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How and Why Should Parliament Be Made More Effective?

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How and why should parliament be made more effective?

Parliament is the sovereign body in the United Kingdom and so it is vital, for the wellbeing of democracy, that parliament not only exists but is also effective. Parliament plays the role of the Legislative and, as a result, is required to be as effective as possible to assure that laws are well thought out, benefit the whole of society and most of all maintain democracy. However, many people feel that certain aspects within Parliament limit its effectiveness and they feel these features need to be reformed in order for Parliament to carry out its function correctly.
Firstly, the most obvious way to make Parliament more effective would be to reform the electoral system. Currently, Westminster elections use the system of First-past-the-post where the candidate with the most votes in a constituency wins the seats. However, this system is highly disproportionate in both terms of the word as it exaggerates winning votes for example, the Conservatives received 36.1% of the vote and won 47.1% of the seats in the 2010 general election, whereas it penalises small parties such as the Liberal Democrats who won 23% of the vote but gained only 8.8% of the seats. Particularly as FPTP produces landslide majorities, it makes Parliament less effective as the party that wins the general election forms the government and therefore has a large majority in most cases. If MPs belonging to the party vote along party lines all the time, in theory Parliament is rather ineffective when it comes to making decisions as well as scrutinising the government in an attempt to hold it to account. However, I feel if the electoral system changed to one which was more proportionally representative in terms of the votes to seats ratio, such as the Supplementary Voting System which was used in the London Mayoral elections when Boris Johnson was elected, Parliament would be more effective, and the electorates wishes would carried out more effectively because the vote to seat ratio would be much closer. Therefore the electorate would be better equipped to scrutinise the government because there would be less of such a large majority, this would also reduce executive dominance, which I feel is key in strengthening Parliaments effectiveness. Also, electoral reform would increase the likelihood of government coalitions, such as the Con-LibDem coalition which currently governs the UK, especially including smaller parties if the general election results are close. This would result in a stronger Parliament, a weaker executive and the government’s mandate would not be questioned. I also feel that the commons does not resemble society, which adds to its ineffectiveness. Critics point out that the House of Commons cannot hope to properly represent society whilst the majority of its members continue to be white, upper class men. Over 40% of current MP’s attended fee-paying schools, even though public schools educate just 7% of the population and I feel Parliament cannot be wholly effective if the commons do not reflect society, however, supporters claim that the 650 MP’s are the best people to effectively carry out the job.
Another way in which Parliament could be made more effective is by reforming Question time. Question Time occurs Monday to Thursday and is when ministers of the ruling party answer questions from the opposition and other MP's. The Prime Minister is also required to attend a single session a week lasting at least half an hour in which he must answer questions. This measure is partly effective because other MP's can directly confront ministers from the ruling party on the policies or decisions they have made. Question time can help to expose weaknesses within ruling parties. Backbenchers are also invited to question time, giving everyone the chance to hold the government accountable. However, Question time has been criticised as being only mildly effective because all questions that are to be asked have to be sent in a week in advance if the MP is to answer it. This allows the ministers to prepare their answers in advance, which means they could prepare answers that avoid the main point. Also the party whips give MP's of the ruling party questions to ask that do not really serve a purpose i.e. Why do you think your policy worked well? This demeans the whole point of question time. I feel question time, specifically PMQ’s should be extended to more than 30 minutes in order for the government to be properly held to account, which in turn would make Parliament more effective.

A third reform which would make Parliament more effective would be a reform to the House of Lords. Currently there are 787 Lords all of whom are unelected, 90 are hereditary peers and 25 are bishops. The House of Lords should become more legitimate via the removal of certain peers e.g. the 90 hereditary Peers removed and also by removing the 25 bishops who sit in the Lords. The UK is multicultural country and so the Lords should not have 25 unelected bishops, this does not at all represent society. I also feel that the House of Lords should have a complete overhaul and, like the Commons, should be elected. This would make the peers in the House of Lords more effective because as elected peers, they would have a mandate from the electorate, they would also be more effective within their role, particularly when it comes to scrutinising government policy. The Lords are, however, quite effective in their present state as they are able to freely block and scrutinise bills proposed by parliament, apart from economic bills, which is how parliament got the recent NHS bill through the lords. However, the House of Lords should not be entirely abolished, as if the Lords were abolished, all of its current workload would be shifted to the Commons, where MP’s already complain of being overworked.
The EU makes legislation mostly concerning the economy and trade, however, it is a huge threat to parliament and makes it hugely ineffective. Parliament is supposed to be sovereign yet, EU law takes precedent and the European Court of Justice is the highest court in the UK legal system. Laws made by Parliament can be overruled by the European Union and so this makes Parliament hugely inefficient and stops parliament representing the views of the electorate. An example of this is when Karen Murphy was fined £8000 by a British court for showing Premier League football matches in her pub whilst breaching copyright, But the European court backed Mrs Murphy and said the Premier League’s stance was ‘contrary to EU law’ on the freedom of trade. A reform would be for the UK to exercise opt-outs more frequently, however the only way to fully stop the EU undermining Parliament is to leave the union.
Another reform which would make Parliament more effective would be to introduce an entrenched Bill of Rights and or Human Rights Act. Currently in the UK, the Bill of Rights and HRA are not entrenched, meaning that it is fairly easy for the executive to bypass Parliament. However, if the UK Bill of Rights or HRA became entrenched, it would mean that the actions of the government would be stipulated in such a way that they would be unable to breach the bill, it would also make government more accountable for their actions; meaning Parliament could be more effective when holding the government to account as well as effective scrutiny. Another reform of is to have a stronger separation of powers as part of codified constitution. Whilst a codified constitution would limit government, perhaps in a similar way to which an entrenched Human Rights Act would, I feel that having a real separation of powers would make Parliament more effective as there would be better scrutiny with both houses being both separate and independent with equal powers. A separation of powers is similar to the US government as the House of Representatives and the senate are independent, have equal powers and are elected. However, a problem with this would be legislative gridlock, which is common is the US and policies can’t be agreed on. This would mean having no one person in more than one pillar of the three within the institution and instead being entirely separate, so someone such as the Lord Chancellor wouldn’t be a part of all three pillars. This would make Parliament more effective as they wouldn’t have conflicting interests when part of either the executive or the legislature.
Another way to make parliament more effective is to create more powerful select Committees. Whilst the Conservatives created more Select Committees in 1979 and New Labour gave more funding for Select Committees to conduct more extensive research into proposals such as the Terror Bill, I feel that Select Committees are still flawed. Instead, when scrutinising, Select Committees should have more specialist advice, and more summoning power to force government ministers and other people regarding the proposals and to call them to account. In the past, ministers such as Edwina Currie have refused to answer questions regarding proposals. Likewise, Select Committees should have more power, which the Powers Report also suggested, to act against these people who do not turn up or refuse to answer questions and instead be able to effectively call them to account. Also, after Select Committees produce a report, the Committees should be able to exert more pressure on Government to act on these reports, and gain a response from government sooner, rather than within 60 days as is the current rule. These reforms regarding Select Committees would make Parliament more effective as they would be stronger at scrutinising government policy if they had more power.
I also feel it is important to reform the whips, the MPs who have influence and pressure on other MPs by saying how to vote on proposals in some cases. Although whips can be seen to make Parliament efficient, by telling MP’s which way they must vote, they irradiate the views of the electorate and destroy democracy, thus making parliament ineffective. Reducing the power whips have would make Parliament more effective as there would be less sycophant MPs voting along party lines if there is less influence from the Whips who also encourage bias thinking. The whips now have no influence when stating who should be appointed to be a part of a Select Committee, backbenchers now chooses who to appoint. Likewise, other committees such as Standing Committees should be given more time to scrutinise legislation clauses which would make Parliament more effective, as if more time was given, it would be better to see the flaws within the legislation which could be changed therefore strengthening the legislation in the long term, particularly when being used, this would also tighten up ineffective loopholes within legislation. Members of a Standing Committees should become more permanent as it would mean they would be more experienced on matters specific to the committee and therefore more effective when scrutinising legislation and new proposals.
On the other hand, although reform is necessary in order to make Parliament more effective, I feel it is important to not destroy important traditions which are part of the institution that is Parliament.

To conclude, I feel there are many reforms that could be implemented to make Parliament more effective, such as reforming the House of Lords, irradiating Whips, giving more power to select committees and making parliament more representative. However, I feel the most important reform is to change the electoral system, as the current system does not clearly represent the electorate’s wishes and so makes parliament ineffective. However, a referendum held in 2010 resulted in the electorate choosing to keep First-Past-The-Post over The Alternative Vote, and so this is unlikely anytime soon, as the current system overwhelmingly benefits the two parties.

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