The Various Roles of an MP in the House of Commons

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In this essay I am going to look at four major roles played by an MP in the House of Commons. These are Law- Making, Scrutiny and Accountability, Representation and Government role as a minister. I am going to discuss whether MP’s are effective within their roles and what their main constraints and limitations are. Law- Making involves three elements, Legitimation, Scrutinizing and making your own legislation. Legitimation is where we elect officials to make laws and therefore they give consent on behalf of the people. However the government rarely has the majority.

In 2001 the Labour party only received 41% of the vote, where as the Conservative party received 33% percent of the vote, which shows with the Labour government being in power not everyone is represented, in fact on 41% of the people are represented. So it can be argued that the Labour Government today lacks legitimacy, as only 1 in 4 people voted for a Labour Government. Not everyone voted for certain MPs and most of the law passed comes from the government itself and cannot be changed by individual MPs because they are controlled by the Whip system.

Another Law- Making function is for the government to scrutinise through the House of Commons through debates, votes and the standing committee. So MPs are given the opportunity to work and amend government and private members bills. However this depends on what the government wants. However even if a debate does take place whether a bill should be passed or not, if the government wants the bill passed, it swill eventually be passed. The governments Law Making can also be scrutinised when it gets to the standing committee stage. Standing committee members study the bill clause by clause, making any needed changes.

Members of the standing committee come from different parties chosen by the whips. Standing committees are AD-HOC and most of the committees consist of about 40 members. However there are problems with the standing committee because they have no specialist knowledge or expertise, so it is pointless for certain MPs to be in there. MPs have so many bills to look at that they do not do the job effectively. The whips choose the membership so only Mps with either no knowledge or those that are loyal will be put on standing committees.

There is also an in-built majority in the committees. The government can easily apply the guillotine when looking through bills allowing there to be only a set time to look at bills. The outcome of standing committees is usually predictable. The standing committee lack information due to lack of evidence and information sources passed from outside and individual bodies. The Standing committee could be reformed in many ways; there could be a fixed timetable where the guillotine cannot be applied.

The standing committee could have additional powers where they can get more evidence and witnesses. Standing and Select committees could be merged together so there are more skilled people working together. Another function in Law Making is the ability for an MP to make its own law. This can be through Private Bills, Public Bills and Private Members Bills. Private members bills are made on the behalf of a pressure group or an organisation. There can only be up to 20 put forward in a year and only about 5 get through. Private Members Bills rarely get through.

Private Members Bills can succeed if there is enough time in Parliament to look at the bills. If the bill is uncontroversial and the government wants to reform a certain social issue but is too controversial for them to support directly (e. g. Homosexuality). However most Private members Bills do fail because the bills put forward are too controversial, it only takes one MP to object for the bill to be rejected. Many MPs waste time filibustering to prevent a vote from being taken. The government can also easily disapprove through the whip system.

Another role of an MP in the House of Commons is to hold the government to account; this can be done through Prime Ministerial and Ministerial Question Time, Debates, Voting, Standing committee work, Select committee work and the Shadow Cabinet. At Prime Ministerial Question Time half an hour is given to MPs to ask questions. At Ministerial Question Time more time is given as it takes place everyday rather than just a Wednesday except for Fridays. The procedure entails an MP to submit their question to the tale three days in advance in order to get an answer.

An MP can ask up to two questions. The first is tabled through the table office and the second is a supplementary question that can be asked, however supplementary questions can usually be anticipated. The civil servants write out the responses. Questions are asked at question time because it can scrutinise the government. It can also get vital information on certain policies. It can help publicise issues and show constituents that their MP is actively involved. However it can be done to impress the party or embarrass the government.

Sometimes it is a planted question which enables the government to express something in a favourable light. MPs can also write to other MPs by sending it through the able office. The amount of written questions is unlimited. The questions are effective because supplementary questions are able to test an MPs ability of a minister. It is also a really good way to get information. However the problems include that question times are nothing but a slanging match between MPs. Supplementary questions can usually be anticipated.

Ministers don’t actually have to answer the questions and anyway it’s the civil servants that answer the question not the MPs themselves. Debates in the House of Commons can be done through many ways including, debates on white paper, green paper, ministerial statements, committee amendments, emergency debates and may more. The effectiveness of debates is that it can uncover major issues and publicise problems. It can urge the government to reconsider policy and also helps MPs further their career. However the problem’s with debates is that they rarely change anything and is done at night time when most ministers are not present.

Voting is another way that an MP can scrutinize the government as all government policy must be legitimised by the House of Commons, so Mps can actually reject government legislation. This is effective because the number of backbenchers does out number the government so the government has to listen to the backbenchers. Government backbenchers can also refuse the whip. However it can be ineffective because whips can pressurise the backbenchers, only one government bill has ever been defeated and the government always get their policy through anyway.

Select committees are a good way for an MP to hold the government to account because they can use research and examine a report highlighting any cause for concern. They report back to the House of Commons. It usually consists of 11 members and the members are all professionals. This is effective because it can scrutinise government expenditure. Ministers on the whole do listen to reports and can answer some of the questions. Witnesses can also be called to obtain information. However there are many problems with this including that minister don’t have to attend the committee’s investigations.

The official secrets act limits ministers to communicate information to committees. There is a lack of resources which means they cannot do there jobs effectively. The whips choose the members so it’s not the best people for the job. Ministers do not have to respond to questions and reports. There are some ways to improve the select committee process for example by paying ministers extra expenses so research can be done more effectively. Merge select and standing committees together. Whips no longer choose membership and the in-built majority should be removed.

The shadow government is very good at scrutinizing the government. The effectiveness means that they get paid much larger salaries and ask relevant ministers relevant questions. The problem with this is that the shadow cabinet does lack relevant information and there is no civil service report. The third role of an MP in the House of Commons is to represent their constituency. This is not very effective at all because half of the Mps come from a professional background whereas only 10% of the people come from professional background. This is disproportionate.

However most Mps are middle aged, middle classed white men because selectors are unlikely to choose candidates who do not conform to the stereotypical voter. The job is well educated therefore it needs a well educated person to do it. It requires many skills like good communication. The House of Commons should be fairly represented because it means that policy is approved by the country as a whole. Policy is legitimate. It would improve political participation. The government’s power would be decreased and there would be a better redress of grievances for the minority groups.

However sometimes its better not to represent fairly as some argue it will only create more conflicting interests. Overall it should be based on what the people want, which is the best man for the job. However a problem with representation is that the Mps do not know who to represent; the party? The people? Or the Themselves? Most Mps use their own conscience and are loyal to the carry to carry out the three models; The Trustee Model, The Delegate Model and the Mandate Model. The government is a major constraint as Mps fear the sack if they go against the government.

Representation is affected by many factors including work overload. These days MPs have such a enormous amount of work to do it is hard for them to find time to represent their constituents properly. They have to go to meetings with party officials, travel to and from the constituency, sit on committees and vote and debate. More politicians are choosing politics as their main career, these Mps are much more loyal to the party and this has a negative effect on fair representation. Mps also have dictatorships with many businesses in the UK; many have links with business groups.

This means that they look for the interest of the company rather than the constituency. Mps are also attracted to greed, they will obviously get paid more and have chances of promotion if they don’t go against the government. Another role of an MP in the House of Commons is their government role as a minister. As a minister, Mps have to always have the interests of the constituents at heart. That is the most important thing as it was the constituents that voted them in. Mps can ask relevant ministers questions on behalf of the constituents.

An Mp can introduce Private Members Bills to change law for a specific constituent. In committee work \MPs can amend legislation inline of what their constituents want. This can happen at all levels including voting, debating, amending, legislating, making legislation and bring the government to account through Prime Ministerial and Ministerial Question Time. MPs have to consider how they help their constituents because when the next general election takes place they will only vote for the MP if last time they were able to help them.

Overall I feel that Mps are not very good at their roles in the House of Commons. There is too much work for them to do, so no work can be done effectively. There is never enough resources so work cannot be done effectively. There is too much pressure from the government so constituents cannot be repented fairly. The House of Commons should share its seats out among the party depending on how many people voted for the. For example if 25% of the people voted for Liberal Democrats then the Liberal Democrats should have 25% of the seats. This would mean it is fair and everyone in the UK is represented.

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