British Politics

Palgrave Foundations Series, second edition

by Robert Leach, Bill Coxall and Lynton Robins

Chapter 13 notes - Parliament and the Legislative Process

Return to full list of chapter notes.
  • Although the Westminster parliament is very old, prestigious, and constitutionally sovereign, critics allege it is not in practice very powerful, nor particularly effective.
  • MPs represent electoral areas called constituencies. They are not socially representative of those who elect them, nor are they expected to reflect their views. Almost all represent parties, and all of them also reflect a range of outside interests. While this can be very useful, some outside interests raise ethical questions.
  • The 2009 parliamentary expenses scandal raised more concerns over the conduct and financial interests of MPs, with serious implications for public trust in Parliament, politicians and parties, and demands for further reform.
  • Government is recruited from and maintained by Parliament (essentially the House of Commons). There has long been a close interdependence between the executive and legislature in British politics. In practice the government dominates the Commons.
  • Traditional means of parliamentary scrutiny of the executive have been supplemented by the development of Departmental Select Committees that oversee all ministerial departments.
  • Most of the legislation examined in the Commons and almost all the laws that are passed are government measures. Legislation is in practice substantially an executive function.
  • The 2010 coalition government is proposing further reforms of the Commons in the wake of the parliamentary expenses scandal and the 2010 election resulting in a hung parliament.
  • The upper house has only powers of delay over legislation. Its undemocratic composition restricts its legitimacy and authority.
  • Although most hereditary peers have been removed, detailed proposals for further reform of the upper house have failed to secure broad support, and it remains a mainly appointed chamber. The 2010 coalition government is proposing new reforms.
  • The former judicial functions of the House of Lords have been transferred to a new Supreme Court.
  • The Westminster parliament is no longer the only representative assembly elected by UK voters. There is a need for more liaison with the European Parliament and with the new devolved Scottish Parliaments and Welsh and Northern Irish assemblies. The results of recent elections may potentially lead to increased tensions between devolved institutions and Westminster.