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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.


Cristina Leston-Bandeira and Louise Thompson

Exploring Parliament offers a fresh perspective on an ancient institution. It provides a real-life insight into the inner workings, impact, and relevance of twenty-first century Parliament. Short academic and practitioner chapters are combined with relevant and practical case studies, to provide an introduction to Parliament's structures, people, and practices. As well as covering the broader structure of UK Parliament, this text explains the role of small parties in law-making, the design and space of Parliament, and offers illuminating case studies on highly topical areas such as the Backbench Business Committee, the Hillsborough Inquiry and recent pieces of legislation such as the Assisted Dying Bill.


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.


Margaret Arnott and Richard Kelly

This chapter discusses the role of smaller parties in the law-making process. General elections in the UK are conducted with an electoral system which militates against the representation of smaller political parties, particularly those having no strong support at the regional level. However, events at Westminster over the last decade have increased the prominence of smaller parties in the operation of parliamentary business. The chapter first considers the role of small parties in the UK Parliament, committees and legislation, as well as their participation in backbench debates before examining how the political and electoral context of Parliament, especially in the twenty-first century, has affected the representation of smaller parties and the ways in which reforms to parliamentary procedure since the 1980s have enhanced the role of the second opposition party. It suggests that Parliament today offers more opportunities for smaller political parties to influence debate and policy, but this remains quite limited.


This chapter discusses the political organization of the UK Parliament, at the heart of which are the political parties. It first considers the internal organization of Parliament, focusing on how political parties are structured. There are two principal parties facing one another in Parliament: the party in government and opposition parties. The opposition comprises frontbench Members (shadow ministers) and backbenchers. Smaller parties may also designate some Members as ‘frontbenchers’ (official spokespeople for the party). The frontbench of each party includes whips. The chapter provides an overview of these whips as well as parliamentary parties before considering legislative–executive relations. In particular, it examines how parties shape the relationship between Parliament and the executive, and how these have changed over time.


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.