"An Institution in decline." Discuss this view of the contemporary House of Commons.

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Siobhan Kiely                October 2003

An Institution in decline.” Discuss this view of the contemporary House of Commons.

The House of Commons has seven main functions; legitimating, Scrutinising, Accountability, Legislating, Law-making, Redressing of grievances and deliberating.

        If the contemporary House of Commons were in decline, we would see this by a decline in the effectiveness of the House of Commons when carrying out these functions. Looking at the functions of the House of Commons will help to assess whether or not the House of Commons is “an institution in decline.”

        Legislation has to be approved by the House of Commons in order to give the consent of the people for the laws that they will be expected to follow. This is achieved in the function of legitimating in the House of Commons. No decline in effectiveness seems to be shown in this function.

MPs are becoming more representative of the population as the House of Commons is slowly changing from being predominantly white, middle aged and middle class men to more representative of females and ethnic minorities; there are now 118 female MPs and the number of ethnic minority MPs has risen for the fourth time since 1945.  More fair representation leads to more effective legitimating in the House of Commons so this shows an improvement rather than a decline.

To give consent on behalf of the people, MPs are referred to as “honourable member” in order to maintain democracy by respecting the fact that MPs aren’t just individuals and that they represent a constituency and are speaking on behalf of the public.

Scrutiny is when the House of Commons and its committees check what the government is doing and watches how it is working. Scrutiny is carried out effectively by the House of Commons, in the way in which the Prime Minister has a thirty-minute Question Time every Wednesday, where the House of Commons can ask questions to scrutinise Tony Blair and to make sure that his government is acting in the public interest.

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 Spending is scrutinised by the Public Accounts Committee, which is chaired by a senior member of the Opposition. This is fair and allows for fair and proper scrutiny by the House of Commons to ensure minimum dishonesty and minimum incompetence of the government.

        Another effective way in which the House of Commons scrutinises, is in the ways that select committees work to make issues known so that the government cannot ignore them and are encouraged to act. An example of this was when a committee investigated RORO Ferries when a wave had entered one of the ferries through an open ...

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