It is important to understand the structure of the parliamentary system within which the machinery of government operates. Parliament is known as a bi-cameral legislature where by decision making autonomy resides with the lower house. The House of Commons and the House of Lords exists as a check upon the powers exerted by respective governments thou right it’s debating and ratification functions. In theory, the bi-cameral legislature in British political system exists to ensure that policy and legislation is created democratically and secondly to protect the country from autocracy or the emergence of dictatorships. Although it could be argued that both of these functions of parliament have been apparent in recent history. In this essay I aim to answer the question to what extent is parliament an effective constraint on the executive.
The first means available to parliament in scrutinizing the government is the debating and ratification functions of the House of Lords. After a bill has been proposed by the House of Commons, it is sent to the House of Lords for intense debate and discussion. After this has happened the House of Lords can pass the bill reject the bill absolutely or send the bill back to the House of Commons for amendment in its current state. However since the passing of the of the Parliament Act in 1997 the House of Lords has the powers only to delay the passing of legislation for 1 year until which point the legislation must be passed. Therefore it could be argued that the House of Lords does not act as a successful check on legislation initiated by government, as it has only the power to suggest amendments to bills and lacks the legal jurisdiction to enforce amendments to bills. One of the clearest and most commonly used examples of a way in which parliament acts as a limiting factor to the powers exerted by government exists as the size of the government’s parliamentary majority. Strong governments with large majorities such as those of Thatcher in the 1980s are far more likely to be able to pass legislation successfully and to create and implement policy relatively unopposed as they can be said to have a mandate from the electorate. Thus weaker governments which are less popular with the general public, such as that of Major in the early 1990s, find it far more difficult to successfully create and implement legislation and policies and are limited in power by opposition parties in the House of Commons and opposition from peers in the House of Lords. Furthermore weak governments can be vulnerable to a declining parliamentary majority as was again the case in Major government, which suffered a number of bye-election defeats after black Wednesday in 1992 whereby Britain was forced into leaving the European exchange rate mechanism. Therefore the less legitimate a government can be said to be which is derived directly from its parliamentary majority, the more effective parliament becomes in scrutinizing government and the policy making process. However because of the fact that the first past the post voting system in Britain usually leads to a heavy inbuilt parliamentary majority for the victorious party, it could be argued that the proportion of MPs a government has in the House of Commons over represents its actual support from the general public and thus the powers of parliament to scrutinize government in such a scenario would be insufficient. (British Politics Infocus by Roy Bentley, Alan Dobson, Peter Dorey, David Roberts, 2006, pages 310-315.)
A further clear way in which parliament is able to scrutinize the government is through the use of Prime Ministers question time which occurs every Wednesday In this 1 hour slot, members of the House of Commons are able to quiz the current Prime Minister on a wide range of political issues, although it often focuses on current government policy and affairs. Although this may sound like a clear way in which the activities of the Prime Minister and his cabinet...
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