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.
16. Select Committees
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.
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.
24. Whips and Rebels
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
26. MPs Campaigning for their Constituencies
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.
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.
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.
32. Conclusion: The Future of Parliamentary Politics
David Judge, Cristina Leston-Bandeira, and Louise Thompson
This concluding chapter reflects on the future of parliamentary politics by identifying key puzzles implicit in previous discussions which raise fundamental questions about what Parliament is and why it exists. The goal is to determine the ‘predictable unknowns’ as starting points for exploring the future. Three principal puzzles that need ‘hard thinking’ in order to understand legislatures are considered: representation, collective decision-making, and their role in the political system. The chapter also examines the difficulties in reconciling ideas about popular sovereignty and direct public participation with notions of parliamentary sovereignty and indirect public participation in decision-making; the implications of the legislative task of disentangling UK law from EU law in the wake of Brexit for Parliament's recent strengthened scrutiny capacity; and how Parliament has integrated the core principles of representation, consent, and authorization into the legitimation of state policy-making processes and their outputs.
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.
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.
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.
14. Accountability in Parliament
Mark Bennister and Phil Larkin
This chapter focuses on the accountability of the government to Parliament. One way to conceptualize the place of the UK Parliament in the accountability process is as part of a ‘chain of delegation’, whereby democratic authority lies in the hands of the citizens. Due to lack of time and expertise to participate actively in the day-to-day process of running the country, however, these citizens delegate much of this responsibility to a subset of their number who become parliamentarians. Parliamentarians in turn delegate much of this role to a further subset of their number who become the government. The chapter first considers accountability in the Westminster model before discussing recent reforms of accountability mechanisms and how they have increased Parliament's capacity to scrutinize government. Examples of the strengthening of the accountability function include stronger select committees, the use of urgent questions, and Liaison Committee sessions with the prime minister.
20. Media Scrutiny of Parliament
This chapter examines media scrutiny of the UK Parliament. Major newspapers have always routinely featured Hansard-style reports of debates. Today, mainstream coverage of Parliament tends to focus on points of contention. Live coverage (mostly of the Commons Chamber) has become available on BBC Parliament, while the full array of Commons, Lords, Westminster Hall, and Moses Room sittings, plus committee hearings can be viewed on the much expanded Parliament TV online video service, both live and as archived recordings. This has implications for media reporting of proceedings and for the media's role in the way the public receives information about Parliament. The chapter first considers journalistic scrutiny of parliamentary proceedings before discussing the increasing role of new media in scrutinizing such proceedings as well as the role of the parliamentary media in explaining what is happening.
28. Parliament and Modernization
Mark Goodwin and Martyn Atkins
This chapter examines the path to modernization taken in the UK Parliament since 1997. Parliament has found it difficult to keep pace with changes in the wider society. As the key representative institution in the country, Parliament continues to hold on to many elements of the pre-democratic era. The chapter first considers the meaning of modernization before discussing the reforms sought by the Modernisation Committee, many of which concerned ownership and control of parliamentary time. It then analyzes the efforts of the Modernisation Committee to increase the effectiveness of parliamentary scrutiny and to address the representative function of Parliament. It also looks at the creation of the Wright Committee that replaced the Modernisation Committee, along with Parliament's technological modernization and modernization of the institution's working practices.
29. Parliament and Public Engagement
Cristina Leston-Bandeira and Aileen Walker
This chapter examines why the UK Parliament has invested heavily in public engagement over the last decade. Since the 1960s, the UK Parliament has been facilitating public engagement through a variety of ways. However, it is also an institution which is far more vulnerable and criticized by both the public and media. The chapter first defines public engagement before discussing the importance of parliamentary public engagement today. Four key inter-related factors that explain the rise in the importance of public engagement for parliaments are highlighted: the steady trend of increasing scepticism towards politics; the improved access to education and information; the increased opportunities created by digital media; and the growing appeal of participatory democracy. The chapter goes on to analyse how public engagement developed in Parliament and asks whether this has led to changes in public attitudes towards the institution.
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.