Presentation on theme: "THE HOUSE OF COMMONS. FUNCTION The House of Commons has 4 main functions: 1.Making legislation. 2.Scrutinising the work of the Government. 3.Protecting."— Presentation transcript:
FUNCTION The House of Commons has 4 main functions: 1.Making legislation. 2.Scrutinising the work of the Government. 3.Protecting individuals. 4.Controlling finance.
1. Making legislation. A new law must be passed through a series of stages in both houses and agreed before it can be passed. White Paper First Reading Second Reading Committee stage Report stage Third reading House of Lords From Bill to Law - YouTube
Government & Private members bills Government bills are usually supported by a Government minister and are much more likely to be successful. Private Members' Bills are Public Bills introduced by MPs and Lords who are not government ministers. As with other Public Bills their purpose is to change the law as it applies to the general population. A minority of Private Members' Bills become law but by creating publicity around an issue, they may affect legislation indirectly. All have to go through the same parliamentary process to get passed into law. Although a "parliamentary" bill will have an easier passage through the voting stages as there is less likely to be any opposition.
Private Members Bills Most Private Members' Bills fail, often because they're controversial. There's also only a limited time in which they can come before the House, and those which miss that cut can only be saved with government support. But others make real waves. The Abortion Act 1967 - the piece of law that legalised terminations was a PMB.
Private Members Bills So too was the bill which ended capital punishment in Britain - the Murder (Abolition of the Death Penalty) Act 1965.
Private Members Bills More recently, the Sun beds (Regulation) Act 2010 came from a Private Members' Bill from Labour MP Julie Morgan and now bans the use of commercial tanning equipment by under-18s. Conservative Cheryl Gillan's Private Members' Bill became the Autism Act 2009, which puts a legal duty on councils and NHS services to look after people with autism.
2. Scrutinising the work of the Government. The House of Commons has a duty to scrutinise (examine/check) the work of the government on behalf of the public to ensure accountability. The main way MPs scrutinise is through – questioning government ministers. Debating current issues and policy. Investigative work of committees.
Scrutinising the work of the Government – Questions MPs can ask government ministers question and most of these receive a written answer. MPs can ask Ministers questions during Question Time or send written questions to them. Question Time takes place in the first hour of business each day. The government is required to answer parliamentary written questions. The questions and answers are published in Hansard, the official transcript of what is said in Parliament.
Questions The questions are recorded at 3 days in advance in the Commons questions book and then are picked at random in Question time. The MP asking the questions simply states the number. Once the Minister has answered MPs can ask supplementary questions on the same topic. Questions Book - UK Parliament BBC - Learning Zone Class Clips - Commons questions - Citizenship and Modern Studies Video BBC - Learning Zone Class Clips - Commons questions - Citizenship and Modern Studies Video
Prime Minsters questions The Prime Minister answers questions from MPs in the Commons for half an hour every Wednesday from Midday. The half-hour session starts with a routine question from an MP about the Prime Ministers engagements. Following the PMs reply, the questioning member can ask a supplementary question about anything relating to the PMs duties or any aspect of Government policy. The Leader of the Opposition then asks a question, and is allowed three or four supplementary questions after that. The leader of the next largest party is allowed two. The Prime Minister will often use PMQs as an opportunity to make a statement on Government policy or to give an official reaction to a topical issue.
Prime Ministers questions is now broadcast on televisions and the web. This is an opportunity for the Opposition to question the leader of the government on policy or topical matters. Advance notice of the questions is given to the Prime Minister to allow answers to be prepared. However, on these occasions, a supplementary question, or a clever Leader of the Opposition, can cause difficulties for the Prime Minister. Prime Minsters questions
Top five PMQs moments of 2000 to '09 (16Dec09) - YouTube Top five PMQs moments of 2000 to '09 (16Dec09) - YouTube PM questions time can be a high drama event as the leader of the opposition will often try to embarrass the PM or the government by exposing a failure or mistake. It is not very effective as a means of scrutiny due to the time limit – it only lasts 30 minutes.
Scrutiny - committees One way members of Parliament scrutinise the government is by regularly meeting in select committees. These committees can make recommendations to the government on particular issues such as education, the environment and laws proposed by the European Union (EU). Select committee recommendations will be given to the head of the government department in charge of that particular issue.
SELECT COMMITTEES Differences between the two Houses Select Committees work in both Houses. The results of these inquiries are public and many require a response from the government. House of Commons Select Committees are largely concerned with examining the work of government departments. Committees in the House of Lords concentrate on five main areas: the European Union Committee the Science and Technology Committee the Communications Committee the Constitution Committee the Economic Affairs Committee
SELECT COMMITTEES There is a Commons Select Committee for each government department, examining three aspects: spending, policies and administration. Some Select Committees have a role that crosses departmental boundaries such as the Public Accounts or Environmental Audit Committees. Depending on the issue under consideration they can look at any or all of the government departments. Other Commons Committees are involved in a range of on-going investigations, like administration of the House itself or allegations about the conduct of individual MPs
SELECT COMMITTEES How do they operate? Select committees each have 11 backbench MP members who are elected by their own party. Previously they were selected by party whips – hence the name select. Each party is represented in proportion to the number of MPs it has in the House of Commons. The committees gather written evidence, examine witnesses and then report their findings to the Commons. Commons Select Committees - UK ParliamentCommons Select Committees - UK Parliament
SELECT COMMITTEES They have great powers of investigation and can call Ministers, including the Prime Minister, and civil servants to give evidence. They have been known to force changes in Government policy, but there are sometimes fears that the Prime Minister has too much influence in appointments to these committees.
SELECT COMMITTEES Select committees are the most effective means of parliamentary scrutiny. Why? 1.The select committee system allows for the questioning of ministers and forces them to explain themselves. If a witness is unwilling to give evidence, the committee can serve them with an order to attend or produce papers or records. 2.Select committees involve cross party cooperation working towards a common goal. 3.They can do a lot more than representatives do on the floor of the house as Commons debates are not long enough to examine any issue in depth. 4.Select committees examine the evidence from different sources in detail and act on that evidence.
SELECT COMMITTEES Criticisms of select committees 1.The membership of select committees reflects the composition of the house so the government has a majority in select committees. A backbench MP from the governing party may be reluctant to expose wrong doing or irregularities, especially if they are ambitious. 2. Witnesses can withhold important information. For example information may be withheld on the grounds that it would compromise national security and undermine the work of the intelligence services. This happened when the Foreign Affairs committees scrutinised the Iraq war. 3. The government is not bound by any recommendations made by select committees and can reject them.
CASE STUDY The Reform of the House of Commons Committee (known informally as the Wright Committee) was a Select Committee established in 2009 to improve the procedures and relevance of Parliament. It reported on 12 November 2009 and made a number of recommendations, in a document entitled 'Rebuilding the House. Two important changes were made as a result of this report which strengthened the independence of Commons Select committees – 1. Chairs are now elected on a free and secret ballot of all MPs 2. backbench members (not whips) decide who should represent their party on each committee. This has enhanced the effectiveness of SCs to scrutinise thoroughly and members are less likely to be party loyalists and can now be critics. However some have argued that whips still influence decisions made by committee members.
BACKBENCH BUSINESS COMMITTEE This is a fairly new development, giving backbench MPs the power to call for debates in the chamber and in Westminster Hall at least once a week. However the current committee consists of only 8 MPs – 4 Conservative, 3 Labour and 1 Lib Dem. This had led to criticism that smaller parties are being excluded.
3. Protecting individuals – Representation. MEMBERS OF PARLIAMENT
MPS FACT FILE EDUCATIONAL BACKGROUND 90% went to university 25% attended Oxford or Cambridge 35% went to private school (50% conservative, 41% Lib Dem) whereas only 7% of the population go to private school. The number who attended private school is at its highest rate since 1992 and this is mainly due to the increase in Conservative MPs who are more likely to be privately educated. Less than half the MPs were educated at State Comprehensive schools. OCCUPATIONAL BACKGROUND 48% come from only 3 professions: Business, finance and law. More labour MPs have worked in the public and voluntary sector. GENDER There are 504 male and 146 (22%) female MPs. (51% of the population is female). This is 4 times the number of women elected in 1987 so a huge step forward. The Conservative party almost doubled its number of female MPs at the 2010 election.
MPS FACT FILE ETHNICITY At the 2010 election there were 27 (4.1%) MPs from an ethnic minority. (8% of the population is from an ethnic minority). Helen Grant is Britains first black female conservative MP. Britain's first 3 female Muslim MPs all represent Labour. The numbers doubled at the 2010 election from 14 to 27. AGE The oldest MP is Sir Peter Tapsell, Conservative MP for Louth and Horncastle, aged 82. The youngest MP is Pamela Nash, Labour MP for Airdrie and Shotts, aged 29 (elected in 2010). The average age of an MP is 50.
Representation. MEMBERS OF PARLIAMENT – MPs o Each MP is elected by its constituency members and is expected to represent their views in parliament. o However, in most cases they are also members of a party and are expected to support their party leader. This can cause conflict. o Most MPs are backbenchers and those of the governing party are expected to support the government even above their constituents interests. o The parties all adopt a whip system for making sure MPs support party policy. MPs who rebel against the whips advice are unlikely to be promoted.
Whips are MPs or Lords appointed by each party in Parliament to help organise their party's contribution to parliamentary business. One of their responsibilities is making sure the maximum number of their party members vote, and vote the way their party wants. The use of the word 'whip' within Parliament has its roots in the 18th century hunting terminology 'whipper- in'. It refers to a huntsman's assistant who drives straying hounds back to the main pack using a whip. Sir George Young – current chief whip. PARLIAMENTARY WHIPS
Whips Whips are senior members of the party who rally support among MPs to vote in a particular way. The whip system is used to maintain party unity. MPs who disobey the Whips can experience difficulties from within the party. However sometimes MPs are allowed a 'free vote', which means they can vote according to their own opinion. If the MPs from the majority party vote in large numbers against the Government in a debate, this might cause problems for the Prime Minister and a vote of 'no confidence' could be called. If the Government loses a confidence vote a General Election will take place. BBC - Learning Zone Class Clips - Commons whips - Citizenship and Modern Studies Video
Representation. HOW CAN MPS INFLUENCE THE GOVERNMENT? Mps can influence government by: 1)Taking part in Question time – answers are written in Hansard and so are more influential than an oral answer. 2)Taking part in debates. 3)Taking part in committee work. 4)Introducing a Private Members Bill. The larger the government majority, the less power back benchers have. When the government has a small majority, backbench MPs have more power and are more likely to revolt.
BBC Two - Democracy In Action, Who Has the Power?, Houses of Parliament BBC Two - Democracy In Action, Who Has the Power?, Houses of Parliament BBC Two - Democracy In Action, Who Has the Power?, The role of a Westminster MP BBC Two - Democracy In Action, Who Has the Power?, The role of a Westminster MP
Representation. In 2005, when Tony Blairs majority was cut from 162 to 66 the balance of power shifted away from government to parliament. The Executive was defeated for the first time over plans to introduce a 90 day detention for terror suspects. (it currently stands at 42 days after the counter terrorism act was introduced in 2008).
Financial scrutiny A key function of the House of Commons is the scrutiny of public spending. There is an annual Finance Bill, otherwise known as the Budget, which has to be passed in order for taxation and spending to continue. In addition, there are a number of parliamentary committees that oversee matters such as government spending. In this way, Parliament can be said to have on- going control of public finances.