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Constitution Unit: Perhaps Westminster is more powerful than you think? watch

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    The Constitution Unit conducts timely, rigorous, independent research into constitutional change and its consequences. The Unit is housed in UCL’s Department of Political Science.

    Common wisdom is that the British Parliament is dominated by the Government,, a rubber-stamp, MPs are lobby-fodder, and not much of a constraint on Executive power. Now, new findings by the Constitution Unit indicate that while inter-institutional conflict tends not to become visible very often in the House of Commons, the impact of backbench Members on amending legislation has been considerably under-valued.

    Link: The Constitution Unit

    The full report [PDF]

    The Unit has uncovered six ‘reasons to doubt’ this conventional view. They are as follows:


    1 - Most government amendments have little substance;
    2 - Most substantive government amendments respond to parliamentary pressure;
    3 - There may be several non-government amendments on the same issue;
    4 - Many non-government amendments do not aim to change the bill;
    5 - Parliament influences policy before the formal legislative process begins; and
    6 - Parliament influences policy after the legislative process is complete.


    In fact, contrary to the conventional wisdom, we found many clear examples of parliamentary influence on the 12 bills. These included a number of very high profile policy shifts. Under Labour, parliament effectively blocked the introduction of identity cards, secured a comprehensive ban on smoking in public places (rather than the partial ban that the government had originally intended), and ensured that the offence of corporate manslaughter applied to deaths in police custody. Under the coalition, successes included protecting from abolition a large number of public bodies including the including the Youth Justice Board, and preventing the government from gaining the power to sell off public forests. Alongside these major changes, parliament also wrought a large number of smaller policy changes.

    Our findings provide firm empirical evidence that parliament has significantly greater influence on government policy than is often assumed. This conclusion is clearly important for our understanding of the Westminster parliament and of its place in the British policymaking process. Those interested in policy development would do well to look more closely at the role parliament plays – not only at the formal legislative stages, but also in conditioning what the government proposes in the first place. Our research also demonstrates how this influence tends to work: rather than looking for conflict with the executive, Westminster achieves change primarily through more hidden forms of negotiation. By challenging dominant stereotypes of parliamentary weakness, we hope that our findings will contribute towards greater confidence in our democratic processes.
    Any thoughts on this?
 
 
 
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