Authors: Meg Russell (Constitution Unit, UCL) and Daniel Gover (Constitution Unit, QMUL)
The Westminster parliament, like many others around the world, is frequently criticised for being weak in policy terms. This applies particularly to the legislative process, where Westminster is often dismissed as merely a ‘rubber stamp’. But such criticisms depend on a simplistic, one-dimensional conception of parliamentary power. In this paper we present conclusions from our forthcoming book on the legislative process at Westminster, which is the largest study of the process since Griffith’s classic Parliamentary Scrutiny of Government Bills (1974). Twelve bills were traced through all their stages in both chambers; all 4361 amendments proposed were analysed for their effects, complemented by over 120 interviews with those involved. This analysis shows that parliament has a very substantial influence on the legislation agreed. Few non-government amendments are accepted, but (as Griffith found), many government amendments implement demands from non-government parliamentarians. However, parliament’s influence goes far further than that. Using Steven Lukes’ (1974) three ‘faces’ of power as a starting point, we suggest that parliament – and the different sets of political actors within parliament – wield several distinct forms of power. Once these are understood, Westminster cannot be dismissed as a ‘rubber stamp’, or merely reactive, but is instead a significant initiator of policy.
This paper will be delivered as part of our academic panel on “Westminster and Beyond”, between 2.00pm and 3.30pm.