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Unit 3 The British Constitution: Parliamentary Sovereignty. Readings: Norton CH 8 and 9 BEGIN ARCHER . Election Resources . BBC News h ttp://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/politics/election_2010/default.stm Financial Times http://www.ft.com/indepth/general-election-2010 Guardian

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unit 3 the british constitution parliamentary sovereignty

Unit 3The British Constitution: Parliamentary Sovereignty


Norton CH 8 and 9


election resources
Election Resources
  • BBC News
    • http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/politics/election_2010/default.stm
  • Financial Times
    • http://www.ft.com/indepth/general-election-2010
  • Guardian
    • http://www.ft.com/indepth/general-election-2010
  • Times
    • http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/politics/
  • Independent
    • http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/
  • UK Polling Report (blog)
    • http://www.ukpollingreport.co.uk
guiding questions
Guiding Questions

What is parliamentarism?

What is the confidence relationship?

What is parliamentary sovereignty?

What is the role of the Commons? Lords?

separated powers presidentialism
Separated Powers: Presidentialism
  • US is a presidential system.
    • Executive and legislative power are separated.
  • Executive and legislative branches are elected separately (separate origin).
  • Cabinet members do not sit in the legislative branch.
  • Both branches are elected for a fixed term.
  • Neither branch can remove the other except in extraordinary circumstances (separate survival).
  • President as head of state and head of government.
fused powers parliamentarism
Fused Powers: Parliamentarism
  • UK is a parliamentary system.
    • Executive and legislative authority are fused.
  • Parliament constitutes the legislative branch
    • It is the only directly elected branch.
  • Prime Minister and the Cabinet (executive branch) come from the legislature (shared origin).
  • Prime Minister and the Cabinet constitute the executive (collective executive)
    • Cabinet members both make and enact policy.
  • Prime Minister as head of government; Monarch as head of state.
  • Terms for the executive and the legislature are not fixed
  • Confidence relationship exists between the executive and legislative branches (shared survival).
confidence relationship
Confidence Relationship
  • Concept of responsible government defines parliamentary systems.
  • Governments stay in power until:
    • 1) They lose a vote of confidence
    • 2) The PM dissolves parliament
    • 3) The upper bound of parliament is reached (5 years in the UK)
  • Legislature possesses authority to vote no confidence in the executive.
    • Governments must resign if they lose a vote of confidence.
  • Executive (PM) has powers of dissolution.
    • PM can call for new elections at any time.
  • Strong party discipline is critical in parliamentary systems.
john major and maastricht
John Major and Maastricht
  • Maastricht treaty (EU) split his Conservative party.
  • Small majority could not suffer many defections (22 rebels on a majority of 18).
  • Labour and dissidents defeated the government (324-316).
  • Embarrassing defeat for the government.
john major and maastricht1
John Major and Maastricht
  • Polls suggested Labour would win a new election.
    • Major knew this.
  • The next day, Major made the vote on Maastricht a confidence vote.
    • Had he lost, he would have called new elections.
  • Vote passed 339-299.
parliamentary sovereignty
Parliamentary Sovereignty
  • Term refers to the dominance of parliament vis-à-vis the monarch in the British governmental process.
    • Concept has evolved since the seating of William and Mary and the passage of the Bill of Rights (1689).
  • Basis found not by statute but by common law.
    • Dicey: “Parliament…has…the right to make or unmake any law whatever; and, further, that no person or body is recognized by the law…as having a right to override or set aside the legislation of Parliament”
parliamentary sovereignty1
Parliamentary Sovereignty
  • Theoretically, parliaments are not bound by previous parliaments.
    • Not so clear cut in practice.
  • Precedents can impinge on the flexibility of successive governments to overturn legislation (i.e. devolution, votes on committing troops, etc.).
  • EU law has been cited as a threat to the sovereignty of parliament
    • Remains a strong political issue within the political system.
the british parliament
The British Parliament

The British Parliament is bicameral.

First chamber (lower chamber): House of Commons

Second chamber (upper chamber): House of Lords

Rise in the prominence of the House of Commons as the franchise is expanded.

Confidence relationship extends only to the House of Commons NOT to the House of Lords.

house of commons
House of Commons
  • 646 members; serve for a maximum of 5 years.
  • Directly elected by SMD.
  • Divided between the government and the opposition.
  • Party discipline is extremely high in the Commons.
  • Government controls budget/policy/agenda
    • MPs support or oppose.
house of commons1
House of Commons
  • Representation, legislative, and oversight functions common to most legislatures.
  • Number of MP’s holding their weekly “surgeries” has increased; representation functions increasingly cited as important for MP’s.
  • 1) Debate legislation.
    • Force discussions on legislation.
    • Debates “matter” for forming political reputations.
    • PM is drawn from Commons.
    • Most ministers are drawn from the Commons
  • 2) Government backbench MPs have access to ministers.
  • 3) Publicize issues via local/national media.
  • 4) Scrutinize government decision-making.
house of commons state of the parties
House of Commons-State of the Parties
  • Labour345
  • Conservatives 193
  • Liberal Democrats 63
  • SNP 7
  • PC 3
  • Northern Ireland 18
  • Others 19
house of lords
House of Lords

Plays a major role in refining legislation

Debates less politically charged.

  • Provides representation for the Church of England.
  • Until 2009 also included the highest appeals court.
    • Supreme Court was created in 2009.
  • All bills must be passed by both chambers of parliament unless the government invokes the Parliament Acts.
the parliament acts
The Parliament Acts
  • House of Lords maintained a strong/absolute veto over all legislation until 1911.
    • Absolute/strong vetoes: Defeat legislation outright.
    • Difficult to justify vetoing the legislation of an elected government.
  • Parliament Acts of 1911
    • Gave the Lords a suspensory veto of two years
    • Suspensory veto: Delays but does not directly defeat legislation.
  • Parliament Acts of 1949
    • Reduced this suspensory veto to one year.
  • Parliament Acts do not apply to bills that:
    • 1) Are initiated in the House of Lords
    • 2) Extend the life of the current Parliament
    • 3) Are considered “statutory instruments/delegated legislation”
  • Process takes a lot of time.
    • Only used four times since 1949
house of lords composition
House of Lords-Composition
  • 26 Bishops
    • Serve until 75.
  • 92 Hereditary peers
    • Holdovers from the House of Lords Act of 1999.
    • Elected by hereditary peers previously entitled to a seat under the old laws.
  • 23 Law Lords
    • Holdovers from previous system
  • 602 Life peers
    • Appointed by PM or Commission.
  • Hereditary and life peers serve for life.
    • Cannot be removed save for bankruptcy.
house of lords state of the parties
House of Lords-State of the Parties
  • Labour 211
  • Conservative 188
  • Crossbench 182
  • Liberal Democrat 72
  • Bishops 25
  • Other 26
  • Leave of Absence 12
  • No party has a majority in the House of Lords.
    • Governments are defeated much more frequently in the Lords than in the Commons.
    • The confidence relationship does not extend into the Lords; defeat on a major piece of legislation does not imply a loss of confidence.
  • Salisbury Doctrine historically shaped debate within the chamber.
    • Lords will not defeat legislation listed in a governing party’s manifesto.
conclusions house of lords reform
Conclusions: House of Lords Reform
  • Blair government sought to remove the “inbuilt majority” amongst hereditary peers.
    • “Backwoodsmen” were defeating government policy.
  • Stage One:
    • Removed the automatic right to a seat in the House of Lords upon attainment of a peerage.
  • Weatherill Amendment
    • Secret agreement between government and Conservative peers allowing 92 peers to remain until stage two was enacted.
    • Hereditary vacancies are filled by election; all persons holding peerages are eligible to vote.
  • Stage Two:
    • Unclear; disagreements over the powers and selection mechanisms for the reformed chamber.
  • Commons favors an elected chamber; the Lords prefers to remain appointed.
  • Reform has created a more assertive chamber.
    • Adherence to Salisbury Convention declining.
next unit
Next Unit

Theme: Cabinet Government

Readings: Norton CH 4 and 5; Dunleavy CH 3 and 4