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Cover Exploring Parliament

10. EU Legislation  

Ed Beale, Libby Kurien, and Eve Samson

This chapter examines the ways in which the UK Parliament formally constrains the government and engages with European Union (EU) institutions. The House of Lords and the House of Commons both have processes to ensure that legislation proposed at the EU level has been properly reviewed before it takes effect in UK law. The ‘scrutiny reserve’, which stipulates that ministers should not agree to proposals under scrutiny, is used to elicit information about the government's negotiating position. Parliament also has a role in examining EU legislation and providing direct access to European institutions. The chapter first provides an overview of the EU legislative process, focusing on three principal EU institutions: member states, the European Parliament (EP), and the European Commission. It also considers the formal role of national parliaments in the EU legislative process, the UK Parliament's scrutiny of the EU legislation and its effectiveness, and parliamentary scrutiny after Brexit.

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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 Comparative European Politics

5. Democracy and the EU  

Tapio Raunio

This chapter examines the relationship between European integration and democracy. The continuous transfer of policy-making powers from European Union (EU) member states to the European level has raised serious concerns about democratic legitimacy. The chapter assesses the claims that European integration undermines national democracy, and that decision-making at the EU level is not sufficiently democratic. It argues that while significant challenges remain, European integration has definitely become more democratic over the years. But there is perhaps a trade-off, with stronger input legitimacy potentially an obstacle to efficient European-level decision-making. It also underlines the multilevel nature of the EU polity and the importance of public debates about European integration.

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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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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.

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21. The Rise of the Professional Politician?  

Peter Allen and Philip Cowley

This chapter examines the debate over the presence of ‘professional’ politicians in the UK Parliament. It first explains the distinction between professional politicians, career politicians, and political class before discussing why the presence of professional politicians in Parliament is often seen as a problem. In particular, it considers two main arguments levelled against the professional politician. The first is a functionalist argument: that the optimal way to manage national affairs is to draw on a wide range of occupational experience from different spheres of society and the economy. The second type of criticism draws on a broader argument in favour of political equality and representation. The chapter concludes with an overview of contemporary developments relating to the composition of Parliament and argues that there are in fact fewer professional politicians than is commonly thought.

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Cover Exploring Parliament

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

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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Cover International Relations and the European Union

9. Legitimate and Democratic? The European Union’s International Role  

Christopher Lord

This chapter examines the legitimacy and democratic control of the European Union's international policies. It first explains why, with whom, and by what standards the EU's international role need to be legitimate before discussing the issue of democratic control involving the European Parliament (EP) and national parliaments. More specifically, it considers the member states' mantra that the legitimacy of EU decisions is ‘founded on the principle of representative democracy’, delivered through the representation of citizens in the EP and national democracies in the European Council, the Councils, and their own national parliaments. It also emphasizes the great variety in the EU's international policy procedures and concludes by assessing how legitimacy might enable or constrain the development of the EU as an international actor.

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Cover Exploring Parliament

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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Cover Exploring Parliament

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.

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27. Parliament and Devolution  

Cathy Gormley-Heenan and Mark Sandford

This chapter examines the relationship between the UK Parliament and the devolved legislatures established in Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. It first considers the impact of devolution on parliamentary sovereignty before discussing the establishment and development of the devolved parliaments in Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. It then describes the key features of those devolved institutions and the way in which Parliament's interactions with them have evolved since their inception, as well as the division of powers between the United Kingdom and devolved governments. It shows that the influence of Parliament on devolution in the UK has so far been marginal, and that these subtle changes in practices at Westminster point to Parliament as an increasing reflection of wider shifts in public attitudes about the relationships between the territories of the United Kingdom, especially after the Brexit referendum.

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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.

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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.

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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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Cover Comparative Politics

7. Legislatures  

Amie Kreppel

This chapter focuses on the political roles and powers of legislatures. It first describes different types of legislatures on the basis of their functions and relationship with the executive branch, before analysing the roles of legislatures within the political system as a whole, as well as several critical aspects of the internal organizational structures of legislatures. It then examines the relationship between the political power and influence of a legislature and the structure of the broader political and party system. The discussion focuses on legislatures within modern democratic political systems, although many points apply to all legislatures, regardless of regime. The chapter also explains how legislature differs from assembly, parliament, and congress.

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Cover International Relations and the European Union

4. The Institutional Framework  

Sophie Vanhoonacker and Karolina Pomorska

This chapter focuses on the European Union (EU) as a ‘power’ on the world stage. The institutional context of the external relations of the EU is complex, it argues. The roles of various places, such as the Council, Commission, European Parliament (E), and the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) differ significantly depending on the policy area under consideration. The marked variations reflect the differing paths of evolution and the various degrees of integration these institutions have experienced in terms of different areas of external policy. This chapter focuses on the institutional basis of international policy in the EU. It asks how we should think about the roles of institutions and looks at some of the key ideas around EU international policy.

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Cover The Member States of the European Union

13. Europeanization and Member State Institutions  

Hussein Kassim and Vanessa Buth

This chapter examines the impact of Europeanization on member state institutions. Membership in the European Union imposes a variety of constraints and burdens on countries, but it also affords important opportunities and makes available significant resources. Integration initially reinforced the decline of national legislatures, but they have fought back in the last decade. National courts have assumed new functions and become part of a wider Community of law. At the same, the precise effects of the EU have varied cross-nationally as the demands of membership have interacted with differing constitutional arrangements, legal traditions, and political cultures. Moreover, national institutions such as governments, parliaments, and courts have left their mark on the EU and determine to a large extent the capacities of the Union as a system. The chapter considers how EU membership has affected national governments, national parliaments, and national courts.

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Cover Comparative European Politics

9. Parliaments  

Shane Martin

Parliaments are the cornerstone of representative democracy. This chapter examines the role and performance of national parliaments in European democracies. The chapter begins with a review of how parliaments are designed, including the number of chambers and the power of parliamentary committees. It discusses parliaments’ roles and functions, including law-making, government formation, oversight, and political representation, and assesses whether parliaments reflect the make-up of the citizenry at large. The chapter then discusses the possibility of strong parties and dominant executives within the legislative arena leading to weak parliaments, as well as recent attempts to strengthen the capacity of national parliaments.

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Cover Comparative Politics

7. Legislatures  

Amie Kreppel

This chapter focuses on the political roles and powers of legislatures. It first describes different types of legislatures on the basis of their functions and relationship with the executive branch, before analysing the roles of legislatures within the political system as a whole, as well as several critical aspects of the internal organizational structures of legislatures. It then examines the relationship between the political power and influence of a legislature and the structure of the broader political and party system. The discussion focuses on legislatures within modern democratic political systems, although many points apply to all legislatures, regardless of regime. The chapter also explains how legislature differs from assembly, parliament, and congress.