Backbenchers can be argued to have a significant role in Parliament, because:
- They can introduce Private Members’ Bills which may become laws
- ‘Ten Minute Rule Bills’ are an opportunity for backbenchers to voice an opinion on a subject or aspect of existing legislation. MPs make speeches of no more than ten minutes outlining their position, which another Member may oppose in a similar short statement. This can raise the profile of a particular issue
- They can carry out detailed scrutiny of government bills and policy, through working on public bill and select committees
- They can pose questions to government ministers during Question Time
- They can examine government actions through debates in the Commons
- They can write questions to ministers, who must provide a response
- They can raise concerns of their constituents and bring them to the government’s attention
- They can use parliamentary privilege- this grants legal immunities for MPs and peers to allow them to perform their duties without interference from outside of the House
Backbenchers can be argued to not have a significant role in Parliament, because:
- Private Member’s Bills very rarely become law, so most of a backbencher’s time is spent considering government bills
- When it comes to scrutiny, government whips limit role of their backbenchers, limiting their independence and significance
- When debating, there is a limited time available to discuss issues in detail, and debates often have little direct impact on legislation
- MPs could represent the people better- they are often elected with less than 50% of the vote in their constituencies, and the views of women and minority groups could be argued to be not properly represented
- Question Time is often weak and ineffective
These have a significant role to play in challenging the executive because:
- They scrutinise government policy, shadowing the work of major government departments. They do this by carrying out inquiries, writing reports, carrying out question and answer sessions (through which they can call witnesses, including government ministers), and ask to see government papers
The role select committees play is restricted by the fact that:
- The government has a majority on the committees, reflecting their Commons majority, so can dominate them (although the chairs of select committees are elected by Parliament as a whole)
- Whips control individual appointments to the committees, meaning loyal MPs can be placed on them
- Select committees can criticise government policy, but cannot change it
The best-known example of this is PMQs (Prime Minister’s Questions)- this takes place every Wednesday from 12-12.30pm.
Question Time has a role to play in scrutinising the government because:
- The Prime Minister (or whichever minister is being questioned) must answer questions on subjects which they (in theory) are not aware of, and must justify and explain their actions, which holds them to account
- During PMQs, the opposition leader can ask supplementary questions, allowing them more opportunity to scrutinise the PM
Question Time is argued to be ineffective, because:
- Questions are often not properly answered by the PM/ministers
- It is often described as an example of ‘Punch and Judy’ style politics, whereby the PM and opposition leader try to embarrass each other and score cheap political points, rather than it being proper meaningful scrutiny
- The raucous (perhaps boorish) nature of Question Time, PMQs particularly, damages the reputation of Parliament and politicians in the eyes of the public
- Name the three parts of Parliament.
- Your answer should include: Commons / Lords / Monarch
- How many MPs make up the House of Commons?
- Which party members persuade MPs to vote in particular ways?
- Which type of committee scrutinises government policy, rather than particular bills?
- Select Committee
- When does PMQs take place?
- True or false: a bill can be voted down at the first reading.
- What is the final stage of a bill becoming a law?
- Royal Assent
- What is the convention by which the Lords will not block government manifesto pledges?
- What are the majority of bills known as?
- Public Bills
- Who organises and chairs debates in the Commons?
The second largest party in the Commons is the official Opposition. It is significant, because:
- It is given privileges at debates, for example during PMQs the opposition leader can ask the Prime Minister more questions
- On ‘opposition days’ opposition parties can choose subjects for debate, and often use the day to criticise and scrutinise government policy and actions
The opposition can be argued to be less significant, because:
- They have no real ability to initiate legislation
- The government usually has an overall majority, giving them dominance of the Commons
- They have a lack of resources relative to government (for example, the civil service is duty bound to support and enact government policy)
- The opposition party is often in a position of weakness and may be divided, as they will have lost the election