of a backbencher holds in many other parliamentary systems where the executive is drawn from the legislative branch (for example, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia). However, emphasis on the role of backbenchers might vary depending on the parliamentary system. The chapter discusses the role of backbenchers in the UK Parliament, such as supporting their party; scrutinizing government; representing and furthering the interests of their constituency and constituents; contributing to policy development; and promotion of public understanding.
12. The nations and the union
This chapter explores the UK as a state which is made up of a number of diverse parts. These parts are Wales, Scotland, England, and the territory of Northern Ireland. Each part has its own characteristics which show through in the political and constitutional makeup of the UK as a whole. The chapter describes these different components. It discusses the various differences between them and looks at issues related to maintaining coherence. Using theoretical models, it analyses the nature of the UK as the state, the nation state, and the multinational state. It looks at the concepts of consociationalism, the unitary state, the union state, and federation. It provides a number of practical examples which demonstrate how these ideas operate in the real world. It also considers the Welsh language, territorial variation in the party system, the ‘English Votes for English Laws’ procedure in the UK House of Commons; and the ‘Barnett’ formular for the allocation of funding in the UK.
30. Parliament and Petitions
Thomas Caygill and Anne-Marie Griffiths
This chapter examines how the UK Parliament has used the e-petitions system to address some of the common criticisms about the relationship between the institution of government and the public. In May 2014, the House of Commons agreed to establish a ‘collaborative’ e-petitions system which would enable the public to petition the House of Commons and to call for action from the government. A Petitions Committee was created on 20 July 2015, and the new e-petitions site was launched the following day. The chapter first provides an overview of the changing nature of participation with Parliament, especially voting in elections, before discussing contemporary developments in petitioning Parliament. In particular, it considers public (paper) petitions and compares it to the e-petitions system. It also analyses the impact of e-petitions on Parliament and public participation and concludes with an assessment of challenges facing the e-petitions system.
12. Private Members’ Bills
Robert Hazell and Fergus Reid
This chapter considers the ways in which backbench Members of Parliament (MPs) exploit their right to introduce legislation — known as private members' bills (PMBs). The PMB process has been criticized for allegedly being opaque, misleading, and virtually discredited inside and outside the UK Parliament. Yet, each session, more than 450 backbenchers enter the Commons PMB ballot for a priority slot. The chapter first explains the terms ‘hybrid bill’, ‘private bill’, and ‘public bill’ before discussing the difference between PMBs and government bills. It also examines the importance of time when considering PMBs, the three routes to a PMB in the House of Commons, a typical second reading Friday in the Commons, and the PMB ballot in the House of Lords. Finally, it analyses efforts to reform PMB procedures and why, despite flaws and frustrations, PMBs are seen by many MPs as a useful tool for advancing their agendas and campaigns.
22. Women in the House of Commons
Rosie Campbell, Sarah Childs, and Elizabeth Hunt
This chapter examines the progress of women's participation and representation in the House of Commons. It first considers women's descriptive representation in the House of Commons over the last century, with emphasis on the differences in the proportion of women Members of Parliament (MPs) elected by the main political parties. It explains improvements in the numbers of women MPs in the last decade or so, together with the party asymmetry, by reference to the supply and demand model of political recruitment. It then reviews arguments for women's equal participation in politics, taking into account how women's descriptive representation intersects with symbolic and substantive representation. It also discusses resistance to the claim that women's representation matters and concludes with an analysis of the masculinized nature of the political institution that women MPs inhabit, along with the recommendations made in the 2016 The Good Parliament report.
2. Leadership from the Top
This chapter examines the general issue of leadership in the British political system and the stresses and strains of this task, examining the role of the prime minister. As well as being leader of the largest party in the House of Commons, able to command a majority, and potentially able to get government business through Parliament and into law, the prime minister has executive powers, which helps keep this focus. Despite the power of the position and its importance in the British system of government, there are fundamental weaknesses in the role that come from the instabilities of party politics. Overall, the picture of prime ministerial and core executive power and capacity is a mixed one that is changeable over time. In recent years, over Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic, the prime minister's fate can change dramatically, even week-by-week.