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How effective is Parliament in Controlling the Executive?

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Introduction

How effective is Parliament in Controlling the Executive? Within the parliamentary government currently in place in Britain, the executive should, in theory, be subordinate to the legislature, due to the fact that members of the executive are chosen from the majority party in the legislature. However, in practice, with electoral systems that tend to produce governments with strong majorities, it is usually the case that the executive dominates the legislature; the legislature limited to scrutinising the executive rather than controlling it, hence the phrase 'electoral dictatorship'. In scrutinising the government, the legislature employs a variety of methods including Question Time, Select Committees, Her Majesty's Opposition and The Controlling of Finance. Question Time is an opportunity for MP's within the House of Commons to ask oral questions of Cabinet Members, with written questions also being replied to. The theory of 'Question Time' is fundamentally important, i.e. questioning the government will hold them to account. However, in reality, the process lacks spontaneity. All ministers are given 48 hours notice of any questions they will be asked in the House of Commons, allowing them, or more likely their civil servants, to prepare a suitably vague answer. ...read more.

Middle

Committees run for the whole duration of Parliament, not just one session. This helps create continuity throughout the Commons. A further advantage is the relatively low level of absenteeism, suggesting a certain amount of respect for the committees. The Lords also has a number of Select Committees, like the House of Commons. However, unlike the Commons, Lords investigate committees do not mirror the work of particular government departments. Instead, they deal with broader issues and draw on the wide-ranging experience of members. In this way, the House of Lords system of committees complements the scrutiny of the executive carried out by the Commons. All committee finances are controlled by the House of Commons, not the Treasury, and investigations also tend to attract media attention, thus helping keep Government to account. An example of this was the media interest in the Foreign Affairs Committee 1998 investigation into arms to Sierra Leone. Select Committees can also gain access to valuable government information that would have otherwise remained undisclosed. However, committees hold no power to demand this information and any details the Government does not wish to release will remain undisclosed. ...read more.

Conclusion

The PAC reports to the House of Commons and all findings are publicised in the press, thus keeping the Government to account. However, the control of finance could be seen as a formality due to the vagueness of the government's estimates and the fact that the budgets of the security and intelligence industries are not available for scrutiny. As previously mentioned, the effectiveness of the legislature controlling the executive can be determined by the size of the Government's majority and party unity. An example of this was shown on 27th January 2004, during a vote over University tuition fees. The Labour Government, holding a majority of over 160, should have won the vote easily. However, due to a period of party disunity, Labour's majority was reduced to only 5, narrowly winning the vote. In conclusion, the effects of Question Time, Select Committees, the Opposition Party and the controlling of finance are minimal. Overall, Select Committees functioning marginally better than others. It could be concluded that the legislature has no control over the executive and its powers of scrutiny are limited. In fact, ignoring the recent Tuition fees votes, a large majority can insure a government has overall control of the legislature. ...read more.

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