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Cover British Politics

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.

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Cover Exploring Parliament

16. Select Committees  

Alexandra Kelso

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.

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Cover Exploring Parliament

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.

Chapter

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25. MPs and their Constituencies  

David Judge and Rebecca Partos

This chapter examines what ‘constituency’ means for Members of Parliament (MPs) and their local electorates, and how perceptions of locality affect the work of MPs and the expectations of their constituents. As the representatives of their respective geographical areas, MPs bring the opinions, concerns, and tribulations of their constituents into the workings of the UK Parliament. Such representational work is ofen overlooked or ignored by outside observers and commentators, but it provides a necessary ‘reality check’ for all MPs that links them to the lives of those they are elected to represent. The chapter first provides an overview of MPs as representatives of territorially defined constituencies and of ‘communities of interest’ before discussing ‘constituencies’ within constituencies. It also considers how constituents make sense of parliamentary constituencies and their connection to their representatives by invoking notions of ‘locality’. It shows that constituency work and parliamentary work are often counterposed.

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24. Whips and Rebels  

Mark Stuart

This chapter examines the role of whips and rebellious Members of Parliament (MPs) in the UK Parliament. Whips are MPs or peers who are responsible for managing the Members of their party, and in particular for ensuring that party Members vote in line with their party's policy. The whips are often regarded as bullies and cajolers, whereas MPs are seen as spineless and overly loyal. The chapter first considers the myths and reality about whips before discussing the growing rebelliousness of MPs — that is, they vote against their party line in the division (voting) lobbies. It shows that these rebels have made the role of the whips much harder, citing as an example the case of the Coalition Government of 2010–2015, where the government whips had to try to satisfy the demands of two parties — Liberal Democrats and the Conservative Party.

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Cover Exploring Parliament

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.

Chapter

Cover Exploring Parliament

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.

Chapter

Cover Exploring Parliament

3. The Administrative Organization and Governance of Parliament  

Sarah Petit and Ben Yong

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.

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17. Questioning the Government  

Stephen Bates, Peter Kerr, and Ruxandra Serban

This chapter examines how accountability is carried out in the UK Parliament through various questioning procedures which enable ministers and the government to explain and defend their decisions. Questioning the government provides an important means for Members of Parliament (MPs) and peers to hold the government, the prime minister, ministers, and departments to account. There are two main types of parliamentary questions: oral questions and written questions. Oral questions are both asked and answered on the Floor of the House of Commons or the House of Lords, whereas written questions are ‘often used to obtain detailed information about policies and statistics on the activities of government departments’. The chapter first explains these two types of parliamentary questions before discussing their purposes. It also considers debates over the issue of reforming parliamentary questions, and more specifcally Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs).

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26. MPs Campaigning for their Constituencies  

Oonagh Gay

This chapter examines the mechanisms used by Members of Parliament (MPs) to campaign for their constituencies, and more specifically to influence policy agendas and become national figures. There are clear personal and career factors that make constituency campaigning worthwhile to MPs. In terms of themes adopted for campaigns, unemployment has long been at the heart of constituency projects. The chapter first considers the reasons why MPs undertake constituency projects before discussing the first modern example of how constituency unemployment could be used to win national publicity, the Jarrow Crusade led by the Labour MP Ellen Wilkinson. It then explains how MPs raise constituency issues in the UK Parliament and use their party machinery to lobby ministers. It also explores the ways in which the clash between constituency interests and government policy pose dilemmas for MPs as ministers.

Chapter

Cover Exploring Parliament

11. Campaigning to Change Law and Policy  

Paul E. J. Thomas and Stacey Frier

This chapter considers the ways in which backbench Members of Parliament (MPs) and peers campaign to change laws and government policies. Policy and legislative campaigning is often conducted by groups of MPs and peers who work together across party lines. Such groupings are commonly supported by external pressure groups, who help to keep the parliamentarians informed on the issue, and who can also provide resources to support campaigning activities. MPs and peers also coordinate their parliamentary activities with lobbying by their pressure group partners. The chapter first examines traditional assumptions about influencing government before turning to actors involved in campaigning to change law and policy. It also describes the formal parliamentary tools as well as informal means employed by backbenchers who campaign for policy or legislative change, along with contemporary developments regarding such activity.

Chapter

Cover Foundations of European Politics

7. Representation  

This chapter addresses the various concepts of political representation, such as substantive, descriptive, and symbolic. It then examines which institutions foster different types of representation. It presents two different visions of democracy: proportional and majoritarian. It considers what they imply for congruence and responsiveness. The chapter delves deeper into descriptive representation by looking at the representation of women across legislatures. When considering symbolic representation it looks at action taken by members of parliament. The chapter asks the basic question: to what extent, and in what ways, does a political system represent its citizens?