Can Parliament Effectively Hold Government to Account?

Published: 2021-08-11 08:05:07
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Each commons select committee looks into the activities of its department and reports its findings to the commons. The findings are also made public and published on the Parliament website. Many of the findings require a response from the government, and they usually have 60 days to reply. Select committees are effective because the committee’s findings are made public, which would discourage the government from doing something that would be seen as corrupt, or something against human rights.
An example of this would be the News International phone hacking scandal, where the Culture, Media and Sport committee discovered that phones were being hacked by journalists. This led to the closure of the News Of The World and the arrests of some News International executives. Standing committees are also effective because they examine proposed bills and report their conclusions and amendments to the commons. This would prevent the commons from passing bills that would be against human rights. Ministers’ Question Time is the most obvious tool for accountability.
Ministers are expected to appear regularly in the House of Commons to answer questions from MPs. This allows the opposition to scrutinise the decisions of ministers and find out what progress is being made in their department. However, Ministers’ Question Time is not always effective, as ministers are often pre-warned about the questions they will be asked so they can plan answers. Also, ministers have access to teams of civil servants who can help research and prepare answers. Prime Minister’s Question Time is not seen as very effective because many people think it has turned into a ceremonial xchange between the Prime Minister and the leader of the opposition often for the media rather than the exercise of scrutiny. The Doctrine of Individual Ministerial Responsibility also increases the effectiveness of Parliament. The Doctrine states that a cabinet minister bears the ultimate responsibility for the actions of their department. If their department is seen as a failure, the minister is expected to resign. The doctrine is effective because it discourages ministers from doing anything that they shouldn’t as they would be held responsible and wouldn’t be able to shift the blame onto someone else.
It would also motivate ministers to scrutinise the activities within their departments and make sure that they are managed and carried out effectively with no problems. The departments are scrutinised by Parliament and departmental select committees. The minister would receive feedback on how their department is doing and would therefore know how to improve the work of the department if there are any minor issues. The only problem with the Doctrine is that ministers may be forced to resign for something that happened in their department that wasn’t their fault, yet they were still held responsible for.
For example, the former Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government & the Regions, Stephen Byers, was forced to resign in 2002 after unprofessional behaviour from his political advisors. Some people think that the House of Lords is not the most effective way of holding the government to account because, although their standing committee can scrutinise legislation, the House can’t block the legislation if they feel that it is not suitable – they can only offer ideas on how the bill could be amended and they might not always be taken into consideration by the House of Commons.
The House of Lords has also been criticised because the members are not elected, so some people feel that the members shouldn’t have the right to scrutinise legislation proposed by the government. However, many members of the House of Lords are legal experts, meaning they would be qualified to scrutinise legislation and would probably have higher qualifications than many members of the House of Commons in regard to legislation. The House of Commons could than take the advice given from the legal experts and use it to help make their decision whether or not to pass he proposed legislation. Whips can both help and hinder the effectiveness of Parliament. Written whips, especially a three-line whip which means attendance at the House is essential, ensure that MPs attend the House of Commons to vote on important issues, for example the passing of legislation. Whips also ensure that the government maintains its majority in votes taken in the house. This is done by applying pressure on rebellious MPs from within their own parties – usually the MP is given just a severe talking to but in more extreme cases, they may lose their right to vote in the House.
This is usually enough to ensure that an MP votes as the whip tells them to. This could be seen as both effective and ineffective. It is effective because it allows the government to easily pass legislation as they would have a majority in parliament and if their MPs obey their whip, then they would automatically have a majority on the vote, no matter how the other parties in the House vote. On the other hand, people may see it as ineffective as MPs may vote against their own views and vote for what the whip tells them to avoid being punished.
In conclusion, I think that Parliament can effectively hold the government to account to an extent, as committees can look into the activities of the government and suggest improvements; they can also expose scandals such as the News International phone hacking scandal, the Doctrine of Individual Ministerial Responsibility helps ensure that departments are effectively managed, and whips ensure that all MPs are present in the House of Commons to vote on important issues.
However, not all aspects of Parliament are as effective, as ministers can get help from civil servants to answer their questions at Question Time, and the House of Lords only plays a minor role in scrutinising legislation.

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