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The Modernization of the UK Parliament (TCC)

The Modernization of the UK Parliament (TCC)

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Published by: manavmelwani on Apr 24, 2010
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The µModernization¶ of the United Kingdom ParliamentIntroduction
Common assumptions about Parliament
y
Parliament is at the apex of the political and governing processes in the UK. However, it isincreasingly obvious that Parliament¶s centrality is declining for a number of reasons.
o
The HC is dominated by the Executive (normally referred to as the government) inwhose hands real power and initiative lie. To this extent, the centrality of Parliament,as distinct from the centrality of the executive, is a myth and raises issues as towhether and how Parliament can reassert an independent and central role and, if itcannot or will not do so, whether alternative and supplementary arrangements shouldbe made to hold the executive to account.
o
Devolution means that the UK Parliament the Executive are having to share power with, defer to, or compromise with other bodies.
o
Enactment of the HRA 98 has reduced reliance on the two Houses as providingpolitical protection against abuses of power by the Executive, and has increasedlegal, judicial protections against such abuses.
y
The growing focus on law-based constitutionalism in preference to µthe political constitution;that flows from the last two points (and EU membership) means that Parliament operatesincreasingly within legal and political constraints.
y
The UK constitution has been trying to adapt to these new constitutional realities. The role of the judiciary in holding the executive to account for its policies and administration, includingfor compliance with European law and the ECHR, is increasing in importance as the influenceof Parliament appears to wayne.
y
Parliament and government have been making internal adaptations to meet these new needs.Increasingly, the possibility of transferring some of the current functions of Parliament tooutside bodies is under consideration.
Parliament¶s Relations with Government
y
Largely regulated by convention. E.g. it is a fairly settled tenet of the system that thegovernment is entitled to get its business through the HC and have it considered in the HL.. Itis accepted that it is the sole prerogative of the HC to withdraw confidence from thegovernment so that a general election should take place.
y
HL generally accepts that its role is secondary, in recognition of the fact taht the governmentand the Commons have democratic legitimacy flowing from election which the Lords have notbeen able to claim. However, it has come to be accepted that the Lords have importantfunctions in the revision of legislation; functions in delaying legislation for the Commons or thegovt. to reconsider a proposal where there are serious concerns about its wisdom; aconstitutional watchdog function etc... The very fact that they are not elected and arerelatively independent of party and that the HL contains members particular skills, expertise,and interests in various activities would serve to legitimate much of their activity if it took placeoutside somewhere called µParliament¶ such as a constitutional council or a council of state.But difficulties are undeniable caused by the fact that this is a µHouse of Parliament¶ whosemembers are not elected.
Relations between the House of Commons and the House of Lords
HL basically performs checking functions
The House of Commons
 
The Role and Functions of the House of Commons
This is well settled in theory at least:
o
To provide the government of the day;
o
To sustain the government in power by passing its legislation;
o
To give-or refuse-consent to taxation;
o
To authorise and control public expenditure;
o
To secure redress of constituents¶ grievances; and
o
Generally to hold the Executive to account for its policies and the conduct of government
y
Elected chamber and so it is natural that most of these functions are dominated by party-political considerations
y
It is pre-eminently a political chamber 
y
First past the post system tends to produce majorities in Parliament and encouragescompetitive rather than cooperative relations between the partiesIt is useful to summarise briefly the principal reforms of the Commons that have been achieved sinceabout 1997 and to consider whether they have in practice improved the Commons¶ performance of itsfunctions.
Individual Ministerial Responsibility: Government¶s Duty to Parliament
y
A major challenge has been, and remains, to give teeth to the convention of individualministerial responsibility to Parliament
 
y
This was formalised through the resolutions on ministerial accountability passed by eachhouse just before the 1997 general election and were incorporated into the Ministerial Codeby the new PM, Tony Blair, who accepted that the PM is responsible to Parliament for enforcing these rules. He also agreed to meet members of the HC Liaison Committee(consisting of the chairs of select committees) twice a year 
 The Scrutiny of Legislation
Problems
y
Not conducted according to any particular criteria
y
Tends to be highly politically partisan A number of supposedly modernising measures have been taken both to improve HC scrutiny of legislation and to facilitate the passage of government legislation. The two objectives are commonly atodds with each other 
y
Scrutiny has been improved by publication of explanatory notes with Bills and the introductionof pre-legislative scrutiny of some draft Bills
y
Further, the acceptance of the carry-over of some bills from one session tot he next wouldtake time pressure off scrutiny and allow it to be done thoroughly
y
The establishment in 2002 of the Joint Committee on Human Rights has produced focused,expert, and independent scrutiny of bills
y
Measures designed to facilitate the legislative process include the timetabling or programmingof bills; however, a Deputy Speaker of the House expressed the view in 2003 that the morecomprehensive introduction of programming had not led to Bills being scrutinised more
 
thoroughly or completely than before; programming was capable of being used constructivelybut in its current form all that has been achieved thus far is legislation in a hurry
The Select Committees
 
y
These committees now have an agreed explicit set of core objectives. However, they remainautonomous in how they interpret these core tasks. Several have refused to take on scrutinyof draft bills and parliamentarians may not have the time nor skills to do so. Dawn suggeststhat perhaps the role of experts and lawyers ought to be institutionalised in some way.Perhaps as an extra-parliamentary advisory committee perhaps modelled on New Zealand¶sLegislation Advisory Committee.
y
The government accepts that it has an obligation to respond to select committee reportswithin two months of their publication
y
Some like the Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) have been outstanding but onthe whole it cannot be said that there has been a systematic improvement of committee workin the HC.
y
Note that a row blew up in 06 over the responsiveness of ministers to reports of theParliamentary Ombudsman to the PASC. (The whole pension issue) The point is that theOmbudsman reports to Parliament, in particular the PASC; there being no legal redress for maladministration, the effectiveness of ministerial responsibility to Parliament is crucial for theworkability of the system and for the victims of maladministration.
y
The performance of select committees in questioning those appearing before them or obtaining the documents they need is unsatisfactory in a number of respects.
o
Highlighted in the arms to Iraq affair where the related inquiry conducted by Sir Richard Scott achieved a high level of quality of investigation and report which couldnot possibly have been achieved by a select committee.
y
Questions have been raised about the capabilities and capacities of select committees inholding government to account as it is not easy to pin responsibility on a government thatclaims it has not erred.
y
Should some of these accountability functions be transferred to independent expert bodiesreport to Parliament? And if so, what clout could or should such bodies have?
y
Parliamentary committees have themselves expressed concern about their capacity or capability in holding government to account ± in imposing ministerial responsibility.
y
Also, the ways in which departmental select committees are composed has attracted criticismover the years. By convention, each committee has a majority of government party membersand each party¶s whips decide which of their members should be nominated to eachcommittee. Thus they remain vulnerable to manipulation be the party machines.
y
Note in Oct 2003 the HC resolved that hte chairs of investigative committees should receiveadditional salaries of 12.5k/year and agreed that committee chairs would serve for only 2Parliaments
o
A difficulty here is that the chair¶s reliance on the whips for the reappointments tocommittees after an election (and thus the additional salary) might undermine their independence
o
It would be surprising if a committee chair were to turn down an offer of a governmentappointment simply for the sake of the salary that goes with the chair (which was anintention of the salary)
A
ssessment of House of Commons Reform
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The House of Lords

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