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one way the parliament can hold the government to account is through asking questions. There are 3 main opportunities to do this. Prime ministers question time, government question times and through asking an urgent question slot. These opportunities can be used to highlight issues in the party or issues asking for something the government has done and puts pressure on the government has done and puts pressure on the government to justify their actions or reassure parliament that action will be taken to tackle a problem. PMQ in particular can be used to embarrass the government and put pressure on them to listen and change.
For example the labour leader, Keir stammer, asked prime minister Rishi Sunak if he knew the ambulance wait times in different areas of the country. Sunak repeatedly did not answer the question which suggests he either did not know or was too embarrassed to answer.
On the other hand, many question times are a lot less high profile, and easier to brush off. Ministerial question times may often only attract a small number of MPS and not much media publicity. This makes it a lot easier for the government to slightly answer the question, and then move on.
For example, the UK parliament recently asked the question what the government is doing to prevent the number of students dropping out due to the cost of living crisis however there were not many MP’s in the chamber and she was easily able to give a brief response and move on.
This shows that unless there is a significant amount of support/ interest from MP’s , the media, the public, the government does not need to fear losing support as a result of oral question time. Overall, oral question time has limited effectiveness in holding the government to account in some instances, they can serve to highlight an issue or show the government in a negative light, but the shortness of the sessions, the lack of attendance from MPS and lack of media coverage other than PMQs limits the effectiveness.
holding the government to account point 2- select committees!
Another way the parliament can hold to account is through select committees. These exist in both houses of parliament, the house of commons and the lords. The select committees are cross party groups that complete investigative reports, conduct inquires and hold the government to account. Select committees can make party recommendations at the end of their investigation process.
However, the they is not obliged to adopt these recommendations. Select committees can be established by standing orders which makes them permanent, or they can be established for a single session or report, after which they are dissolved. not only do select committees work on a cross party basis, but they also work across the two houses in the form of ‘joint committees’. Select committees allow back bench MP’s to scrutinize the government and exercise influence.
As well as being able to lease with experts in different fields, select committees can request to view restricted documents which are produced during the legislation process lastly, with their ability to request appearances from cabinet ministers and senior political figures, select committees inquires can have a damaging impact on a political party’s image.
For example, the privileges committee grilled Boris Johnston for over 3 and a half hours on the parties he held at Christmas during covid and whether he lied to parliament about these, this led to huge media interest and led to his resignation. This shoes that because of the time taken to investigate and the ability to call out MP’s, select committees are an effective way of holding the government to account, however, select committees authority is limited by a lack of enforcement power. They have the authority to scrutinise government departments, policys and legislation, but no corresponding power with which to make change.
holding the government to account point 3- House of lords!
Another way of holding the government to account is through the house of lords. The H of L is known as the second chamber of parliament, and it’s members are mainly nominated to be there due to their expertise in a particular area or due to their services to a political party in their time as an M.P. Members of the H of L are not elected and have their role for life. This is an important factor in their ability to hold the government to account because it allows them to speak freely and to publicly disagree with the government without having to worry about their position.
Members f the H of L don’t need to worry about upsetting their leader of their party of constituents. Every proposed bill is debated in both of the H of C and the H of L and the lords will often ask for amendments to be made to a bill before voting in favour of it. This can happen several times with a bill being sent back and fourth between the two houses before it is passed.
For example, in 202, the lords disagreed with many aspects of the conservative governments proposed public order, bill and asked for several amendments as removing the right of the police to stop and search protesters without reason for suspicious. This shows that the H of L is able to hold the government to account effectively as they have time to scrutinise legislation and highlight issues to the public and puts pressure on the government to consider proposed amendments, which is especially crucial if a government has a large majority and could otherwise pass legislation easily despite the criticism.
holding the government to account point 4- vote of no confidence!
A final way parliament can hold the government to account is by a vote of no confidence. This is when the opposition expresses serious concerns about the ability of the prime minister, or the government as a whole, to run the country, all MP’s vote and if the prime minister looses the vote, he or she is expected to resign or to call a general election.
For example, when Theresa May was prime minister, she was faced several votes of no confidence die to criticisms over her handling of brexit negotiations. This is effective as even though it is rare for someone to lose a confidence vote, it is very embarrassing to get to this stage, especially if members of their own party vote against them.