Politics: Political structures for Int 2

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Politics
Political Structures: Tutor Support Pack
(Intermediate 2)
Political Structures: Tutor Support Pack (Int 2)
Contents
Introduction
Statement of standards
Unit content
Assessment
2
3
4
Guidance for Teachers/Lecturers
Delivery advice
Scheme of work
Approaches to learning and teaching
5
6
8
Information for Student/Pupil Activities
The legislative branch of government: an introduction
The executive branch of government: an introduction
The UK Parliament: Outcome 1 – PC (a) & (b)
The UK Executive: Outcome 2 – PC (a) & (b)
The Scottish devolved political system: an introduction
The Scottish Parliament: Outcome 1 – PC (a) & (b)
The Scottish Executive: Outcome 2 – PC (a) & (b)
The European Union: an introduction
The European Parliament: Outcome 1 – PC (a) & (b)
The European Commission: Outcome 2 – PC (a) & (b)
The European Council: Outcomes 1 & 2 – PCs (a) & (b)
Other important institutions and bodies of the European Union
Summary of the political structures of Scotland, the UK and the European Union
9
16
20
35
44
46
57
62
70
78
84
88
89
Appendix
Resource information
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Scottish Further Education Unit
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Political Structures: Tutor Support Pack (Int 2)
Statement of Standards
Political Structures (Intermediate 2)
Outcome 1
Describe the legislative branch of government in Scotland, the UK and the European
Union.
Performance Criteria
(a) The key features of the legislative branch of government are described clearly.
(b) Examples of the operation of the legislative branch of government are described
clearly.
Outcome 2
Evaluate the political executives of Scotland, the UK and the European Union.
Performance Criteria
(a) The structure of the executive in Scotland, the UK and the European Union is
compared clearly.
(b) The powers of the executive in Scotland, the UK and the European Union are
explained clearly.
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Political Structures: Tutor Support Pack (Int 2)
Unit Content
The unit has two Outcomes:
1. Describe the legislative branch of government in Scotland, the UK and the European
Union.
2. Evaluate the political executives of Scotland, the UK and the European Union.
The unit content can be summarised as follows:
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structure of Scottish, UK and European Union legislative assemblies: unicameral,
bicameral and tricameral models
relative advantages and disadvantages of three different legislative systems
political decision makers within each of the systems
nature and functions of the committee systems used in each model
important institutions involved in the three legislative processes: the Queen, the
House of Commons and House of Lords; the Scottish Parliament; the European
Council and Council of Ministers, the European Parliament and the European
Commission
functions of a legislature: monitoring and scrutiny of the executive; recruitment and
control of political leaders; making and dismissing governments; democratic political
representation; the passing of laws
comparison and contrast between the legislatures of Scotland, the UK and the
European Union
structure of the three executives: the Scottish Executive, the UK Government and the
European Commission/Council of Ministers
distribution of powers within each executive
checks and balances on the power of each executive
comparison and contrast of the powers of the Scottish, UK and European Union
executives.
Note:
For further details refer to the unit specification from the National Unit
Specification Document. This can be found at www.sqa.org.uk
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Political Structures: Tutor Support Pack (Int 2)
Assessment
The unit assessment pack from the National Assessment Bank for this unit contains the
following internal assessments:
Outcomes 1 and 2 = a 60-minute question paper comprising a mixture of short-answer
and extended response items, where questions may be structured, and may be based on
stimulus material; to be conducted under supervised test conditions. Evidence
requirements apply to the Unit as a whole, and therefore, apply holistically to both
outcomes of the Unit.
Instruments of assessment should, therefore, comprise questions/items that reflect
marking of the Outcomes as follows:
Outcome 1: Knowledge and understanding – 10 marks.
Outcome 2: Analysis and evaluation – 10 marks.
10/20 or 50% score required for a pass.
Note:
Student/Pupil Activities within the Support Materials provide a balance of tutor-led
and student-centred activities. Formative end of outcome activities have been
included. A number reflect the style, content and layout of the NAB assessments.
Marks out of 10, per question, should be awarded when feedback is given, thus
reflecting the end-of-unit assessment.
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Political Structures: Tutor Support Pack (Int 2)
Delivery Advice
Suggested timing
The notional time for this unit is 40 hours. A suggested scheme of work is shown below
which is based on the assumption that the unit would be taught for three hours per week,
over a 12-week period, the twelfth week being used for final assessment. This will leave
four hours for feedback on assessment, remediation, and when the candidate is ready,
reassessment.
Introductory sessions: 1 and 2
These first two sessions are designed to provide a general introduction to the legislative
and executive processes.
UK sessions: 3 and 4
Sessions three and four examine the legislative and executive functions of the UK
system. This means that aspects of Outcomes 1 and 2 are being covered, but at this
stage, only in relation to one governmental system.
Scottish sessions: 5 and 6
These next two sessions concentrate on the legislative and executive functions of the
Scottish devolved system; Outcomes 1 and 2 now being covered in relation to the 2nd
political system.
UK/Scottish evaluative session: 7
This next session is designed to enable the learner to compare and contrast the UK with
the Scottish system.
EU sessions: 8 and 9
These two sessions examine the legislative and executive functions of the European
Union; Outcomes 1 and 2 now having been covered in relation to the last of the three
political systems.
UK/EU evaluative session: 10
This session enables the learner to compare and contrast all three governmental
systems.
Revision and Assessment sessions: 11 and 12
This then leaves two sessions: the first to revise and prepare for assessment, and the last
for the actual assessment. Centres must obviously plan to deliver according to their own
timetabling system, but it is suggested that a formative approach is adopted whereby the
student/pupil is introduced to one political structure at a time; each then to be compared
and contrasted with the previous one studied. This will enable later summative
preparatory student/pupil activities to take place, which reflect the actual 60-minute
assessment. The learning materials, sample activities and examples of formative
assessment included in this support pack are presented in the same order as the advice
given above, and the scheme of work shown below. It is suggested that learners
undertake the student/pupil revision activity, provided at the end of each week’s outcome,
before moving on to the next topic.
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Political Structures: Tutor Support Pack (Int 2)
Scheme of Work
This illustrates how the pack could be used to deliver the unit. The example used is
based on three-hour blocks of information, which can be broken down to suit local
circumstance.
Week
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
Content
Introduction to unit. Key features of
the legislative branch of a
government. Legislative process;
Legislative structures; Scrutiny;
Sovereignty.
Key features of the executive
branch of a government. Executive
structures; Leadership; Policy
implementation; Civil servants.
Introduction to the UK Parliament.
Bicameral legislative system; Role
of House of Commons and Lords;
Function of committees; Role of
Monarch; Scrutiny; Sovereignty.
Introduction to the UK Executive.
Structure of the executive: Prime
Minister, Cabinet and Government
Departments; Powers of the PM and
government; Checks and balances.
Introduction to the Scottish
Parliament. Unicameral legislative
system; Retained & devolved
powers; Function of committees;
Scrutiny.
Introduction to the Scottish
Executive. Structure of the Scottish
Executive: First Minister, Scottish
Cabinet and Executive
Departments; Powers devolved to
the Scottish Executive; Checks and
balances.
Evaluating the powers of the UK
and Scottish Executives. Comparing
and contrasting the structures of
both.
Introducing the EU Parliament.
Tricameral legislative system; Role
of European Parliament, European
Commission, Council of Ministers
and the European Council; Scrutiny;
Sovereignty.
Introducing the EU Commission.
Structure, President and
Commissioners; Powers, checks
and balances.
Scottish Further Education Unit
Outcomes
Outcome 1 – PC (a) & (b)
Comparative overview of the three
systems (UK/Scotland/EU).
Introduction to legislative aspects of
government. Student activity.
Outcome 2 – PC (a) & (b)
Introduction to executive aspects of
government. Relationship between
legislative and executive functions.
Student activity.
Outcome 1 – PC (a) & (b)
Understand key features of UK
Parliament and how this legislative
system operates. Student activity.
Outcome 2 – PC (a) & (b)
Understand the structure and powers
of the UK Executive. Practice
assessment.
Outcome 1 – PC (a) & (b)
Understand key features of Scottish
Parliament and how this legislative
system operates. Student activity.
Outcome 2 – PC (a) & (b)
Understand the structure and powers
of the Scottish Executive. Practice
assessment.
Outcome 2 – PC (a) & (b)
Compare and evaluate the structure
and powers of the UK and Scottish
executives.
Outcome 1 – PC (a) & (b)
Understand key features of EU
Parliament and how this legislative
system operates. Student activity.
Outcome 2 – PC (a) & (b)
Understand the structure and powers
of the EU Commission. Practice
assessment.
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11
12
Evaluating the powers of the EU
Commission. Comparing and
contrasting the structure of the
executive in the UK, and the
European Union. Areas of conflict:
Intergovernmentalism &
supranationalism; Europhiles &
Eurosceptics; National sovereignty
& further integration.
Revision and preparation for
assessment.
Assessment.
Outcome 2 – PC (a) & (b)
Compare and evaluate the structure
and powers of the UK Government
with that of the EU Commission.
Student activity.
Outcome 1 – PC (a) & (b)
Outcome 2 – PC (a) & (b)
Student revision.
Outcome 1 – PC (a) & (b)
Outcome 2 – PC (a) & (b)
Assessment
The last three-hour block could be used to administer the assessment, which is a closedbook, supervised test, with a time limit of one hour and will be holistic, covering all
Outcomes and Performance Criteria.
Remaining four hours to be used as
appropriate for: feedback on
assessment, remediation and
reassessment.
Outcome 1 – PC (a) & (b)
Outcome 2 – PC (a) & (b)
Reassessment
Note:
It will be up to teachers/lecturers to decide how best to allocate time within delivery
and the above should in no way be seen as prescriptive.
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Approaches to Learning and Teaching
Delivery
It is suggested that in the delivery of this unit, a variety of approaches to learning and
teaching be used. Relevant audio/visual materials, such as current broadcasts of the
Scottish and UK Parliament’s legislative debates, question times and committee
sessions, could be used. Other broadcast news, political discussions and documentaries
could also be used to stimulate interest and understanding in, what is for some, a dry
subject when restricted only to the study of class notes. Invited speakers from the local
branch of political parties, and class debates based on topics covered in the unit, can
help maintain interest and clarify understanding.
Topicality
It is often useful to begin each session by briefly discussing breaking political news; this
can help learners to understand the clear and relevant links that exist between the unit
being studied, and the wider world. Controlled use of internet resources can be used to
encourage learners to gather additional information on the legislative and executive
processes of the three systems studied; it can also be useful in helping them to
understand more about the political personalities and debates involved.
Active involvement
A range of useful textbooks is also available and visits to the Scottish Parliament can be
easily arranged. Throughout the study of this unit, learners should be encouraged to
actively find out more through independent learning and participation in group and whole
class activities.
Direct relevance
The emphasis should be on an understanding that the decisions and actions taken by
parliaments and governments have a direct, and very important, effect on the lives of all
of us. Learners should therefore be encouraged to understand that politics is not an
abstract thing, but rather a very real and constantly changing subject. The learning
materials that follow contain details of political leaders and the holders of executive posts
relating to Scotland, the UK and the European Union. These people will inevitably
change, as will the positions that they occupy. Encouraging students/pupils to monitor
and record these changes will reinforce their understanding of the dynamic nature of the
study of politics. The Scottish system is new and settling in; the UK system is in the
process of reform, and there is much debate about the future role and structure of the
European Union. It is this constant evolution in politics that the learner should be
encouraged to understand, follow and enjoy.
Note:
 This teaching pack contains more detail than is needed for Intermediate 2,
and not everything contained need be covered. Teachers/lecturers can
select what they use as appropriate to their students/pupils.
 Political Structures is a free-standing Unit, which need not be studied
alongside the Theory and Representation Units. Reference to these other
Politics Units is provided only as a help to those who may be
teaching/studying them.
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Information and student/pupil activities
The legislative branch of government: an introduction
A society without rules would probably be a very dangerous and unpredictable place to
live. Rules help people to understand what is expected of them: what they can and can’t
do. With rules, people will know what is expected of them and behave appropriately.
Compared to many societies, life in the United Kingdom (UK) is fairly safe, ordered and
predictable. This may be because there are many rules to obey. Laws are rules that must
be obeyed. Not to obey the law is an offence and can lead to an individual being
punished. It is therefore vitally important that those who make the laws get it right. People
who make laws are called legislators and they do so as members of legislative
assemblies. A country like ours has been legislating for hundreds of years, and so has
many laws. All of the laws made are contained in the statute books. As well as making
new laws, legislators can get rid of old laws that are no longer needed. Sometimes they
only change part of a law.
To make a new law:
To get rid of a law:
To change part of an existing law:
Pass a law
Repeal a law
Amend a law
Legislation that affects the people of Scotland takes place in three different assemblies,
all known as parliaments. They are as follows:
Assembly
Parliament of the
United Kingdom
Location
London
Legislators
Members of
Parliament (MPs)
Scottish Parliament
Edinburgh
Parliament of the
European Union
Strasbourg
Members of the
Scottish Parliament
(MSPs)
Members of the
European
Parliament (MEPs)
Function
To make laws
applicable to all
parts of the UK
To make laws
applicable only to
Scotland
To make laws
applicable to all
countries that are
members of the EU
UK legislation takes place in the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, London. There are
three parts to this parliament: The House of Commons, The House of Lords and The
Monarchy. The House of Commons (usually just called the Commons) is regarded as
being the most important, as far as legislation is concerned. This is because the people
that sit in the Commons have been democratically elected.
Note:
See Political Representation: Outcome 2 for an explanation of the UK, Scottish and
EU Parliamentary election systems. This advice will not be applicable to those
studying Political Structures as a free-standing Unit.
Scotland has, since 1999, had a parliament that can legislate on a number of issues,
such as Education, that have been devolved (passed-down) by the UK Parliament.
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The United Kingdom, in 1973, joined what subsequently became the European Union.
Laws coming from the EU Parliament must be incorporated into either UK or Scots law,
as appropriate.
Scrutiny
Parliaments are therefore elected legislative assemblies, comprising of individuals who
gather primarily with the objective of making laws. There is little point in having laws, if
they are not obeyed. It is for this reason that another branch of government exists. This is
the Executive, called this because it is expected to execute (carry-out) the decisions of
Parliament. The UK Government is an example of such an executive. In addition to its
primary role as a legislative body therefore, a parliament is also required to scrutinise
(check) the work of the executive. The UK Parliament does this by, for example,
questioning the Prime Minister during the weekly Prime Minister’s Question Time, held in
the House of Commons. This, and other examples of parliamentary scrutiny will be
examined later.
Representative Democracy
The three legislative assemblies that will be studied conform to the representative
democracy model. The parliaments are permanent, convened regularly and composed of
elected representatives who, if they wish to continue as representatives, are required to
seek re-election periodically. In all of these parliaments, practically all members belong to
one of the many political parties. A party (or coalition of parties) with a majority of seats in
an assembly will be able to control the legislative timetable, and therefore greatly
influence the laws that are made.
Note:
See Political Representation: Outcome 1 for an explanation of the roles of political
parties in the UK. This advice will not be applicable to those studying Political
Structures as a free-standing Unit.
Legislative Process
In order to ensure that laws made by a legislative assembly are regarded as being
authoritative and binding, a number of stages in the legislative process should be
completed properly. Rushed law is often equated with bad law:
1. A proposal to make, amend or repeal legislation is often introduced by the political
party that holds majority power within the parliament. Often, the party is doing this to
honour a pledge made in the run-up to an election. In order to carry out promises
made to the electorate, laws sometimes have to be made or changed. Sometimes a
parliament has to react to events, unforeseen at the time of the election, but suddenly
an important issue. A change to public opinion, often influenced by the mass media,
can cause this to happen.
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2. The assembly will then discuss and debate all the implications of the proposal. A law
is usually known as a Bill until it is finally passed into law. Members have to consider
the moral and practical arguments surrounding the proposed Bill. They will discuss the
likelihood of the new law making society a better, perhaps safer, place. The question
of whether such a law can be properly enforced is also important, as is consideration
about whether the new law may clash with existing ones. Debates, such as these, can
become quite heated and so a person is appointed to act as a chairman. In the House
of Commons, this person is called the Speaker.
3. Once the whole assembly has had an opportunity to debate the Bill in full, a small
group of members will take time to examine it in even more detail. These groups are
called committees and they can call on, and question, politicians, civil servants, expert
witnesses and those people who may be affected by the proposed legislation and
wish to have their say. Having gathered and analysed all of this additional information,
a committee can then report back to parliament with its findings. Parliament can then
decide whether to alter any aspect of the proposed Bill, based on the information
given by the committee.
4. Some parliaments have a second chamber; a completely different assembly of
members whose job it is to check the work of the first chamber. The House of Lords is
such a chamber. This House carries out similar duties to that of the Commons. It
scrutinises proposed legislation and, if it sees fit, makes amendments. In this way Bills
are double-checked, before they ever become law. A parliament with two chambers is
called a bicameral system. The Scottish Parliament does not have a second chamber
and so is known as a unicameral system. In this situation, the committees take on an
even more important role.
5. When the talking is over, a decision has to be made. The final draft of the Bill will have
been presented to parliament, and it is then that a vote is called. Each member is
entitled to one vote. The vote can either be for or against the proposal. A member
can, if he or she wishes, abstain. This means that he or she votes neither for nor
against the Bill. A Bill that receives more yes than no votes will become a law, and
enter the statute books.
6. The United Kingdom is a constitutional monarchy, and this means that the legislative
process is not complete until royal ascent has been granted.
Note:
See Political Representation: Outcome 1 for an explanation of the roles of political
parties in the UK. This advice will not be applicable to those studying Political
Structures as a free-standing Unit.
Legislative Structures
Legislative assemblies differ in a number of ways. We have already seen that, whilst the
UK Parliament has two houses, the Scottish Parliament has only one. The extra
safeguards that a second chamber can provide, usually described as ‘separation of
powers’ proved to be frustrating to Tony Blair. On becoming Prime Minister, he began a
process of reform, his intention being to make the Lords more representative of the British
people. Some commentators believe however that his real motive was to replace existing
Peers (another name for Lords) with ones that would not block his legislative programme.
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Note:
See Political Theory: Outcome 1 for an explanation of ley political concepts,
including the doctrine of the separation of powers. This advice will not be
applicable to those studying Political Structures as a free-standing Unit.
The legislative structure of the European Union is tricameral. The EU Commission (an
executive body) forwards proposals for new EU laws to the EU Parliament, which gives
opinions and suggests amendments. These are then adopted by the EU Council of
Ministers, made up of ministers from the governments of each member state. In this
way, the power to legislate is spread between the EU and its member states.
Another important aspect of legislative structures concerns the method by which
members of assemblies gain their positions. In some cases members are
democratically elected. This is true of MPs, MSPs and MEPs; in each case, however, the
method of election is different. Being an elected member is regarded by many as a sign
of democratic legitimacy and the assembly that they belong to. Monarchs, Lords and
members of the Council of Ministers are not however elected to their legislative positions.
Note:
See Political Representation: Outcome 2 for an explanation of key features and
outcomes of electoral systems used in the UK. This advice will not be applicable
to those studying Political Structures as a free-standing Unit.
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Sovereignty
nun
SOVEREIGN POWER
EXECUTIVE POWER
HOUSE
OF
COMMONS
PRIME MINISTER
DEMOCRATICALLY ELECTED
APPOINTED BY
MONARCH
MAKES UK LAW AND
SCRUTINISES
UK GOVERNMENT
HEAD OF
UK
GOVERNMENT
RESIDUAL POWER
MONARCH
INHERITS
POSITION
OPENS PARLIAMENT, PASSES LAWS,
APPOINTS PM
DEVOLVED POWER
SCOTTISH
PARLIAMENT
DEVOLVED POWER
FIRST
MINISTER
DEMOCRATICALLY
ELECTED
POWER PASSED DOWN
FROM UK PARLIAMENT
APPOINTED BY
MONARCH
MAKES SCOTS LAWS
AND
SCRUTINISES SCOTTISH
EXECUTIVE
HEAD OF
SCOTTISH
EXECUTIVE
SHARED POWER
BETWEEN MEMBER STATES
EUROPEAN UNION
MAKES EU LAW
AND RUNS THE
UNION
Sovereignty may be defined as being the highest legal and political power in the land:
supreme power. The sovereign power expects to receive complete compliance because
of its position as the supreme legal authority. Such a power also expects to hold a
monopoly on political power, and to expect obedience from all of the citizens/subjects of
the state. Sovereignty is therefore about having the power to make law and govern the
country. This power used to be held by monarchs who believed that they held a ‘divine
right to rule.’ Their rule was often absolute (unlimited). In many countries, over the
centuries, this was challenged. Some became republics, where there is no longer a
monarch and the people vote for those who govern them. Others retained their
monarchy, but with much reduced power, and introduced democracy in order that
people could choose their political leaders. This is a constitutional monarchy, and the
UK is an example. The Queen holds what may be called residual powers. These powers
‘reside in the past’ and are now largely ceremonial. She opens parliament, but does not
play any part in the legislative process; other than grant royal ascent – which is simply a
formality. The member states of the EU are a mixture of republics and constitutional
monarchies.
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Sovereign power in the UK is now held by Parliament. The democratically elected House
of Commons is central to this power. It is from here that legislation is begun and also from
where the head of government comes. This is known as parliamentary sovereignty.
Parliament is dissolved, normally every four years. The British people (the electorate) are
then given the opportunity to vote, in a general election, for the local candidate they would
wish to be their MP, and sit in the Commons. It is argued by some that sovereignty,
therefore, actually lies with the people. Controversial issues of sovereignty will be
examined in detail later. In brief however, they are as follows:
1. The power of the Prime Minister is seen by some as being a threat to the sovereignty
of parliament. A Prime Minister with a substantial majority in the Commons can tightly
control the legislative agenda. He is, in effect, in control of both the legislative and
executive functions, and no significant separation of powers may exist.
2. The UK’s membership of the EU is for some, a concern. They see a relentless shift
in decision making power and political control, away from London towards Brussels
(HQ of the EU Commission). These eurosceptics worry about the extension of power
being given to a supranational authority, and want further integration halted. Some
fear that ultimately Britain will be subsumed into a European superstate. Others
however, the pro-Europeans, argue that UK sovereignty will not be under threat, if
Britain plays a leading and positive role in EU developments.
3. The re-introduction of a Scottish Parliament in 1999 is seen by some as being a
potential threat to UK sovereignty. Some worry that the new parliament will be seen
as a ‘stepping-stone’ to independence. They think that the Scots, having had a taste
of devolved legislation and government, may then want to breakaway from the rest of
the UK, and form a separate sovereign nation.
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Student/Pupil Activity
The legislative branch of government: an introduction
Pairs activity
Using the above information and any other useful resources that you have, work with
another student to answer the following questions:
1. Write down and discuss what you think the consequences of living in a society without
laws, and a government to enforce them would be. Would you like to live in such a
society?
2. Explain the difference between the legislative and executive branches of government.
3. Although we have not yet looked in detail at the work of the three legislative
assemblies, what are your thoughts so far? Do you think that there may be too many
parliaments making laws that apply to us – or is the current situation just about right?
Justify your answer.
4. Do you think that it is right that the Prime Minister, the head of the UK Executive,
should have to answer to the Commons for his actions, and those of his government?
Give reasons for your answer.
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The executive branch of government: an introduction
It is the role of the executive to implement the laws passed by parliament. Executives,
often called governments, have the job of ‘running the county.’ In order to govern
effectively, a leader is appointed:
Executive branch
UK Government
Scottish Executive
EU Commission
Leader of the Executive
Prime Minister
First Minister
President
The leader
In some societies, the people vote for the person they want to lead their executive. The
United States of America, for example, holds a presidential election every four years.
The UK has a parliamentary executive. Immediately after a general election the Queen
will summon the leader of the political party, which has won the greatest number of seats
in the House of Commons, to Buckingham Palace. Here, the political leader will be invited
to form a government. He is now the Prime Minister, as well as being a member of the
House of Commons.
On taking office, the leader of the executive will try to govern in such a way that, as well
as maintaining law and order, his government’s policies can be achieved. The Prime
Minister will belong to a political party that has made pledges (promises) on a number of
issues important to the British people. This, for example, could be a pledge that the
waiting times for hospital operations shall be reduced. In order to run the country on a
day-to-day basis, and successfully achieve policy commitments, the leader will obviously
need help.
The Departments
The country is governed using a system of departments. There is a department
responsible for the defence of the nation and another, which deals with relationships that
the UK has with other countries. Most of the important aspects of life and commerce in
the country are overseen by one of the many government departments.
The Cabinet
On his return from meeting the Queen, the new PM will ask to see a number of similarly
elected MPs from his own party. These people will then be appointed, each to head a
department responsible for a policy area such as Health, Education or Agriculture. These
department heads will meet regularly, under the chairmanship of the leader of the
executive, to plan strategies that will enable them to achieve their objectives – to
successfully govern. The PM and his ministers are known collectively as the Cabinet.
Between them they run the country, under the leadership of the PM. It is now their job to
honour the pledges made by their political party prior to the election.
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The civil servants
In order that the government departments can function effectively, a large number of
specialists must be employed, on a full-time and permanent basis. These people work in
an executive department appropriate to their expertise. They are called civil servants, and
their role is to serve civil society – not the party of their political masters. They are
therefore described as being apolitical.
Executive branch
UK Government
Leader
Prime Minister
Cabinet
Cabinet Ministers
Scottish Executive
First Minister
EU Commission
President
Scottish Executive
Cabinet Ministers
Commissioners
Departments
UK Government
Departments –
sometimes called
Ministries
Scottish Executive
Departments
Directorates
Each government department has, as its most senior civil servant, a permanent
secretary. He or she is responsible for the management of the department and provides
advice to his or her minister. A change in government, from one party to another, does
not affect him, or his civil service staff. They must serve whatever politicians are in power.
Within an executive there should therefore be a clear distinction between the political
executive (the leader and his or her departmental heads) and the bureaucratic
executive (the civil servants).
Policy
As the head of a government department, a minister will instruct those who work for his or
her department to act in accordance with the policies of his or her party in government.
These may be pledges contained in their party’s election manifesto, or decisions taken
later by cabinet. The making of policy is regarded as being one of the most important
aspects of the work of an executive. Wherever possible, an executive will attempt to
make popular policy decisions. These are likely to experience less opposition as they go
through the legislative process, meet less resistance from individuals and businesses,
and be better received by the media. Not only are such policies more likely to work, they
can also help the governing party retain power at the next election.
Implementation of policy
Cabinet ministers make decisions collectively. Collective responsibility means that
government, as a whole, is responsible for its actions. Members of cabinet, who wish to
make a policy proposal, are expected to convincingly argue their case, in order to gain
the support of their cabinet colleagues. A minister, who does not agree with actions that
the government has taken, or intends to take, has a stark choice. He or she must either
accept the principle of collective responsibility and support the government’s policy fully
and publicly, or resign from government. If the latter is chosen, the now ex-minister will
then be able to express his opinions freely to both the public and the media.
A key figure within the UK Cabinet is the Chief Whip. In order that an executive can fulfil
its policy pledges, new laws must often be created, and old ones repealed. The
government is therefore responsible for sponsoring most of the legislative programme of
Parliament. The appropriate government department will prepare the bill for presentation
through all the stages of legislation. The Chief Whip will then try to ensure that it receives
full support from the ruling party’s MPs.
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Relationship between legislative and executive functions
An important aspect of any political system concerns the type of relationship that exists
between its legislative and executive parts. To separate them and have each run by
completely different people can help avoid putting too much power into the hands of one
person: or a small group of powerful individuals. It can, however, also mean that political
leaders are given sufficient power to achieve their objectives relatively quickly and with
little opposition. Separating the two functions, and giving each the power to check the
actions of the other can help to ensure that abuses of power are more easily stopped.
This is known as a system of checks and balances.
The House of Commons has at its disposal, a number of ways in which it can call the
Government to account. The Prime Minister and Cabinet ministers are questioned by the
whole House (Question Time) and by committees comprising members of the House
Select and Standing Committees. This would seem, on the surface, to be an example of
checks and balances, where the executive has to answer to the legislative assembly for
its actions. The MPs, having been elected are, in effect, representing the British people
when questioning takes place. It should however be remembered that the largest party
represented in the Commons, and in the committees, is the same party that those in the
Executive being questioned belong to. For some, it would be preferable to have a
separately elected executive, rather than one formed as a consequence of legislative
assembly elections. This would then mean that the people making the laws were different
from those governing the country.
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Student/Pupil Activity
The executive branch of government: an introduction
Group activity
Prime Minister Tony Blair decided not to sack Cabinet Minister Claire Short after she
publicly criticised his position on the invasion of Iraq. A PM holds on to power by
skilfully managing his relationships with his ministers. Alienate them and he becomes
vulnerable; befriend them and he is seen as weak.
Blair is said to have used senior civil servants as a lever between him and his
ministers. His former Press Secretary, Alistair Campbell, is said to have had a lot of
behind-the-scenes influence over the PM. He was said to not only control the PM’s
relations with the media, but also act as an advisor (and some said decision maker)
for the PM, much to the annoyance of Cabinet ministers.
The following questions should be discussed in groups of three to four. Each group
should elect one student to feedback the decisions made.
1. Based on what you have read so far, do you think that it would be better if the UK had
a clear separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches of
government?
2. Why do you think that it is important for civil servants to remain apolitical?
3. What do you think might happen if an executive did not use the principle of collective
responsibility?
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Outcome 1 – PC (a) and (b): Describe the legislative branch of government
in Scotland, the UK and the European Union.
The UK Parliament
Shifting power
The word sovereign is used to describe the individual or body that holds the highest
power in a country. The traditional nature of British society is reflected in the three
institutions that make up the UK legislative system. These are the Monarchy, House of
Lords and the House of Commons. In the course of history, the locus of power has
shifted. For much of our history, as separate nations, and as a United Kingdom,
monarchy held sovereign power. Later this power shifted. The sovereign legislative
assembly in the UK is now the Parliament at Westminster in London. Within this, the most
powerful house is the House of Commons.
The House of Commons
The Commons is the only one of the three institutions within which the members are
democratically elected. Members of this House are known as Members of Parliament
(MPs) and they each attend on behalf of the people of a different geographic area within
the UK. These areas are known as constituencies. Elections are held approximately
every four years, during which the constituents (voters) are asked to select one of the
candidates standing for election in their constituency. The person in each constituency
that receives the greatest number of votes will be ‘returned’ to Parliament. This system
ensures that one person from each and every part of the UK is represented in the House.
The supreme right to rule
British sovereignty, the supreme right to rule the United Kingdom, is therefore held by the
UK Parliament. This parliament has the right to introduce, amend or repeal any laws
without interference from any other individual or institution. It is not even bound by the
laws made by previous parliaments. The courts in Britain are required to enforce all laws
made by Parliament. Law made in Parliament is known as ‘statute law’ and this is
regarded as having precedence over all of the other sources of the UK’s constitution.
Britain’s membership of the EU has meant that the sovereignty of the UK Parliament, and
its statute law is now in doubt. This will be discussed later.
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Constitution

A constitution is a set of rules and principles by which a state is governed. It sets
out the powers given to the legislative assembly and the executive. It describes
the procedures to be used when electing those people who will take up positions
in such bodies.

In many cases a constitution will contain a definition of the rights of citizens. The
arrangements for changing a constitution are also normally included. The
information contained in a constitution enables people to understand the type of
political system that operates within a country.

Most countries in the world now have a written constitution, one of the earliest
being that of the USA. The UK is almost unique in that it does not have a written
constitution.

The unwritten constitution of the UK has evolved over a long period of time, and
continues to change. It is this adaptability that is seen by some as being its major
strength.

Having no fixed set of rules has meant that the UK has been able to operate
flexibly and react quickly to ever changing political circumstances.

As no single document exists which incorporates all of the legal and civil rights
applicable to a British subject, the UK Constitution is derived from a number of
different sources, such as: statute law, common law, conventions, judicial
decisions and authoritative works.
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Bicameral legislative system
Bicameral is the word used to describe a parliamentary system that has two separate
legislative chambers. The UK Parliament is an example of such a system. The upper
house is known as the House of Lords and the lower house is the House of Commons. It
is believed by many that it would be unsafe to give all legislative power to one body. A
second chamber therefore serves the purpose of checking the work of the first. There are
a number of convincing arguments for having a bicameral legislative system, but not all of
them apply to the UK:
Benefits of bicameral legislative
system
A second chamber is able to scrutinise
Bills and make amendments. This can
have the effect of ensuring that proposed
legislation is more thoroughly checked. It
can rectify mistakes and oversights made
by the first chamber.
A second chamber broadens the basis of
representation. A different group of
legislators may represent other views
and consider the opinions of other
sectors of society.
Such a chamber can protect the
constitution by delaying legislation that
may prove to be controversial and
contrary to the mood of public opinion.
It can also act as a check on the
executive branch of government by
highlighting its shortcomings and
pressuring it to think again.
UK perspective
Peers who sit in the Lords are generally
older, and are more experienced than
their Commons counterparts. This
greater depth of experience may be
useful when checking what, if passed,
will become the law of the land.
It is generally agreed that the Lords does
represent the views of specific, some say
elite, sectors of British society. Peers are
not however elected. On coming to
power in 1997, Prime Minister Tony Blair
began a process of reform of the House
of Lords. This will be examined later.
Some commentators have argued that
this is the real reason for the Labour
administration’s reforms. On coming to
power, the government found it very
difficult to get some of its legislative
agenda through the Lords.
The UK government is not directly
elected. It is given executive power as a
result of the outcome of the general
election for the lower house. Given that
the Prime Minister then has almost total
control over both the government and the
most powerful legislative chamber, the
Commons – it may then be useful to
have another chamber that can exert at
least some pressure on the PM and his
or her government.
Not all commentators prefer the bicameral system. To some, it is the cause of
unnecessary conflict and delay. They see it as being an unhelpful barrier, getting in the
way of the work of government. A unicameral system, such as that used by the Scottish
Parliament, is more to their liking. This will be discussed later.
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Role of the House of Commons
A useful way to begin to understand the role of the Commons is to consider the work
done by a Member of Parliament:
1. Legislation: The Commons is primarily a legislative chamber. This means that much
of the work of an MP, and therefore the House, involves scrutinising Bills (future
laws), which have been put forward by the Executive. This is called governmentsponsored legislation, and most legislation falls into this category. Government
expects parliament to approve its ‘legislative programme.’ MPs do however use the
legislative process to try to influence what will be the content of new laws. They
therefore spend much of their time arguing, debating and voting.
2. Representation: The UK has a system of ‘representative democracy.’ Britain is
divided into 646 constituencies (59 in Scotland). It is therefore this number of MPs
who sit in the Commons with a duty to represent the views and interests of local
constituents and the local community generally. This should be done on behalf of all
within the constituency, regardless of a constituent’s political affiliation. Times are
made available at ‘local surgeries’ for constituents to meet their MP and ask him to
help, for example, with problems regarding dealings with government departments.
This then gives an MP the opportunity to gather information about the political mood
of his constituency. This should, in theory, then be reflected in what he says, and how
he votes, in the House. The fact that almost all MPs are members of a political party,
and subject to the coercive influence of the whip system, means that the needs of the
party often out weigh those of the constituency.
3. Scrutiny of the executive: MPs of all parties have the opportunity to regularly
question ministers of state in the House about the performance of the government
generally, and their department in particular. They are also able to question the Prime
Minister on the overall performance of the Government. Many MPs are members of
Select Committees, each of which scrutinises the work of a specific government
department.
4. Debate current affairs: Both this house and the House of Lords can hold a general
debate on any subject that is regarded as being of national or international
importance. In this way Parliament can be seen as being a focus for discussion on
matters of concern to the British people.
5. Financial control: It is only the House of Commons that can decide to accept the
Executive’s proposals on what taxes should be collected, and how the money should
then be spent.
6. Proposals from the EU: Both the Commons and the Lords have committees which
examine proposals from the EU before they must become UK law. In order to come
into line with EU law, the UK sometimes has to alter its existing laws. Parliament
therefore prepares for the necessary changes. In some cases, the issue under
examination will be devolved, and therefore an issue for the Scottish Parliament to
consider. Under these circumstances, the UK Parliament will incorporate it into UK
law, and the Scottish Parliament into Scots law.
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7. Executive recruitment: The Prime Minister, ministers and junior ministers are
recruited from the Commons (a few ministers come from the Lords). All will be
members of the party in power. This therefore means that some of those who make
the laws also execute them.
Role of the House of Lords
A Bill that has passed through the House of Commons must then be sent to the House of
Lords, where it is checked, amended (if required) and occasionally rejected. After this, it
is returned to the Commons. A full explanation of the process of legislation will be given
later. This bicameral system therefore ensures that proposed legislation is scrutinised by
two very different groups of people. The assumption is that good law will emerge from
such detailed examination. Only money Bills don’t need to be reviewed by the Lords. The
Finance Bill, which contains the Chancellor’s Budget, is an example of this.
Those who support the continued existence of the Lords argue that its value is in the
greater amount of time that it has at its disposal to go into the detail of proposed
legislation. This is especially true of the committee stage where, unlike the Commons, the
whole House can take part. Any amendments to a Bill must go back to the Commons.
These will either be accepted, some compromise will be reached, or the Bill will be
presented again. A Bill that is returned to the Lords twice in one year must become an Act
of Parliament. It must be made law.
Debate continues over the question of whether this second chamber has any real right to
a say in the legislative process. It is occupied mostly by elderly men, with a wealth of
experience in politics, business, law and spiritual affairs; but they are not democratically
elected. This is seen by some however as being a useful situation. They argue that the
Lords don’t feel compelled to make sure that their words and actions are popular, in the
way that MPs do. This can therefore mean that Peers may be able to express opinions
that some people may agree with, but that MPs would not be prepared to say, for fear of
adverse media criticism, and possibly a loss of votes.
In addition to its legislative function, the House of Lords also act as the highest court of
appeal. A small group of Law Lords gather, when required, to consider legal appeals.
This aspect of its work is now the subject of reform, and it is proposed that a new, and
separate, institution: a Supreme Court will be created. This and other reforms will be
discussed later.
Role of the Monarchy
A monarchy is a type of political system in which one individual holds the hereditary right
to rule a nation, known as a kingdom, for the duration of his or her life. Such heads of
state are usually known as kings and queens. The word used to differentiate them and
their family from the commoners and the aristocracy is ‘royal’. The United Kingdom is an
example of such a system. For much of our history monarchs held absolute power over
their subjects, governments and armed forces. Justification for this was often based on
the presumption that they had a divine right to rule.
Note:
See Political Theory: Outcome 1 for an explanation of key political concepts,
including power and authority. This advice will not be applicable to those studying
Political Structures as a free-standing Unit.
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It is interesting to note that, so far, we have looked at the Houses of Commons and Lords;
each was created in feudal times to look after the interests of the commoners and
aristocracy respectively. Monarchy completes the hierarchical structure. When we
examine the passage of a Bill, we will see that this involves all three.
Recent history has seen the demise of many monarchies, and their replacement with
alternative forms of political systems, such as republics. A republic is a country governed
on the premise that all citizens are equal. The USA is an example of such a system.
Other countries, such as the UK, have retained the monarchy. Its powers are however
limited, and it is known as a constitutional monarchy. Despite still being referred to as
being sovereign, it is now accepted that actual sovereign power is held by Parliament.
The Queen is the Head of State and is seen by many as being a focus of national unity.
She presides over many ceremonial occasions, such as investitures, and also represents
Britain overseas, often in her role as Head of the Commonwealth. As a constitutional
monarch she is expected to remain politically impartial. On practically all matters, she
acts on the advice of her ministers. A number of important political functions are still
performed by the Queen, such as:





The State Opening of Parliament
The formal appointment of the Prime Minister
The granting of Royal Assent to parliamentary legislation
The bestowing of honours
Acting as head of the established church: the Church of England
Whilst these are clearly important functions, the power held by the monarch is now
regarded as being largely residual, it resides in the traditions of the past, and it is the
Prime Minister and Parliament who make the real decisions. The Queen has, for
example, granted Royal Assent to every Bill that has been placed before her, for over 50
years.
The Prime Minister is, on a regular basis, granted an audience with the Queen. As the
Prime Minister of Her Majesty’s Government, he/she is required to report on the work that
he/she, and his/her Cabinet colleagues have done, and the problems that they have
encountered. The Queen has held her position since the time when Winston Churchill
was PM, in the early 1950s. This is when Tony Blair was born. She has therefore built-up
a wealth of experience that she can draw on when giving advice to her Prime Ministers.
The Queen and the Royal Household are funded in a number of ways. The Civil List is a
sum paid by the state to the monarch to cover the cost of the public duties performed by
the Queen and her immediate family. In addition, it pays for staff and the upkeep of royal
residencies. The heir to the throne, the Prince of Wales, is not a recipient of Civil List
monies. He gets his income from the revenue created by the estates that he owns as the
duke of Cornwall. Grants-in-aid are given by Parliament to meet, for example, the costs
of Royal travel. The Privy Purse is provided for the Queen’s private and public use. She
also has a large private income for her personal use. The Monarchy continues thus to
hold an important role within the UK political system, albeit one that is now largely
symbolic rather than real.
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The legislative process
Having looked at the roles of the three branches of the UK Parliament: Commons, Lords
and Monarchy, we can now examine the part that each plays in the process of turning a
Bill into Statute Law. It is as follows:
1. Government sponsored legislation. The Government introduces most of the Bills put
before Parliament. Prior to a General Election, all of the political parties produce a
manifesto, which contains a list of pledges. The party that wins the election, and
therefore forms the government, is then expected to fulfil these pledges. In order to do
this, laws are often required to be made, amended or repealed. Much new legislation
therefore comes as a result of the need of the Executive to keep its promises. In
addition, issues crop up, in the course of an executive’s period in government, which
were not expected. Government has to deal with these too, often by introducing new
legislation. Global terrorism is an example of such an issue, and the UK Government
responded by introducing new anti-terrorist legislation. It can be seen therefore that
most of the legislative process is taken up by government sponsored legislation.
2. The Queen’s Speech. The highly ceremonial State Opening of Parliament sees the
Monarch make a speech to the members of both Houses; in this, she outlines the
legislative agenda that will be followed by Parliament. She says what laws are to be
made. She will not have decided this agenda, her government will have written it. She
is simply expected to read it out and in so doing, grant royal approval to the work of
Parliament.
3. Pre-legislative scrutiny. Whilst not strictly part of the legislative process, an increasing
number of Bills are being published in draft and examined, either by the appropriate
select committee, or by an ad hoc Joint Committee of the two Houses. This enables
the committees to express opinions, and even suggest amendments to the Bill, before
it is introduced. This can help to save valuable Parliamentary time.
4. First Reading – The Green Paper. This takes place on the floor of the House of
Commons. It is simply a formality to make Parliament aware of the proposed
legislation. No debate takes place and no vote is taken. The Bill can then be printed.
Explanatory notes, which outline in simple language the likely effects of the Bill, are
also produced. The First Reading therefore alerts parliamentarians, the Media and the
general public, to the fact that a new law is in the first stages of its creation. Public
debate then begins to take place.
5. Second Reading – The White Paper. A debate to examine the general principles of
the Bill, takes place on the floor of the House of Commons. After this, a vote is taken.
An unpopular Bill could be defeated at this stage. This is however highly unlikely,
given the fact that Bills are invariably introduced by a government with a majority of
MPs in the Commons. A Whip System, which will be explained later, exists to ensure
that MPs vote in line with the wishes of their party leader.
6. Committee Stage. A Standing Committee is formed for each new Bill. These
committees comprise of MPs. The number of MPs per party in a committee is
proportional to that of the whole House. This therefore means that the Executive has
an in-built majority in all committees. Some therefore feel that the level of scrutiny that
takes place at the Committee Stage is lower than it could be. It is the job of the
committee to consider the Bill in detail, by examining it ‘clause by clause’ and make
amendments, if it feels that they are required.
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7. Report. It is now that the Standing Committee reports its findings to the House of
Commons. Amendments are considered, and may be accepted at this stage. Only
those clauses of the Bill that have been suggested for amendment are likely to be
discussed.
8. Third Reading. The House of Commons now debates the final text of the amended
Bill, if six members have submitted a motion for debate to take place. This is normally
a short debate as no further amendments are allowed. A single vote is then taken.
The Bill’s final approval is usually a formality.
9. House of Lords. A similar series of events take place in the Lords. It is however usual
that the committee stage takes place on the floor of the House of Lords, rather than in
a Standing Committee. The Lords may amend, or even reject a Bill from the
Commons. If a Bill is rejected, the Commons have the option of forcing it through,
without the Lords’ consent, in the next Session of Parliament.
10. Consideration. At this stage the Bill can pass back and forward between the two
Houses, as they each consider the amendments made by the other. They are now in
the process of searching for agreement. If no agreement is reached, the Bill may
lapse and need to be reintroduced in the next Session of Parliament. The House of
Commons has, under the Parliament Acts 1911 and 49, the power to pass any Bill
previously rejected by the Lords.
11. Royal Assent. The Queen then grants Royal Assent to the Bill. It now enters the
Statute Books and has become the law of the land. The legislative process for this Bill
is now therefore complete, unless of course a future Parliament decides to amend,
repeal or replace it.
It can be seen therefore that the Monarch holds an important, if mostly symbolic, role at
the beginning and end of the process. She opens Parliament, delivers a speech outlining
the Government’s legislative agenda, and grants Royal Assent at the end of the process.
The Lords act as a second chamber, the role of which is to double-check the legislative
work of the first. The more powerful House of Commons can always overrule them. In the
background however is the Executive, which sponsors practically all legislation, and does
everything that it can to ensure that it becomes law.
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Private Member’s Bills
In the House of Commons, early in each Parliamentary Session, backbench MPs
hold a ballot to choose 20 of their number who will be given the privilege of
introducing a Bill. These can be introduced in one of the Fridays when the House is
sitting. Friday is the day when Private Members’ Bills have priority over Executive
business. A backbench MP can also use the 10-minute rule whereby a Bill can be
introduced, and a brief speech made both in favour, and against the proposal. Private
Members’ Bills and the 10-minute rule rarely lead to a new law being enacted, but
they do provide backbenchers with the opportunity to make a point about something
important to them, their party or their constituents.
The Whip System and the party in power
The Prime Minister, and leaders of the other parties in Parliament, uses the Whip
system to try to dictate the voting behaviour of MPs and Peers. This is particularly
important to the party in power. The Government often needs to introduce new
legislation, or change existing law, if it is to successfully implement policy. Having an
overall majority of MPs in the Commons can ensure that this happens, but only if
they vote as their leader wishes. The Chief Whip of the party in power is normally a
member of Cabinet, and is helped by a Deputy Chief Whip, and a number of other
junior Whips. The Government Chief Whip is formally known as the Parliamentary
Secretary to the Treasury. The Whips can talk personally to members, or may send
them a note. A three-line whip indicates that attendance, and voting with the party
line, is compulsory. Failure to obey the Whip is seen as going against the wishes of
the PM. This can result in the Whip being withdrawn from an MP or a Lord. When this
happens, a parliamentarian receives no help, information or advice from his/her party
in the House. He/she is ostracised and, in the case of MPs, may even be de-selected
by his party’s constituency branch, to stand at the next election.
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The Whip System and the parties in opposition
Parties in opposition can use this system to their advantage, especially if the
Government has a slim majority. This was the case in the 1992-1997 Parliament,
where PM John Major had to rely on his Whips getting every Conservative into the
House for important votes.
The Whip system is not simply about forcing parliamentarians to vote in a certain
way. It is also used as a way of passing on information, from the Party leadership,
about forthcoming parliamentary debates, and any other relevant business. It is also
a way by which the mood of backbench MPs can be relayed back to the leader. The
last thing that a political leader, in government or opposition, wants is a backbench
revolt. This normally happens when the leader has lost touch with the way that
his/her parliamentary colleagues are thinking on important issues. Under these
circumstances, they may defy the Whip, and not vote in accordance with the leader’s
wishes.
A weekly circular is sent to all MPs:

If one line appears at the foot of the page, this signifies that attendance is
optional, as the business of the House will be routine.

Two lines indicate that attendance is required and more important issues are to
be discussed and decided. In the Commons, a member may be excused from
attending if he has been paired with an MP from another party. Pairing is
organised between the Whip’s offices of the different Parties; normally the Party
in power and the Official Opposition, and ensures that the result of a vote will not
be changed in favour of any Party.

A Three-Line Whip means that an important vote is to take place: the second
reading of an important Bill, or a vote of no confidence. Pairing is not allowed and
attendance is compulsory. Not to obey the Whip would be seen as rebellion
against the Party leadership and could lead to some form of disciplinary action,
even suspension from the parliamentary party: the Whip being withdrawn.
The Government Chief Whip organises the Government’s programme in Parliament
and reports direct to the Prime Minister. The Chief Whip of the Official Opposition is
informed of this programme, one week in advance. In order that the business of the
House runs relatively smoothly, consultation takes place between Whip’s offices.
This is commonly known as the usual channels.
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Reform of the House of Lords
During the 1997 election campaign, Labour said that, if elected to government, it would
reform and modernise the second chamber. Labour argued that the House of Lords was
undemocratic, and unrepresentative of the British people. No detailed programme of
reform was published at the time, and since coming to power, the reforms that have taken
place have been faltering. Some cynics have said that the real reason for altering the
make-up of the Lords had more to do with political expediency, and the Prime Minister’s
wish to reduce the number of Tory peers. The Conservatives had been in power for 18
years. This had enabled them to pack the second chamber with Conservatives. A more
compliant Lords would make the passage of government sponsored Bills much easier.
There would be less likelihood of delaying tactics being used to hold up the progress of
the Government’s legislative agenda. An Act, which put some transitional arrangements
in place, was passed in 1999
Tony Blair asked Lord Wakeham to chair a Royal Commission. Its remit was to propose
reforms to the Lords that would make it more democratic and representative. In January
2000, the Wakeham Commission Report was published. The following proposals were
included:








membership of the House should be reduced to a total of only 550
between 65 and 195 of these should be elected
the power of patronage, whereby the PM is able to ask the Queen to elevate people
of his own choice to the Lords, should be removed
an independent body should be formed to decide who should be appointed to fill
those places not taken by the elected Peers. It is not clear who would decide the
membership of the independent body, and whether the PM would have any input into
the decision
the House should have a 30% female membership; this despite the fact that
approximately 51% of the UK population is female
it was also proposed that the House should reflect all of the ethnic, religious and
minority groups of Britain
the highest court, for England and Wales, would continue to be the Law Lords: a
group of senior judges within the House. Later (June 2004) the Government proposed
that a separate Supreme Court should be created to fulfil this role
the report also suggested that committees be created to consider the UK’s
relationship with the European Union and the rights of British citizens.
In relation to elected members, the Commission suggested that: ‘Election of the
majority would be through the regions by proportional representation’. Three
possible election models were presented:
1. Model A. 65 members would be elected.
2. Model B. 87 members would be elected.
3. Model C.195 members would be elected.
Members would serve for a period of 15 years and could possibly be reappointed for a
further 15 years.
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The Government did not therefore provide a definitive explanation as to how reform would
take place and what the end result would be. Instead a number of stages to reform were
planned – each to include an element of debate, negotiation and voting. The Lords, for
example, lost the rights of hereditary Peers to an automatic seat in the House, but were
able to negotiate the retention of some hereditary seats during the period of transition.
Prior to the reforms, the House consisted of four types of Peers:




Hereditary Peers: Those who inherited their title.
Life Peers: Those elevated to the Peerage by the Queen, on the advice of the PM.
The Law Lords: Senior judges for England and Wales.
The Lords Spiritual: Bishops of the Church of England.
In 2001, a White Paper was published entitled: ‘The House of Lords – Completing the
Reform.’ This set out what Lord Falconer, the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs
and Lord Chancellor described as being: ‘a series of radical reforms to the composition,
appointment and size of the new chamber’. There was a lack of agreement on the
proposals. Following this a Joint Committee was set-up to ‘consider the role and functions
of the House of Lords and to propose options on the composition on which both houses
could vote’. In February 2003 Parliament voted but could not agree on what it thought
was the best model to adopt. Robin Cook, the Leader of the House of Commons at the
time, then asked MPs to go away and think again. In September of that year, Lord
Falconer introduced a consultation paper that he described as being: ‘the next, but not
final, stage of Lords reform’. This consultation paper was entitled: ‘Constitutional
Reform: Next steps for the House of Lords’. When introducing the paper he sounded a
rather pessimistic note by saying that: ‘one more heave to a final settlement is not in
prospect’. The paper was intended as a response to the Joint Committee and discussed:



ensuring that the Lords are as representative as possible of UK society
remove the remaining hereditaries
move the Appointments Commission to a statutory footing.
A Supreme Court
On 12 June 2003 the Government announced its intention to abolish the post of Lord
Chancellor and create a new Supreme Court. This, it said, would increase the
independence that the Judiciary had from both Government and Parliament. The Lord
Chancellor is a senior member of all three institutions. This was intended to separate the
highest appeal court from the House of Lords. The Lords would then no longer have a
judicial function. Law Lords would cease to sit in the House.
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UK Parliament: Main Features
Location
Legislative
model
Key roles
Membership
Chaired by
Layout
Debating style
Voting method
Powers
Committees
Westminster, London
Bicameral: two debating chambers. The Commons being much
more powerful than the Lords, by virtue of the fact that MPs are
democratically elected
Passing UK legislation. Scrutinising the work of the UK executive
and the performance of the government ministers.
646 Members of Parliament: 59 of whom represent Scottish
constituencies. The government normally holds a majority of seats,
and therefore finds it relatively easy to get its legislative programme
through.
The Speaker, or one of the Deputy Speakers, controls the
proceedings of the House. They are elected MPs who have been
chosen by the other members. On taking a position, they are
expected to act impartially and not participate in debates.
Confrontational: the governing party sits on benches directly across
from those of the opposition parties. The distance between the
front benches was designed to be slightly wider than that of two
men holding outstretched swords. The PM and his or her ministers
occupy front benches. The leader of the official opposition and his
or her shadow cabinet sit directly opposite. MPs with no ministerial,
or shadow ministerial, role sit in the backbenches.
Confrontational: the Speaker can find it difficult to control the
behaviour of some MPs. Members often have to shout over the
noise of others, in order to be heard. Language used is old
fashioned. Members are, for example, not allowed to refer to each
other by name; saying instead: ‘the Right Honourable member for
...’ Members are not permitted to talk directly to each other; it must
be done through the Speaker.
Archaic: Voting begins when the Speaker puts a question. An
uncontroversial vote may be decided if the Speaker hears only the
Government Whips shouting ‘aye’. If shouts of both: ‘aye’ and ‘no’
are heard, he may say: ‘the ayes/noes have it’. The Speaker settles
votes that are still unclear by asking the House to: ‘Clear the lobby.’
Division bells then ring throughout Parliament, giving members
eight minutes to get to the chamber. MPs are required to walk
either to the aye or no lobby. They are counted as they enter a
lobby and the results are given to the Speaker, who announces
them to the House.
Sovereign power: The Commons is the most powerful body within
a parliament that has sole authority to legislate for all of the UK;
any law made by a previous parliament cannot bind it. The UK
constitution is based on the rule of law being the ultimate source of
political authority. Parliament, as lawmaker, is ultimately therefore
in control of the constitution. The Scottish Parliament may only
exist by virtue of the passing of the Scotland Act 1998 – a piece of
UK legislation.
Lacking in power: Party political membership of both the Standing
and Select Committees reflects the proportional make-up of the
whole House. Their ability to properly scrutinise government
sponsored legislation and the work of government departments is
thought by some to lack teeth.
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Student/Pupil Activity
Introduction to the UK Parliament
Individual activity
1. Having looked at the bicameral nature of the UK Parliament – give two reasons to
support, and two to oppose, this type of system.
2. The committee system of the House of Commons is useful for a number of reasons;
describe them.
3. The Queen is still described as being sovereign. How powerful do you think she
actually is? Give examples to illustrate your response.
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Group activity
The House of Lords is regarded as being both undemocratic and unrepresentative. Come
up with a solution to reform this chamber, in such a way that it would deal satisfactorily
with both criticisms.
Or
Create a solution that does not require a second chamber at all.
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Outcome 2 – PC (a) and (b): Evaluate the political executives of Scotland,
the UK and the European Union.
The UK Executive
The Prime Minister
There are no laws that say the UK must have a Prime Minister, or what his or her role
should be. The role and its duties are based on convention and now form part of an
unwritten constitution. The Prime Minister is a Member of Parliament, cabinet minister,
political leader and head of government. It is accepted that the Monarch will invite the
leader of the party that has just won a general election, to form a government. In many
liberal democracies the people can elect their representatives to legislative assemblies
and the head of government separately. This separation of power does not exist in the
UK system. Many believe that, in recent times, the power of the PM has increased and
that of Parliament has gone down. This threat to the sovereignty of Parliament is seen by
some as being an issue of constitutional concern. Further concern has also been
expressed regarding the level of power that the PM has over the rest of cabinet.
Sovereign power in the UK is probably now in the hands of the Prime Minister. The Prime
Minister is therefore indirectly elected to the most powerful political position in the country.
The PM, and his executive, can be checked by Parliament and the courts. The current
constitutional arrangements are however such that government can act beyond its
powers. It can act ultra vires: outside the law. This is because the PM normally has a
majority in the Commons and this enables him or her to control much of the business of
parliament. This control can extend to initiating legislative change in order to alter the
constitution. The House of Lords Act 1997 is an example of this.
The powers of the Prime Minister

Power to govern: The PM holds executive authority to lead the UK Government. It is
he or she, in consultation with his ministers, who makes the strategic policy decisions
on how the country will be governed. He or she controls a large bureaucracy of
government departments, and civil servants. This therefore gives them the power to
decide on a vast array of issues, from the level of taxes to be collected to the UK’s
relationship with other nations.

Legislative power: The PM decides what new Bills will be introduced into Parliament,
and the laws to be amended or repealed. This then gives him or her the power to set
the legislative agenda. Such activity is known as government sponsored legislation.
The pledges made in the run-up to a general election might only be achieved, if
government is able to carryout its legislative programme. The whip system, discussed
previously, obviously enhances the PM’s legislative power.

Power to call elections: Countries with a written constitution usually have a set date
on which elections are held. The US Presidential Election is an example of this. The
UK is different in that the PM chooses the date of the General Election – the election
that decides the composition of the Commons, and the party of government. He or
she normally picks a time when he or she thinks that their party is popular, and
therefore more likely to win. The other parties are not told the date well in advance,
and don’t therefore have the same advantage. The PM is expected to call an election
within five years of taking office.
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
The power to appoint: The PM appoints ministers to his cabinet. Each minister is
given a portfolio. This means that he or she holds the responsibility of heading a
government department. Despite the notion that the PM remains primus inter pares
(first among equals), a minister can be fired by the PM and replaced at any time. To
do this however, often creates a powerful enemy who is no longer subject to the
constraints of collective responsibility. This will be discussed later. The PM also has
the power of patronage. This is demonstrated by his or her ability to appoint people to
leading positions in public life. The heads of Her Majesty’s Inspector of Schools and
the BBC are examples.

International power: As political Head of State, the PM enjoys a high international
profile and status. It is he or she who meets the other national leaders to decide and
sign agreements and treaties. An example of this being his or her membership of the
European Union Council of Europe. This will be discussed later.
The centralisation of power
It has long been argued that too much power in the hands of one individual will inevitably
lead to the corruption of that individual, and cause a centralisation of political power.
There is reason to believe therefore, that the UK Prime Minister holds too much power.

The unwritten constitution: The British constitution is constantly evolving. There are
two main ways that change occurs. The first is through the legislative process. The
introduction of a new law, such as the Scotland Act 1998, can alter the constitutional
arrangements for the UK. The second concerns changes to the way that government
operates. Decision making power has seemed, for some time, to have been slipping
away from cabinet and into the hands of the PM, and his increasing number of special
advisors. He or she therefore finds himself in a position whereby he is able to control
both the legislative and executive processes.

Parliamentary reform: We now know that when the Labour government took power
in 1997, it found itself hindered in Parliament by a House of Lords that was said to be
packed with Tories. Government sponsored legislation could easily be delayed and
obstructed. The PM was able to introduce reforms that he hoped would eliminate this
problem.

Government Whips: These Whips have far greater power than those of the
opposition parties. They act on the direct orders of the PM, and are normally able to
push through his legislative agenda with relative ease. It is only when a PM has a
slender majority and/or some rebellious backbenchers, that the power of the whips is
impaired. This rarely happens.
Evidence to the contrary also exists:

The European Union: As one of the 25 members of the EU, Britain is required to
incorporate all EU legislation into the appropriate domestic legislation. This has the
effect of reducing the power of central government.

Devolution: The devolution of some powers to Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and
London has had the effect of dispersing some of the political decision making away
from the centre and closer to those who will be affected by the decisions made.
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
Referenda: These are occasionally used in order to determine the wishes of the
British people in relation to issues of great constitutional importance. Previously, the
people have been asked whether they wished Britain to join the EU and whether
devolution should be introduced. During his second term of office, Tony Blair indicated
that referenda might be used to determine the popularity of European Monitory Union.
The UK Cabinet
The cabinet is one of the most important institutions within British politics. It stands at the
head of the governmental system and consists of the Prime Minister and his or her
ministerial colleagues; most of whom are fellow MPs from the party in power. This body
holds supreme control over the governance of the UK; it makes and executes
government policy. It is for this reason that it is sometimes referred to as being the
Executive. Cabinet meets regularly and is responsible for introducing, and guiding
through parliament, most UK legislation. It is also responsible for the supervision of the
massive number of bureaucrats, known as civil servants, who implement government
policy. It is collectively responsible to Parliament.
The work of a Cabinet Minister
A useful way of understanding the cabinet, and its role within the heart of government, is
to look at the work undertaken by a typical cabinet minister:

The Queen, on the advice of the Prime Minister, appoints a minister to head a
government department. The minister then takes responsibility for the strategic
planning and day-to-day decisions of his or her department. This is described as
being one’s portfolio. In most cases, a minister is appointed because of their general
political skills, rather than on having any first hand knowledge of the area they have
been put in charge of. In addition to this, many do not hold the position for much more
than two years. This can put them in a disadvantageous position, in relation to the
permanent civil servants that they have been put in charge of.

He or she is in charge of a small number of junior ministers – normally fellow MPs
from his party. Junior Ministers are appointed by the Prime Minister and are
responsible for the work of a section of the department. Young MPs belonging to the
party in government may also be asked to act as parliamentary private secretaries.
They assist ministers in liasing between government and parliament.

He or she is also in charge of the large number of civil servants that belong to the
department. Through the most senior of them, the Permanent Under Secretary, he or
she is able to issue instructions on the requirements of government, and seek
information and advice on the options for action available to government. Most
politicians have no experience of managing large civil service departments and so
have to rely heavily on the advice and guidance of senior civil servants; people who
could use this lack of experience to further their own goals.
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
A minister must answer for his actions, and those of his department, on the floor of
the House of Commons, during the regularly held Question Times. He or she can also
be called to appear before the Select Committee that examines the performance of
their department. A Standing Committee may also wish to question a minister
regarding a piece of government-sponsored legislation that has been formulated by
his or her department. He is expected to take responsibility for anything, within the
department’s remit, that has gone wrong as a result of policy failure; in other words,
he or she issued the wrong instructions to his senior civil servants. In severe
instances, he or she would be expected to resign. If something goes wrong with the
implementation of policy decisions, as a result of incompetence on the part of civil
servants, the minister would not be held accountable. In recent years, ministers have
been less willing to resign when things go wrong, even when it has been as a result of
unsound policy decisions. In a few cases, a minister is a member of the Lords; the
Lord Chancellor is an example. Peers are not permitted to enter the Commons. Under
these circumstances, a junior minister, who is an MP, will take questions in the Lower
House.

Most ministers are Members of Parliament; including the Prime Minister. This means
that, in addition to their ministerial duties, they must represent the interests of their
constituents, just as all the other MPs are expected to do.

The Prime Minister has the power to promote, demote, dismiss (or ask to resign) and
re-appoint any of his or her ministers. When this happens, it is described by the media
as being a cabinet re-shuffle.
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The UK Cabinet
The UK General Election on 5 May 2005 saw Labour leader Tony Blair take his party to a
third successive victory. He immediately formed the cabinet featured below:
Prime Minister, First Lord of the Treasury and Minister
for the Civil Service
Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State
Chancellor of the Exchequer
Foreign Secretary
Work and Pensions Secretary
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary
Scottish Secretary and Transport Secretary
Defence Secretary
Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Commons
Health Secretary
Culture, Media and Sport Secretary
Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury and Chief
Whip
Home Secretary
Northern Ireland Secretary and Wales Secretary
Minister without portfolio
Leader of the House of Lords
Lord Chancellor and Constitutional Affairs Secretary
International Development Secretary
Productivity, Energy and Industry Secretary
Education and Skills Secretary
Minister of Communities and Local Government
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
Chief Secretary to the Treasury
Tony Blair
John Prescott
Gordon Brown
Jack Straw
David Blunkett
Margaret Beckett
Alistair Darling
John Reid
Geoff Hoon
Patricia Hewitt
Tessa Jowell
Hilary Armstrong
Charles Clarke
Peter Hain
Ian McCartney
Baroness Amos
Lord Falconer
Hilary Benn
Alan Johnson
Ruth Kelly
David Miliband
John Hutton
Des Brown
Student/Pupil Activity
Now: By the time that you come to study this part of the booklet, the Prime Minister may
have re-shuffled the Cabinet; he may even have changed the name of a government
department, or even created a new one. Using a website, such as those listed at the back
of this booklet, check if any changes have occurred and update your list accordingly.
On-going: During the course of your studies, watch news reports to see if any further
changes happen; even the Prime Minister could change, and this would mean a major
shake-up of the Cabinet.
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In addition to the above, three other people also attend cabinet meetings:
Lords Chief Whip
Lord Grocott
Attorney General
Lord Goldsmith
Europe Minister
Douglas Alexander
Tony Blair’s re-shuffled cabinet showed examples of people that had been promoted,
demoted, moved sideways and even re-appointed. Des Browne, the former junior
minister for immigration was promoted to the post of Chief Secretary to the Treasury.
Geoff Hoon, who had been Defence Secretary throughout the second Iraqi conflict, was
demoted to the post of Leader of the Commons. John Reid took a side step from Health
to Defence. David Blunkett, who had to resign from his position as Home Secretary, five
months previously, was re-appointed as Minister for Work and Pensions. Others, such as
Gordon Brown, have held the same cabinet position since Labour came to power in 1997.
You may be interested to note the salaries that cabinet members were entitled to in 2005:
Prime Minister
Cabinet Minister
Minister of State (Junior Minister)
Plus MPs salary
House of Lords Cabinet Minister
Lord Chancellor
Attorney General
£124,837
£74,902
£38,854
£59,095
£101,668
£213,899 (chose to take only £101,668)
£106,358
These salaries are reviewed and increased periodically.
Collective Responsibility
The doctrine of collective responsibility requires that once a cabinet decision has been
made, all ministers must publicly support it. Within the confines of the Cabinet Room,
ministers can freely express their views, even if they are contrary to that of the decision
reached. On becoming a member of cabinet, ministers are given a copy of the Ministerial
Code. This code makes clear that ministers should be allowed to express their views
frankly and freely in private while showing a united front when decisions have been
reached. The tradition is that if a minister finds that he or she is unable to conform to the
code, and support the cabinet decision, he or she must resign his post. This situation
obviously puts a minister in a very awkward position. To resign means a return to the
backbenches and probably the end of a promising government career. To stay would
mean continuing to serve in a cabinet that is pursuing policy that the minister may
fundamentally disagree with. A clear choice between career and conscience must be
made. In March 2003, the Leader of the House of Commons, Robin Cook, resigned from
cabinet. In a speech to the House he explained that he could not: ‘support a war without
international agreement or domestic support.’ This speech was delivered from the Labour
backbenches; the first time in 20 years that he had occupied such a position. Before
Labour came to power, he had been a member of the opposition front bench. A former
cabinet member, free of the constraints imposed by the Ministerial Code, may freely
criticise the Prime Minister and the decisions of his cabinet. This can make such people
dangerous enemies of the Prime Minister. Opposition parties and the Media often use
what ex-ministers say as a means of trying to undermine the Government. It is for this
reason that a PM may try to pacify such a minister and try to convince him to stay.
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The Prime Minister may insist on agreement from dissenting ministers, knowing that they
are unlikely to go to the extent of resigning, and that once agreement has been reached,
the code will apply. The doctrine of collective responsibility therefore enables the Prime
Minister to present the image of a united, and therefore strong, cabinet: even though,
behind closed doors, the picture may be very different.
The European Union Council of Ministers
The UK’s membership of the EU means that ministers must spend an increasing amount
of time representing their department in the Council of Ministers. This will be explained
later when the work of the EU is examined.
Government Departments
Civil servants staff government departments. Unlike their political masters, civil servants
are employees of the government and are expected to be apolitical. This means that they
should act in a way that is non-partisan; they should simply obey orders, regardless of the
ideology of the party in power. They are also unlike their political masters for another
reason; they hold permanent positions. The arrival of a new party, and with it a new
ideology, should make no difference. Civil servants should simply obey the instructions of
the new government. It is sometimes the case however; that senior civil servants within a
department may have developed a view of how things should be done best. When this
happens, they may attempt to undermine the progress of government by trying to pursue
their own agenda. Most top civil servants come from very privileged educational
backgrounds. Many attended some of the most prestigious schools and universities in
England. This elite upbringing tends to make it difficult for some of them to take orders
from ministers who may not come from the same elevated social circles.
Categories of Civil Servants
In 2004, there were 523,580 Civil Servants (full-time equivalent.) The jobs that these
people do range from very menial and low paid tasks, to those that are highly skilled and
influential; they are obviously paid accordingly. What follows is detail of the roles that civil
servants occupy:

Clerical staff: These are the people who deal with the day-to-day administrative
bureaucracy: the paperwork, computer filing and general clerical duties. Many are
also involved in the gathering of statistical information, essential to senior civil
servants and government ministers, as part of the decision/policy making process.

Research staff: Normally specialists in areas important to their department, they
undertake research, the findings of which may help to shape new and innovative
departmental initiatives. Researchers such as these may be economists,
psychologists, scientists or those specialising in a wide range of other disciplines.

Executive staff: More civil servants occupy these roles, than any other. They carry
out departmental decisions, often in supervisory or managerial roles. The majority of
these people do not work in their ministerial headquarters in London: instead, they
work in the branch offices of departments such as: Inland Revenue or Customs and
Excise.
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
Senior civil servants: These are the people who often deal directly with ministers of
state. They are required to make important decisions. No minister would ever have
the time, or be able, to deal with everything him or herself. Ministers therefore have to
rely on them to know when a decision requires the minister’s personal attention, and
when it can be dealt with appropriately, without the need to consult the minister. A
high level of discretion is therefore required. Some senior civil servants also draft
parliamentary answers for their ministers. They do so in a way that will help defend
the minister’s actions, and in some cases, get them out of a difficult situation. This, to
some, is seen as an example of when civil servants cease to be apolitical.

Policy advisors: These people are closest to ministers. They provide policy advice to
the Prime Minister, individual ministers, and sometimes to the whole cabinet. In recent
years, the formulation of government policy has become increasingly reliant on the
advice of these people. Information is gathered, analysed and then formulated, by the
lower level research staff, into a small number of policy options. These are then
presented, with an idea of the likely practical and political consequences of each, by
the policy advisors, to ministers. It can be seen that, under such circumstances, the
line between apolitical civil servant and politically biased advisor becomes completely
blurred.
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Practice Assessment
The following is similar to the type of questions that you will be expected to answer when
you sit your assessment:
Time allowed: ½ hour
Question:
Describe the key features of the UK Parliament.
In your answer you should:


describe the most important roles that the House of Commons is expected to perform
describe the type of people who are made members of the House of Lords.
(10 marks)
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The Scottish devolved political system: an introduction
Scotland was, for hundreds of years, an independent sovereign state. The Scottish
Parliament sat in the capital, Edinburgh. This changed in 1707 when it joined in union
with England to form the United Kingdom. The Scottish Parliament was dissolved and
members of its parliament began to travel to the English, now UK, Parliament at
Westminster in London. It was agreed that Scotland would retain its own legal and
education systems, the Kirk, and separate Scots Law. Scottish laws were now passed
in Westminster. Scotland has, to this day, remained an integral part of the United
Kingdom. It is a small nation within a larger state.
The United Kingdom has, for 300 years, been a unitary state. This means that the power
to make Scots law and govern Scotland has been held in London, by parliament and
government.
In the run-up to the UK General Election in 1997, the Labour Party made a pledge to
introduce some form of home rule or devolution to Scotland. Devolution is the passing
down of power to a lesser authority; which can be taken back. Labour achieved a
resounding victory. The incoming Prime Minister, Tony Blair, decided to hold a
referendum in Scotland in the autumn of that year. The people of Scotland were asked if
they wanted a parliament, and if they wanted it to have tax varying powers. The answer to
both questions was yes. The PM then felt able to ask his newly appointed Secretary of
State for Scotland, Donald Dewar, to implement this. Donald Dewar, with the help of
Junior Minister Henry McLeish, then set about the task of taking the Scotland Bill through
Parliament. The Scotland Act 1998, having entered the statute books, made legal, and
constitutional, the creation of a Scottish Parliament.
The Parliament
The first ever Scottish General Election took place in 1999. Scots were asked to elect
members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs), using a mixture of first-past-the-post and
additional member voting. (see Political Representation: Outcome 2 for an explanation of
the UK, Scottish and EU Parliamentary election systems.) Not applicable to those
studying Political Structures as a free-standing Unit. Labour won the election, but not with
a clear majority. The total number of MSPs from other parties was greater than that of
Labour. This meant that it might prove difficult for Labour to implement legislation. It
would have to find a political ally amongst the opposition parties.
The Scottish Parliament can make, amend and repeal laws on any issue where power
has been devolved from Westminster to Holyrood; the Edinburgh location of the Scottish
Parliament. Health, education, agriculture and social services are issues that fall into the
devolved category. Areas such as defence, the issuing of money and constitutional
matters remain the responsibility of the parliament at Westminster. It is argued by some
that the very important issues have been retained by London, thus enabling Westminster
to hold on to the real power. Information regarding the powers retained in London, and
those devolved, is given below.
The Scottish Parliament is chaired by the Presiding Officer, much in the style of the
Speaker in the House of Commons. The MSPs sit in party formation. The chamber is the
focus of debate, voting and the scrutiny of the Scottish Executive.
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The Executive
The role of a political executive is to implement the laws passed by parliament. In order to
do this, a leader is appointed. On learning the results of the 1999 Scottish General
Election, the Queen summoned the Scottish leader of the party that won the largest
number of seats and invited him to form an executive. The first ever person to take up the
position of First Minister was Donald Dewar. The Executive is, as far as devolved issues
are concerned, the government of Scotland. Labour did not win an outright majority. In
order that it would be able to achieve its legislative and executive programmes, it had to
find another party willing to work in coalition. The Liberal Democrats, who were very keen
on the introduction of devolution, and wanted it to work, were prepared to offer support.
This support however came at a price. The position of Deputy First Minister was given to
the leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, at the time: Jim Wallace. This coalition
meant that both parties had to make a certain amount of compromise, unlike the UK
Government, where one party holds all power.
The Scottish Executive is only authorised to govern on devolved issues. The Scottish
Cabinet comprises of a First Minister, Deputy First Minister and ministers, each of whom
is responsible for a department such as Health or Education.
The Power
The provisions of the Scotland Act 1998, bind the Scottish Parliament and Executive. This
curtails their power, and that of the First Minister. Only an act of the UK Parliament can
alter the powers listed as being devolved and retained. For this reason the Scottish
Parliament and Executive are seen as being much less powerful than their London
counterparts.
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Outcome 1 – PC (a) and (b): Describe the legislative branch of government
in Scotland, the UK and the European Union.
The Scottish Parliament
The Queen officially opened the Scottish Parliament on 1 July 1999. It sat temporarily in
the Assembly Hall of the Church of Scotland in Edinburgh. The purpose-built Parliament
in Holyrood was also officially opened by the Queen. This took place on 9 October 2004.
The building attracted much controversy; both because of the unusual design, and for the
very high cost of construction.
Unicameral legislative system
Unicameral is the word used to describe a parliamentary system that has one legislative
chamber. The Scottish Parliament is an example of such a system. It is commonly known
as Holyrood and is situated at the foot of the Royal Mile, in Edinburgh. Unlike the UK
Parliament, there is only one type of parliamentarian at Holyrood: the MSP. Some people
do however make a distinction between first-past-the-post and list MSPs. There are 129
MSPs: 73 FPTP and 53 list. The former having been elected by name – the latter having
been on a party list. (see Political Representation.) Unicameral chambers can benefit
from having fewer legislative stages for a Bill to pass through, fewer members, and lower
operational costs than a bicameral system. It can function in what could be described as
being a more streamlined way. Not having a second chamber can also be a problem as
there is then no second and separate body to independently scrutinise the legislative
work of the first. This therefore places greater pressure on the committee system of the
Scottish Parliament, than that of its Westminster counterpart. The Scottish Parliament
does not experience the level of conflict and delay that the House of Lords is able to
impose on the Commons.
Retained and devolved powers
Devolution involves passing down some of the powers held by a powerful body to a
lesser one. It is the more powerful body that decides which powers will be devolved, and
those that it will hold on to, known as retained powers. Devolution is normally carried out
on a geographic basis: the superior power devolving some of its powers to one or more
regions. Devolved executive and legislative bodies also need to be created. The power to
change the constitutional arrangements of the state will be retained by the superior
power. This ensures that political sovereignty remains in the hands of the more powerful
central government. Constitutional supremacy then provides the power for it to change,
suspend or even withdraw devolved powers. A national government can therefore
dissolve, as well as create devolved assemblies. The Scotland Act 1998 is written in
relation to those powers retained by the sovereign parliament at Westminster. It
prescribes those powers that are reserved and that can only be changed or altered by Act
of Parliament. The Scottish Parliament can legislate on devolved issues but only discuss
reserved issues.
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Powers of the Scottish Parliament
The powers devolved by Westminster to the Scottish Parliament are as follows:
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Health
Education
Training policy
Local government
Social work
Housing
Planning
Economic development
Financial assistance to industry
Tourism
Some aspects of transport
Criminal and civil law
Civil and criminal courts
Police and fire services
Environment
National heritage
Agriculture, forestry and fisheries
Food standards
Arts.
The powers retained by the UK Parliament are as follows:
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The constitution of the United Kingdom
United Kingdom foreign policy
Defence and national security
The Civil Service
The stability of the United Kingdom’s fiscal, economic and monetary system
The protection of borders and certain matters subject to border controls
Drug policy
Common markets for United Kingdom goods and services
Electricity, coal, oil, gas and nuclear energy
Transport safety and regulation
Social security policy and administration
Employment legislation
Abortion
Broadcasting
Equal opportunities.
It can be seen therefore that, whilst the powers devolved to the Scottish Parliament are
very important, those powers that relate to constitution, international affairs, defence, tax,
money and the economy have been retained by central government.
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Devolution
The devolved settlement has meant that Scots can now make decisions in Scotland that
affect Scotland. Much more time can now be spent on such issues; and in an assembly
specifically created for the task. This has also reduced the amount of work, relating to
Scottish issues, that now has to be done in Westminster. Some detractors do however
argue that there may now be too many layers of government: Scottish, UK and EU; and
that each can impose laws and make executive decisions which affect the lives, and the
pockets, of the Scottish people. Some even worry that devolution may lead to the
eventual separation of Scotland, from the rest of the United Kingdom.
The West Lothian question
‘If power over Scottish affairs is devolved to a Scottish Parliament, how can it be right
that MPs representing Scottish constituencies in the Parliament of the United
Kingdom still have the power to vote on equivalent issues affecting England and
other parts of the UK, but not Scotland?’
This is the question that Tam Dalyell, the Labour MP for West Lothian, later
Linlithgow, began to ask the House, in the 1970s. He was highlighting the anomaly
that would arise if his party were to come to power, and introduce a devolved system
of government for Scotland. This, he pointed out, would lead to the situation where
he would be able to vote on health issues relating to Blackburn, Lancashire, but not
those relating to Blackburn, West Lothian. Scottish MPs would therefore be able to
vote on English domestic issues such as health and education, despite the fact that,
in Scotland, these issues would be decided in Holyrood. There would be an
imbalance of power, in favour of the Scots.
Devolution came to Scotland without much protest; although some English MPs
argued that it would be fairer if their Scottish counterparts didn’t vote on issues that
would not affect Scotland. Discontent amongst English MPs came later, when
Scottish MPs voted for controversial legislation on foundation hospitals and university
top-up fees, both for England. The majority of English MPs had voted against the
creation of foundation hospitals, and the university legislation only passed, due to the
Scottish votes.
In 2005, in order to correct this over-representation imbalance, the number of
Scottish MPs was reduced from 72 to 59. Some however argued that this should be
further reduced to 40.
It is interesting to note that the 2005 General Election saw more people south of the
border voting Conservative than Labour. The momentum in Scotland for a devolved
parliament had come largely as a result of resentment from Scots that they were being
governed by a party that the majority hadn’t voted for. Now this situation had been
reversed.
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The legislative process
There are a number of different ways that a Bill can be proposed in the Scottish
Parliament. The route used depends on the type of legislation and the people proposing
it. This new, and more open legislative process was designed to allow multiple access to
the consultation and decision making process: a greater level of democratic participation.
The routes are as follows:
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Executive Bills. A Minister or Deputy Minister introduces these Bills in order that
Executive policy can be achieved. This is the equivalent of UK Government
sponsored legislation.
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Committee Bills. The Convener of a Scottish Parliament committee introduces these
Bills. The subject of the Bill must fall within the remit of that committee. It is proposed
in the form of a report to Parliament.
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MSPs’ Bills. These Bills are introduced by MSPs who are not members of the
Executive. If, within one month, 11 other MSPs have given notice of support for the
proposal, the member can then introduce a Bill to Parliament.
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Private Bills. Private individuals and groups may introduce such Bills.
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Emergency Bills. This is a Bill speedily enacted by the Executive to, for example,
take account of a judicial decision that has exposed a legal loophole.
Pre-legislative scrutiny
Pre-legislative scrutiny forms a much more important element in the Scottish
parliamentary process, than that of the UK Parliament. Consultation with interested
groups takes place at a very early stage. The ability of pressure groups, and other
interested people, to voice their opinions, is not restricted in the way that it is at
Westminster. The results of such consultation must then be contained in a memorandum,
which accompanies the draft Bill. This therefore means that public opinion, and that of
sectors of Scottish society, is more likely to be listened to when considering proposed
legislation.
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Phases in the legislative process
In order to understand how a law is passed in the Scottish Parliament, the process will be
examined in relation to Executive Bills. The process is as follows:
The pre-legislative phase
1. The process begins when Ministers, aided by civil servants, have formed policy on a
specific issue. It is then that a decision is taken as to whether legislation is required, to
achieve the policy goals. A bill team, made up of civil servants and solicitors, then
prepare a draft Bill.
2. The Executive then write to groups who have an interest, or concern, about the
proposed legislation, asking for written responses. A draft of the Bill may be published
at this time.
3. The appropriate committee then consults, taking evidence from interested groups.
MSPs may use this pre-legislative scrutiny as a way of familiarising themselves with
the issue at an early stage.
4. The text of the Bill is finalised and officials have three weeks to ensure that certain
checks have been made prior to formal introduction:
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whether the Bill conforms to the Presiding Officer’s recommendations regarding,
for example, content
that the scope and purpose of the Bill is correct – also that the types of
amendments included will be relevant to the Bill
whether Crown Consent may be required. Will any provisions of the Bill affect the
private interests or hereditary revenues of the Monarch?
if the Bill may affect any individuals or groups differently from others. Those
affected may wish to make representations to Parliament
whether the provisions of the Bill would have financial implications. How much
would it cost?
confirmation from the Parliaments Legal Adviser that the Bill has legislative
competence. Is it properly formulated? Is a financial resolution required? Is the
proposed date for introduction to Parliament able to be met?
5. The Bill is published at the same time as:
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the Policy Memorandum which explains the objectives of the Bill, alternative
approaches considered, and effect on, for example: equal opportunities and
human rights
the Financial Memorandum, which provides information on the likely costs to the
Executive
statements on legislative competence: stating that the relevant Minister regards
the Bill to be within the Parliament’s legislative competence.
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The Parliamentary phase
The Presiding Officer formally introduces a Bill to Parliament. He makes a statement in
which he confirms that the Bill has legislative competence, and that the additional preintroductory steps are complete. The Bill has to be signed by the MSP introducing it and
by those supporters whose names will appear on the published version. The process is
as follows:
Stage 1: The Bill is initially referred to the lead committee. At this stage the committee
takes evidence from interested parties. It considers the general principles of the Bill.
Other committees with an interest in the Bill, for example Finance, may also become
involved. The outcome of these committees’ deliberations is given to the lead committee
– for inclusion in the report on the Bill. The committee then reports on the Bill to the
Parliament. In the meantime Parliament will also have been considering the general
principles of the Bill. Parliament is then ready to decide whether the principles of the Bill
are agreed to. The debate takes place in the parliamentary chamber. A motion is put
forward by the MSP in charge of the Bill. The motion will be as follows: ‘That the
Parliament agrees to the general principles of the (short title of) the Bill.’ It has three
options:
1. To refer it back to the lead committee in order that a further report can be produced.
The committee would be asked to consider the principles of all, or parts, of the Bill. It
may take additional evidence at this time.
2. Not to agree to the Bill progressing any further; the Bill falls.
3. To agree to the general principles and allow the Bill to proceed to Stage 2.
Stage 2: This is the stage at which the details of the Bill are examined, and a committee
works through each part line by line. The lead committee can do this. The whole
parliament can also act as a committee at this stage. Other committees may also be
involved. Each section of the Bill is examined and amendments can be made.
Stage 3: This takes place at a meeting of the Parliament. The amended Bill is considered
and new amendments can also be made. The Bill is then debated and the MSPs must
decide whether to vote: for, against or abstain. Even at this stage, parts of a Bill can be
sent back to Stage 2 for further consideration. When the Bill is returned, Parliament can
make amendments, but only to the referred-back parts. Parliament then decides whether
to approve the Bill.
The Legal phase
The Scottish and UK Parliaments’ Legal Officers and the Secretary of State for Scotland
then scrutinise the Bill. They are required to check:
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legislative competence
relationship to reserved powers
implications relating to the UK’s international obligations.
Finally the Bill becomes law, having gained Royal Assent. It is now an Act of the Scottish
Parliament.
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Functions of Committees
The legislative process of the Scottish Parliament places great demands on the
committee system. The high level of participation, by committees, during the various
stages of the process, helps to ensure that proper legislative scrutiny occurs in this
unicameral chamber. Unlike Westminster, there is no second chamber to double-check
the work of the first. A committee has a number of other important roles, in addition to its
legislative function. They are as follows:
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consider and amend new Bills
examine and report on the work of Scottish Executive departments
investigate and report on areas of concern that fall within its remit, having ensured
that proper public participation took place
publish reports setting out the recommendations of the committee; these to be
debated by the full Parliament
propose new laws.
Committees are chaired by a convener and consist of between five and 15 members. All
are MSPs and party membership is proportional to that of the whole house. An MSP who
is not a member of a particular committee can still attend, and take part, in its meetings.
He cannot however vote. If necessary, committees can work together, by forming a joint
committee. A committee can also choose to form a sub-committee, in order to look
closely at a specific issue.
Committees normally meet in the Committee Rooms at Holyrood. Sessions are usually
open to the public. A committee can call on people to give evidence, opinion and advice.
Specialists, who are not MSPs, may be invited to participate in the work of a committee.
They are known as Committee Advisers. Meetings can, if it is appropriate to do so, be
held anywhere in Scotland. The rules of Parliament; known as Standing Orders, require
that the following eight committees are set up. They are known as Mandatory
Committees, and are as follows:
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Audit
Equal Opportunities
European and External Relations
Finance
Procedures
Public Petitions
Standards
Subordinate Legislation.
Committees are also set up and given a remit, as we have discovered, to consider a
specific Bill.
Parliament can also create a committee to look at a specific issue or area of concern.
They are known as Subject Committees. Such committees have been created to look at,
for example: Education, Enterprise and Culture, Environment and Rural Development,
and Health.
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Public Petitions Committee
One of the key aims of the Scottish Parliament was that it should be open and
accessible to the Scottish people. The Public Petitions Committee was created to
help to achieve this. Members of the public, interest groups and organisations can
petition the Parliament. The petitioners may be asked to appear before the
Committee and support their petition. This means that people may be able to bring
issues of public concern to the notice of Parliament, without necessarily having to do
it through their MSP.
The Committee has made clear its wish to promote the petitions system and
encourage those sectors of Scottish society usually excluded from the democratic
process to participate. It has been proactive in organising events in various parts of
the country, in support of this. A very innovative e-petitions system has been created
to make the petitioning system even more accessible.
On receiving a petition, the Petitions Committee may decide to refer it to an
appropriate committee, for example: the Local Government Committee. If a
committee decides that it wishes to consider the petition further, the petitioner may
be invited to attend the committee meeting at which it will be discussed.
Scrutiny of the Scottish Executive
In addition to its role as a legislative assembly, the Scottish Parliament must also
scrutinise the work of the Scottish Executive, much as the UK Parliament does to the
Government. We have seen above that the committee system is able to examine and
report on the work of Scottish Executive departments. In addition to this, ministers can be
questioned in the chamber; on every Thursday afternoon that the Parliament is in
session. This culminates with First Minister’s question time. This provides an opportunity
for MSPs to question the ministers. It is at this session that the leaders of the main
opposition parties can quiz the First Minister. These sessions are open to the public, and
broadcast on television and radio. Questions must be given in writing, and in advance.
This is different from Westminster. Tony Blair changed the procedure at Prime Minister’s
question time, and does not see the questions in advance. In the Scottish Parliament, the
responses to the written questions are worked out, for ministers, by civil servants. The
questioner is however then allowed another question, a supplementary question. These
are the questions that can trip up a minister. This can be especially true of the First
Minister, who can be asked to answer questions relating to the performance of any of the
departments.
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Scottish Parliament: Main Features
Location
Legislative
model
Key roles
Membership
Chaired by
Layout
Debating style
Voting
method
Powers
Holyrood, Edinburgh
Unicameral: one debating chamber. Much greater reliance on the
committee system to properly scrutinise proposed legislation,
compared to Westminster.
Passing Scottish legislation in areas of government devolved to it
by the UK Parliament. Scrutinising the work of the Scottish
Executive and the performance of Executive Ministers.
129 Members of the Scottish Parliament: 73 of whom are first-pastpost MSPs and 56 additional members. The Executive does not
normally hold a majority of seats and therefore has to work in
coalition with another party – in order to achieve its legislative
agenda.
The Presiding Officer or one of the two Deputy Presiding Officers
controls the proceedings of the Parliament. They are elected MSPs
who have been chosen by the other members. On taking a
position, they are expected to act impartially and not participate in
debates.
Non-confrontational: the seats are in a semi-circular arrangement,
with all MSPs facing the Presiding Officer. Members can sit where
they wish, but tend to sit with other members of their own party.
The party leaders sit on the front benches. This seating
arrangement was deliberately chosen, in an effort to avoid the
highly confrontational nature of the Westminster Parliament.
Business-like: the Presiding Officer can find it relatively easy to
control the behaviour of MSPs, and encourage a calm and
considered debating style amongst members. All MSPs have a
special access card that they can insert into a consol on their
desks. This then enables them to vote and to signal to the
Presiding Officer that they wish to speak during the debate. When
called to speak, their microphone is activated. Modern language is
used and the archaic practices of Westminster were not introduced.
Some observers have described the debates as being dull, in
comparison to the cut and thrust of the Commons.
Modern: the Presiding Officer puts motions to Parliament. If the
MSPs do not agree, the electronic voting system is used. By
pressing the appropriate button, they can vote yes, no or abstain.
The computer system then calculates the result and this is
announced by the Presiding Officer. A record is produced showing
how every MSP has voted. This is lodged in the Official Report. If
this system breaks down, a show of hands can be used.
Devolved power: the Scotland Act 1998 is written in relation to
those powers retained by the sovereign Parliament at Westminster.
It prescribes those powers that are reserved and that can only be
changed or altered by Act of Parliament (UK). All other areas of
policy are automatically devolved to the Scottish Parliament. The
Scottish Parliament can legislate on devolved issues, but can only
discuss reserved issues.
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Committees
Influential: committees of the Scottish Parliament have been seen
to act much more rigorously than their Westminster counterparts.
Cross-party consensus within committees unthinkable at
Westminster has caused both ministers and civil servants to realise
that, only if a Bill is properly drafted, will it stand a chance of getting
passed the committee stage. The fact that the Scottish Parliament
is unicameral makes this all the more important.
The Sewel Convention
At the time of drafting the Scotland Act, Lord Sewel was asked to consider what
would help ensure its trouble free passage through the Upper House. He devised a
provision whereby the Scottish Parliament could allow the UK Parliament to initiate
legislation on devolved issues. It was intended that this would be used sparingly, and
only when it would help avoid wasteful duplication of effort. Donald Dewar, the first
First Minister said:
‘There is a possibility, in theory, of the United Kingdom parliament legislating across
devolved areas. But it is not one we anticipate or expect.’
He would perhaps be surprised to find out that within the first three years of the new
parliament working, 38 Sewel motions had been used. The devolution settlement
agreed that Scotland would continue to be legislated for by Westminster on a host of
retained issues. It was thought that devolved issues would be just that: issues
debated and legislated almost exclusively in Holyrood. MSPs have, as has been
stated, allowed Westminster to legislate on many devolved issues, an example being
the extension of the Food Standards Agency to Scotland.
The Scottish Parliament had intended to introduce a Bill that would ban the
advertising and promotion of tobacco. Health is a devolved issue. On finding out that
Westminster was to introduce the Tobacco Advertising and Promotions Bill, Holyrood
passed a Sewel motion. The new Bill was then to be expanded to include Scotland.
This was done in order to avoid a needless duplication of effort. Unfortunately the Bill
was dropped from the Queen’s Speech at Westminster. Scotland did not therefore
get the new law as intended.
Trespass into devolved issues
In 2000 Westminster passed the Health Service Commissioners (Amendment) Act. This
act clearly trespasses into a devolved area, as it is now UK law and applies to Scotland. It
was never even the subject of a Sewel motion. The division between retained and
devolved powers has, in a very short period of time, become very blurred.
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Student/Pupil Activity
Introduction to the Scottish Parliament
Individual activity
Answer the following questions in relation to the Scottish Parliament:
1. What does devolution mean?
2. What problem, that devolution may cause, does the West Lothian question highlight?
3. What is the difference between retained and devolved power?
4. How powerful do you think that Holyrood is? Justify your answer.
5. How does the unicameral parliament manage to ensure proper scrutiny of the
legislative process?
6. What are the ways in which a Bill can be introduced?
7. What are the main stages in the Holyrood legislative process?
Group activity
Westminster is old, and steeped in tradition. Holyrood is new and quite different. What
could the old parliament learn from the new?
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Outcome 2 – PC (a) and (b): Analyse and evaluate the political executives of
Scotland, the UK and the European Union.
The Scottish Executive
On learning the result of a Scottish Parliamentary Election, the Queen invites the Scottish
leader of the party that has won the greatest number of seats, to form an Executive. The
Executive is, in effect, the government of Scotland, as far as devolved issues are
concerned. Elections are held every four years. The 1999 and 2003 elections did not
produce a clear winner. On both occasions Labour got the highest number of seats; but
not the 50% required for an outright majority. The first ever First Minister was Donald
Dewar. In order that the opposition parties were unable to join forces in the Parliament,
and make it difficult for Labour to get through its legislative programme, a coalition partner
had to be found. In other words: a party prepared to work with, and support, Labour in the
Parliament. Neither the Scottish National Party (SNP) nor the Conservatives were
prepared to do this, as their ideological differences were too great. The Liberal Democrats
(Lib Dems), who were very keen on the introduction of devolution, and therefore wanted it
to work, were prepared to offer support. This support however came at a price. Places
were made available within the Executive for Liberal Democrats. The position of Deputy
First Minister was given to the then leader of the Lib Dems: Jim Wallace. Scottish
Executive ministerial positions were then allocated to Labour and Lib Dem MSPs – the
majority going to Labour. Being in coalition meant that both parties had to make a certain
amount of compromise – unlike the UK Executive, where Labour had an outright majority.
The system of proportional representation used in Scottish Parliamentary elections is
largely the cause of the need for coalition government.
Note:
See Political Representation: Outcome 2 for an explanation of the UK, Scottish and
EU Parliamentary election systems. This advice will not be applicable to those
studying Political Structures as a free-standing Unit.
The Executive is only authorised to govern on devolved issues. The Scottish Cabinet
comprises of a First Minister, Deputy First Minister, and Ministers, each of whom head a
department. It is the First Minister who appoints all of the other Ministers. In July 2005,
the Scottish Cabinet was as follows:
Jack McConnell MSP
Nicol Stephen MSP
Cathy Jamieson MSP
Andy Kerr MSP
Peter Peacock MSP
Tom McCabe MSP
Ross Finnie MSP
Malcolm Chisholm MSP
Margaret Curran MSP
Patricia Ferguson MSP
Tavish Scott MSP
Colin Boyd QC
Elish Angiolini QC
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First Minister
Deputy First Minister and Minister for Enterprise and
Lifelong Learning (Lib Dem)
Minister for Justice
Minister for Health and Community Care
Minister for Education and Young People
Minister for Finance and Public Service Reform
Minister for Environment and Rural Development (Lib
Dem)
Minister for Communities
Minister for Parliamentary Business
Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport
Minister for Transport (Lib Dem)
Lord Advocate
Solicitor General
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The First Minister
As head of the devolved Scottish government he is responsible for the development,
presentation and implementation of Executive policy. It is also his role to represent and
promote the interests of Scotland. It is the responsibility of the Deputy First Minister, now
Nicol Stephen, to deputise and take control of the Executive, in the absence of a First
Minister; something that Jim Wallace twice had to do: first on the death of Donald Dewar,
and then following the resignation of Henry McLeish. Executive power in Scotland is
divided between the First Minister for devolved power, and the Secretary of State for
Scotland for retained power. The role of the secretary of State and the Scottish/Scotland
Office will be discussed later. The First Minister’s duties are as follows:
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Head of the Scottish Executive
appoints all ministers to the Scottish Executive cabinet
responsible for the formulation of Executive policy
responsible for the introduction and progress of Executive sponsored legislation
responsible for the civil service administration in Scotland
responsible to the Scottish Parliament.
The Cabinet of the Scottish Executive
Cabinet meets weekly. It can be seen above that it comprises of the First Minister, the
Deputy First Minister, the Lord Advocate, the Solicitor General and nine Ministers. It
operates using the same principle of collective responsibility that is applied in the UK
Executive. The difference is, of course, that the Scottish Cabinet is a coalition of two
parties; both of whom must be content with the decisions made by their party’s Cabinet
members. The fact that this coalition is not equal, in terms of number of Ministers, and
MSPs, from each of the two parties, does not mean that the junior party, the Lib Dems,
has to give in on all policy decisions. Compromise often has to be sought. The worst thing
that could happen is that a party split occurred within Cabinet. The First Minister is not
even able to finalise the agenda for Cabinet meetings without having it first agreed with
his Deputy.
The Civil Service
The Scottish Executive is based in Edinburgh, apart from the Department for Enterprise
and Lifelong Learning, which is located in Glasgow. It is staffed, using a similar
hierarchical structure, by UK civil servants, many of whom transferred from the Scottish
Office at the time of the creation of the devolved system. This allowed for a high level of
continuity. There is no separate Scottish civil service. This has meant that links have
been retained between high-level civil servants attached to both the UK and Scottish
Executives. The reorganisation of the Civil Service in Scotland to cope with devolution
was a relatively painless process, which was aided by the fact, that the same party,
Labour, was in control of both executives. The situation could prove much more difficult
for the civil servants if, in the future, two different parties governed the UK and Scotland.
The most senior civil servant within the Scottish Executive is the Permanent Secretary.
There is also a Principle Finance Officer and Heads of Departments that, between
them, cover all devolved issues.
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The Executive Secretariat
Within the Executive’s civil service, this department occupies a central position. It has a
co-ordinating role, in which it deals with areas such as: legal support, personnel and
finance. In addition, it has a co-ordinating remit within the Executive, organising
ministerial committee meetings, and other occasional meetings to deal with awkward
situations that can crop up. It also acts as liaison between the Executive and the
Parliament, Westminster and the European Union.
The Scottish Office
The post of Secretary of State for Scotland was first created in 1885 and became a
Cabinet post in 1926. He/she was an MP and was responsible to the Parliament at
Westminster for all Scottish issues. As Minister for the Scottish Office, he/she had to
answer for its performance during Scottish Question Time, in the Commons. The
Secretary of State was responsible for administering Scotland’s separate system of
law, and the departments within the Scottish Office itself. He/she was the UK
Government’s spokesman in Scotland, responsible for defending government actions
and outlining new policy initiatives. Over the years, the remit of the Scottish Office
expanded to the point that, by 1999, it was employing 5,000 people. Most were
based at Victoria Quay in Leith. The Secretary of State was a very important figure in
Scottish politics, acting as a link between the UK Government, the UK Parliament
and Scotland. This operated in two directions. He/she was able to articulate the
views of the Scottish people to the government and also act as the voice of
government to the Scots.
The Scotland Office
In 1999, the Secretary of State became responsible to Parliament in London only for
those issues retained by central government. He/she now headed a much-reduced
Scotland Office. The headquarters in Leith, and most of the staff, were transferred to
the new Scottish Executive. Now there were only two principle ministers: the
Secretary of State and one Minister of State. There used to be five ministers, each
heading-up a department similar to those now controlled by the Scottish Executive.
Devolution meant that most of the important responsibilities, previously held by the
Secretary of State, were given to the First Minister. It is interesting to note that Donald
Dewar, the first First Minister, was the last Secretary of State to head the Scottish Office.
The role of the Secretary of State was now that of an intermediary; smoothing out any
difficulties that cropped up between the UK Government and the Scottish devolved
institutions. Negotiations in relation to the block grant awarded to Scotland, using the
Barnett Formula, was an example of the liaison duties that he/she engaged in. By June
2003, rumours that the days were numbered for the role of Secretary of State for
Scotland began to look ominously true. It had been reported in the Scottish media that the
Secretary of State, Helen Liddell, was bored and could find little to do; so much so that
she found time to study French at Dover House, the Scotland Offices London HQ. It was
reported that she was unable to convince Tony Blair of the continued need for her
position. Helen Liddell resigned. Much of the media said that Tony Blair, as part of a
bigger Cabinet shake-up, had axed her. He had decided that the post, in its present form,
was no longer required.
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The Department of Constitutional Affairs
A new Department of Constitutional Affairs was created, this to be headed by Lord
Falconer, and covering both Scotland and Wales. Lord Falconer, an unelected peer,
could not speak for Scotland in the House of Commons. The Transport Secretary:
Alistair Darling did this, holding the dual roles of Transport and Scottish Secretary.
It can be seen therefore, that there is no longer one individual with sole responsibility for
Scotland, and its relationship with the rest of the UK Parliament and Government.
Devolution seems to have negated much of the need for such a minister of state.
The Locus of Power
The provisions of the Scotland Act bind the Scottish Executive. This curtails its power and
that of the First Minister. Only an Act of Parliament can alter the powers listed as being
devolved and retained. For this reason the Scottish Parliament and Executive are seen as
being much less powerful than their London counterparts.
Rumours persist that a certain amount of control of the Scottish Executive and the First
Minister, comes from the Labour hierarchy in London. Shortly after the departure of the
second First Minister, Henry McLeish, one of his senior advisors sold his story to the
Scotsman newspaper. In this series of articles, he recounted stories of the number of
times that ministers, within the Scottish Executive, contacted UK Government ministers
for support, advice and even instruction, regarding the course of action to be taken over
the McLeish controversy. The third First Minister is the Lanarkshire MSP, Jack
McConnell.
It is for the above reasons therefore that some in Scotland believe that the real political
power remains firmly located in London.
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Practice Assessment
The following is similar to the type of questions that you will be expected to answer when
you sit your assessment:
Time allowed: ½ hour
Question:
The First Minister seems to have much less power than the Prime
Minister.
Compare the powers of the First Minister and the Prime Minister.
In your answer you should:


describe the difference between retained and devolved powers
give reasons why the First Minister is much less powerful than the Prime Minister.
(10 marks)
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The European Union: an introduction
To some the European Union is, or should be, simply a collection of sovereign and
independent states that have joined in union, in order that trade and co-operation
between them is easier. This is the reason that the UK joined in 1973. To others, the EU
is fast becoming a federal superstate: a kind of United States of Europe. Federalism will
be explained below. People happy with the way that the EU has developed over the years
are often called: europhiles; those who are not are known as eurosceptics, or even
europhobes. All politics is controversial, but the EU, and Britain’s place within it, has long
been the subject of great debate. It is for this reason therefore, that we will look at the
history of, and debates surrounding, the European Union, before we examine its
legislative system and political executive.
Member states
The European Union is a political, economic, trade and monetary alliance between 25
European states. The member states, and the year that each acceded: joined the EU, are
as follows:
Austria
Belgium (founding member)
Cyprus
Czech Republic
Denmark
Estonia
Finland
France (founding member)
Germany (founding member)
Greece
Hungary
Ireland
Italy (founding member)
Latvia
Lithuania
Luxembourg (founding
member)
Malta
The Netherlands (founding
member)
Poland
Portugal
Slovakia
Slovenia
Spain
Sweden
United Kingdom
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1952
2004
2004
1973
2004
1995
1952
1952
1981
2004
1973
1952
2004
2004
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2004
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2004
1986
2004
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1986
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Factors contributing to the creation of the European Union
The pursuit of peace
Europe has, for much of its history, been a battlefield in which national, religious and
economic conflicts were played out. The last century saw two world wars in which most of
the nations of Europe experienced the horrors of modern warfare. At the end of World
War II, many Europeans began searching for a solution, which would ensure that such
genocide never happened again. Germany and France had, for example, been engaged
in periodic wars with each other, for over 100 years, culminating in the carnage of WWII.
They were, therefore, the main instigators in a chain of events that led to the creation of
the European Union. The idea was simple: that the countries of Europe should work
together. It was argued that much greater co-operation between nations, in areas such as
research, trade, and commerce, would be helpful. The people of one country are much
less likely to want to attack and destroy the people and property of other nations, if they
regularly work and trade with them. A culture of trust and reliance would thus be created.
Many felt that this could only be achieved, if co-ordinated at national government level.
France, for example, was keen to find a way of containing Germany’s powerful political
influence, and saw the establishment of what was called at the time a European
Community, as a way of achieving this. Proposed options for this co-operation between
states ranged from: a loose confederation of states, to a federal United States of Europe.
The end result, it was hoped, would be, that by working together, ordinary European
citizens would learn to respect each other. This contact, on an inter-governmental,
commercial and individual level, would make it virtually impossible for large-scale warfare
to breakout again. We would all be European citizens, and less inclined to make war
against each other.
The unrestricted market
The effects of the Second World War devastated the industrial, commercial and
agricultural fabric of much of Europe. The infrastructure had to be rebuilt. Many within the
business communities of Europe began to argue that the free movement of goods and
services across national borders would be highly advantageous. It would cut costs, save
time and effort and open up new markets. They also argued that taxes, tariffs and trading
restrictions imposed on those importing and exporting goods, were also costly and time
consuming. An area of free trade was required and a common market would be able to
deliver this. Many who argued from this perspective were less sympathetic to the notion
that a strong European political institution should be created; theirs was primarily a
commercial argument. The ability to move goods and labour from state to state, with little
or no bureaucracy getting in the way was, to them, a very powerful proposition.
A Socialist Utopia
For some, a united Europe was seen as a way in which the workers of each nation could
benefit from a variety of social initiatives. Laws could be introduced to ensure that, for
example, safety standards were applied in all countries, and a decent minimum wage was
imposed. It was hoped that individual nations would adopt socialist policies, such as the
nationalisation of key industries. The output of these industries could then be coordinated in order to best serve the needs of the people. Europe would therefore be
organised primarily for the benefit of the working people, rather than the capitalist system.
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A powerful Europe
In the aftermath of the Second World War, many in Western Europe were alarmed by the
fact that they were sandwiched between two mighty powers. To the east was the Soviet
Bloc, which encompassed Russia and much of Eastern and Central Europe. The threat
was a military one; they could invade at any time. To the west was the USA, which,
although an ally providing aid and military protection, was seen by some to be an
economic threat. They feared that the Americans would saturate Europe with US goods.
The small, by comparison, states of Europe would not be able to withstand these
pressures. For some, the solution was the creation of an equally strong united Europe,
which could match the military might of the Soviets, and the commercial might of the
Americans. This perspective called for a strong European political institution.
What’s in a name?
The changing names that this institution has adopted over the last half century illustrate
the increasing power and influence that it has gained. Initially it was called the European
Coal and Steal Community (ESSC), and it concentrated solely on these areas of heavy
industry. It then became the European Economic Community (EEC), which dealt with a
far greater range of economic issues. The next incarnation was the European
Community (EC), which began to look beyond the economic arena and act on social
issues as well. It is now called the European Union (EU). Use of the word union, as
opposed to community is seen by some to have signalled a fundamental change. A
community of nations loosely aligned on socio/economic issues, is different from a union
of states. The next logical step, for some, therefore seems to be the creation of a federal
state, a United States of Europe (USE). This, to some, would be a step too far and pose
a serious threat to the sovereignty of member states. Others however, see this as being
perhaps the only way of curtailing the ever-increasing power of the USA.
The new Europeans
It can be seen therefore that the European Union came about as a result of a variety of
influences. To some, it helps to maintain peace. To others, it enables free trade to
flourish. For others, it can create a powerful defence against potential aggressors, and to
some it offers a way of looking after the best interests of workers. More recently, cultural,
tourist and educational links have encouraged many within the Union to regard
themselves much more as being Europeans.
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The European Community: a brief history
1950
1951
1952
1957
1958
1973
1974
1976
1979
1981
1984
1986
1989
1990
1991
1992
1993
1994
1995
1997
1999
2001
2002
2004
2005
2005
The European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) is proposed
The Treaty of Paris creates the ECSC. The six original member states being:
Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.
The first meeting of the ECSC is held in Strasbourg, France.
The Treaty of Rome creates the European Economic Community (EEC), and
also the European Atomic Energy Community: Euratom.
The European Parliament sits for the first time.
Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom become members.
The Paris Summit sees the principle that MEPs should be directly elected.
This was adopted by the nine heads of state or government.
The principle of directly elected MEPs is approved.
The first European Parliamentary elections are held, and the first session of
elected MEPs takes place in the new Palais de l’Europe, in Strasbourg.
Greece joins, and becomes the 10th member state.
A draft Treaty establishing the European Union (EU) is adopted. The second
European Parliamentary elections are held.
Spain and Portugal join; there are now 12 member states. The Single
European Act is passed, thus creating a fully unified market with the free
movement of people, goods, capital and services between member states.
The third European Parliamentary elections take place. The reunification of
Germany brings 17 million East Germans into the European Community.
The first stage of European Monetary Union: the European Council, at a
meeting in Dublin, approves EMU. In Rome, a meeting of the parliamentary
assizes between representatives of the European Parliament and the 12
national parliaments takes place.
In Maastricht, Netherlands, the European Council agrees the Treaty of
European Union. This treaty will include economic and monetary union,
changes to EC treaties, a common foreign and security policy and cooperation in justice and home affairs.
The Maastricht Treaty: The Treaty of European Union is signed. John Major,
the Conservative UK Prime Minister refuses to sign the Social Chapter of the
Treaty. This chapter includes provision for, amongst other things: a
guaranteed minimum wage.
The Treaty of European Union comes into force.
The 4th European Parliament elections are held and the number of MEPs is
increased to 567 to take account of the effects of German reunification.
Austria, Finland and Sweden become members. There are now 15.
New Labour wins the UK General Election and Prime Minister Tony Blair
signs the Social Chapter of the Maastricht Treaty in Amsterdam.
The 5th European Parliament elections take place.
The Nice Treaty defines the institutional changes necessary for EU
enlargement.
Twelve of the 15 member states adopt the Euro as their unit of currency;
Denmark, Sweden and the UK maintain their national currency.
Ten new countries join the EU: five from Central Europe, three Baltic states
and two Mediterranean islands.
The 6th European Parliament elections are held.
Referendums held in France and the Netherlands reject the introduction of a
EU Constitutional Treaty, thus causing the UK Foreign Secretary Jack
Straw, to shelve plans for a UK referendum on the issue. The introduction of
a EU Constitution now seen to be unlikely to happen in the near future.
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We can see from the above brief history that the European community has gone from, in
1951, being a six member-state organisation that co-operated on industrial issues
regarding coal and steel, to a 25 member-state union responsible for a vast array of
political, economic, monetary, employment and social issues. Bulgaria and Romania have
completed negotiations and are set to join in 2007. Others are likely to follow, such as:
Turkey, Croatia, Republic of Macedonia, and Ukraine. Switzerland and Norway have
previously applied for membership but have, as yet, not decided to join.
The aims of the European Union
Below are shown the stated aims of the EU. They help to illustrate why some people are
very keen on the continued evolution of the EU. These europhiles would, for example, be
happy with the idea of promoting: ‘balanced and sustainable economic and social
progress’. Eurosceptics however, worry about the threat to national sovereignty posed by
aims such as: ‘common foreign and security policy, and, eventually, a common defence
policy’. The aims are as follows:

to lay the foundations of an ever-closer union between the peoples of Europe

to promote balanced and sustainable economic and social progress by creating an
area without internal frontiers, by strengthening economic and social cohesion and by
establishing economic and monetary union, ultimately including a single currency

to project the Union to the rest of the world, through the common foreign and security
policy, and, eventually, a common defence policy

to strengthen the protection of the rights and interests of the nations of its Member
States through the introduction of a citizenship of the Union

to develop close co-operation on justice and home affairs.
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Ideological debates
Having examined the aims and positive reasons put forward for the creation, and
continuance of the EU, it is useful now to consider some of the debates and negative
attitudes, about Europe, that occur in the UK:
Membership
Some worry about the effect that the UK’s membership of the EU is having on many
aspects of British life. They see more and more EU laws, rules and regulations having to
be adopted. The potential threat of the loss of sterling, and its replacement by the Euro,
adds further to their view that Britain is losing power over fundamental aspects of British
economic and social life. It looks, to them, increasingly likely that a EU army will also
eventually be created. All of this suggests that British sovereignty is under threat.
Federalism
A federal system exists when a number of states unite and surrender some of their
powers to a central governing body. Such systems normally have a federal legislative
assembly and executive, which hold sovereign power. Defence is usually provided by
federally controlled armed forces, and a single currency is used in all member states. The
government and citizens of a federal state are obliged to comply with the rules of a written
constitution. Citizens are entitled to a number of human rights. The United States of
America is an example of this type of system. Eurosceptics worry that the European
Union has moved well down the road to becoming a federal state; many Europeans
however, are very clear in their belief that the countries of Europe should, in fact, form
themselves into such a federal system. This is of concern to some in Britain, who
associate themselves more closely with the countries of the British Commonwealth, such
as Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, as well as the USA. For these
people, the historical, cultural and linguistic associations that Britain has with other
‘English speaking nations’ is stronger than any feeling of being ‘European.’ The possibility
of EU federalism becoming a reality, and Britain being part of it, poses too much of a
threat to eurosceptics. For them, it would cause too many fundamental changes to the
political, economic and social life of the UK.
Enlargement
There are now 25 member states, with more to follow. Those yet to join are mostly from
Central and Eastern Europe. Turkey is also preparing to join. These countries are poor, in
comparison to the existing members. Despite the fact that countries like Greece, Portugal
and Ireland have experienced economic prosperity, since becoming members, some
worry that economic migration from the new, and initially poor member states, to the
wealthier established countries, will cause unemployment. Citizens of the EU are entitled
to travel, and work in any member state. It should be noted that the 2005 accession of 10
new countries did not result in a large influx of labour into Britain, or a resultant increase
in unemployment. An enlarged community, it is argued by europhiles, creates new market
opportunities, especially when the new entrants become prosperous. Some however,
argue that these markets can be exploited whether or not they are part of the EU.
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A brief overview of the work of the European Union
The Council of Ministers, comprising government ministers from all member states,
meet to decide on the measures that need to be taken at a European, rather than
domestic, level. The issues under discussion determine the ministers who attend. Each
country holds Presidency of the Council for six months, in rotation, starting in January and
July of each year. The UK began its most recent Presidency in July 2005.
Having decided on the measures that need to be taken, it is then up to the European
Commission to make proposals as to how these goals could be achieved, perhaps
through new, or revised, legislation.
The European Parliament then examines the proposals made by the Commission. The
Parliament then gives its opinion, makes amendments, and sometimes takes decisions
jointly with the Council of Ministers.
Changes to EU law then need to be adopted into the national law of all member states,
including that of the UK. If the issue were, as far as Scotland is concerned, a devolved
one, then the Parliament at Holyrood would have to adopt it.
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Student/Pupil Activity
The European Union: an introduction
Group activity
The following questions should be discussed in groups of three to four. Each group
should elect one student to feedback the decisions made.
1. Based on what you have read so far, about the European Union, do you think that it
has achieved much of what it set out to do? Provide examples to illustrate your
response.
2. Do you think that there is any real need for eurosceptics to worry about a threat that
they see, to UK sovereignty? Remember that the UK is represented in all of the EU
institutions and bodies previously discussed.
3. What do you think is to be gained, by the richer Western European member states,
such as Britain, by admitting the poorer Central European countries into the EU?
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Outcome 1 – PC (a) and (b): the legislative branch of government in
Scotland, the UK and the European Union.
The European Parliament
This is a democratically elected parliament; MEPs are elected, EU wide, every five years.
Parliament represents the citizens of the EU and expresses their voice in Europe and
beyond. Every registered EU citizen is entitled to vote. The number of MEPs representing
each country is determined by the size of the population of the country. The larger the
population: the greater the number of MEPs. There are currently 732 MEPs, and this will
increase to 786 in 2007, when Bulgaria and Romania join. The monthly plenary
parliamentary sessions, in which all MEPs can attend, are held in Strasbourg, France.
This is regarded as being the Parliament’s base; some call it Parliament’s seat. These
sessions last for one week, every month, except in August. Committee meetings of the
Parliament are held in Brussels, Belgium; they are held for two weeks in every month.
The Parliament’s administrative headquarters is in Luxembourg, known as the General
Secretariat. This is obviously a very inefficient way to organise the work of Parliament, but
the EU has never been able to agree on one permanent site. The table below shows the
number of MEP seats allocated to each member state. You can see that this ranges from
Germany, the most populous member, having 99; to Malta, the least, having only five.
Austria
Belgium
Bulgaria
Cyprus
Czech Republic
Denmark
Estonia
Finland
France
Germany
Greece
Hungary
Ireland
Italy
Latvia
Lithuania
Luxembourg
Malta
Netherlands
Poland
Portugal
Romania
Slovakia
Slovenia
Spain
Sweden
United Kingdom
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18
24
6
24
14
6
14
78
99
24
24
13
78
9
13
6
5
27
54
24
14
7
54
19
78
2007
18
24
18
6
24
14
6
14
78
99
24
24
13
78
9
13
6
5
27
54
24
36
14
7
54
19
78
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Role of the Parliament
The Parliament’s main roles are to:

Legislate. It decides the shape and scope of new EU laws. This is usually done in
conjunction with the Council. This is known as co-decision. These two bodies share
the power to legislate. Having a democratically elected parliament participating in the
legislative process is seen as a way of providing a level of democratic legitimacy to
European law. Parliament also considers the work of the Commission, and then asks
it to put forward proposals for appropriate new laws. The EU legislative process is
explained below.

Scrutinise. It examines what the other EU institutions do, especially the Commission.
It can censure the whole Commission and also has the power to approve or reject
nominations for Commissioners; something that it did in 2004, when it was unhappy
with the candidate put forward by Italy. Unlike the MEPs, the Commissioners are not
elected. Parliament is therefore seen as exercising democratic supervision over the
Commission. This could perhaps be compared to the scrutinising role that the UK
Parliament has regarding the government.

Budgetary control. It holds joint authority, with the Council, over the EU budget. This
allows it significant influence over how EU money is spent. It ultimately has the power
to adopt or reject the budget. The EU’s annual budget does not come into effect until it
has been signed-off by the President of the Parliament.
Organisation of the EU Parliament
The President of the European Parliament chairs the proceedings of the Parliament; he
acts in a way similar to the Speaker of the House of Commons, and the Presiding Officer
of the Scottish Parliament. In addition to the above responsibility, he also oversees the
administrative functions of the Parliament, and is its representative on ceremonial
occasions. A Bureau, made up of 14 vice presidents and another five members, known
as Quaestors, supports the President. The Bureau is responsible for the internal
organisation of the Parliament, and its relations with non-EU states.
The work of Parliament comprises two main stages:
1. Preparation for plenary sessions. Parliamentary committees with an interest in the
area under examination, and political groups (both discussed below) scrutinise the
issue and report their decisions back to Parliament.
2. Plenary sessions. All MEPs meet in Strasbourg to examine and debate proposed
legislation. Votes are taken on amendments and then a decision is taken on the whole
of the text. At these sessions, Parliament also receives questions and
communications from the Commission or Council regarding things going on within the
European Union, and beyond.
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Political groups
The Parliament is configured in a semi-circular layout. MEPs do not sit with all of their
fellow countrymen/women; instead they sit with other members of their own political party,
but within a larger grouping of like-minded members from other countries. UK Labour
MEPs, for example, usually sit with the Socialist group, and Conservatives with the
Christian Democrats. There are seven of these multi-national political groups, and a
further group, made up of members who do not wish to align to any of the other groups.
The groups are as follows:
Political group
European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) European
Democrats
Party of European Socialists
European Liberal, Democrat and Reformist Party
European United Left/Nordic Green Left
Greens/European Free Alliance
Union for Europe of the Nations
Europe of Democracies and Diversities
Non-attached
Abbreviation
EPP-ED
PES
ELDR
EUL/NGL
Greens/EFA
UEN
EDD
NA
A political group may only be formed if one of the following happens:



at least 23 MEPs from one member state form a group
at least 18 MEPs from two member states form a group
12 MEPs from three or more member states form a group.
All of the political groups consist of members from more than one country, and this means
that they are able to pursue causes that don’t relate to only one member state.
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The Committees
There are 17 committees, each specialising in a specific political area such as foreign
affairs and security; every MEP is a member of one or more. They normally meet in
Brussels and work on the business of the plenary parliamentary sessions. Having
examined reports drawn up by the rapporteur, they vote on whether or not to adopt them.
The political groups then scrutinise the reports, from their different political perspectives.
The decisions taken by the committees and the political groups then help to determine
whether they will be adopted by Parliament at a plenary session. If adopted, as a
resolution, this would now constitute the Parliament’s position on the issue. The
parliamentary committees are as follows:
Foreign Affairs, Human Rights, Common Security and Defence
Policy
Budgets
Budgetary Control
Citizens’ Freedoms and Rights, Justice and Home Affairs
Legal Affairs and the Internal Market
Industry, External Trade, Research and Energy
Employment and Social Affairs
Environment, Public Health and Consumer Policy
Agriculture and Rural Development
Economic and Monetary Affairs
Fisheries
Regional Policy, Transport and Tourism
Culture, Youth, Education, the Media and Sport
Development and Co-operation
Constitutional Affairs
Women’s Rights and Equal Opportunities
Committee on Petitions
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Tricameral legislative system
Tricameral is a word used to describe a legislative system that has three separate bodies.
The European Union is an example of such a system. The three bodies, their
membership and legislative responsibilities are as follows:
Council of the European
Union: also know as the
Council of Ministers
European Union
Commission
European Union
Parliament
Decides the legislative
measures that need to be
taken at EU level
Makes legislative
proposals, based on
Council decisions
Debates and gives opinion
on proposals put forward
by the Commission
Government Ministers of
member states
EU Commissioners
Elected MEPs
The tricameral legislative system is designed to ensure that a proper balance is struck
between the interests of:



the governments of the member states: Council
the European Union: Commission
EU Citizens: Parliament.
Legislation
It is the Commission that proposes EU legislation, and the Council and Parliament who
pass it. There are three different procedures for passing EU legislation. They are as
follows: consultation, assent and co-decision.
Consultation
This procedure involves the Commission sending its proposal to the Council and
Parliament. The Council then consults Parliament and other interested bodies, such as
the Committee of the Regions and the Economic and Social Committee. Sometimes
consultation is compulsory and the proposal cannot become law without Parliament
having given its opinion. On other occasions the Commission may merely suggest that
the Council consults Parliament. Parliament can, in all cases:



give approval to the Commission proposal
reject the proposal
ask for amendments to be made.
The Commission considers amendments proposed by Parliament and, if it agrees, sends
an amended proposal to the Council. Having examined the amended proposal, the
Council can either adopt it, or amend it further. The Council can only amend a
Commission proposal if all ministers unanimously agree.
Assent
This procedure requires the Council to obtain the Parliament’s assent (acceptance),
before some very important decisions can be taken. The procedure is similar to
Consultation, but Parliament cannot amend any proposal; it can only either accept or
reject. In this procedure, assent requires an absolute majority of votes cast in Parliament.
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Co-decision
Under this procedure, Council and Parliament share legislative power. The Commission
sends a proposal to the two institutions. Both read and debate the proposal twice. If no
agreement is reached, it is put before the Conciliation committee. This committee
consists of equal numbers of Council and Parliament representatives. Representatives
from the Commission also attend and join in the discussion. On reaching an agreement,
the agreed proposal is sent to Parliament and Council for a third reading, in order that
they can jointly adopt it as law.
The rules that determine which of the three procedures should be used are laid down in
treaties, and all EU laws are based on a specific treaty article, known as the legal basis of
the legislation.
The legislative process
Having looked at the three bodies that make up the EU’s tricameral legislative system,
and the three legislative procedures, we can now consider the general process of turning
a proposal into EU law. You will see that some acts can be adopted and made law very
quickly; for others, it can be a long, drawn-out process. The process is as follows:

The Commission puts forward a proposal to Parliament and the Council.
Parliament gives an opinion:

it may approve the proposal and the Council may adopt the act

it may make amendments and the Council may approve the amendments and
adopt the act

the Council may adopt a common position.

The Commission will then issue a communication on the common position.
Parliament then examines the common position of the Council and decides whether
to:

approve the common position. The act is then adopted

reject the common position by an absolute majority. The act is not adopted

propose amendments by absolute majority.

The Commission then issues an opinion.
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The Council can then:

Approve all amendments made by Parliament. The act is then adopted.

Not approve the amendments.

The Council President, in conjunction with the President of the Parliament, then
convenes the Conciliation Committee.
The Conciliation Committee has two options:
1.
It may not reach agreement. The act is not adopted.
2.
It may reach agreement. The act is then adopted.
Note: only if both the Parliament and Council agree by absolute and qualified
majority, will the act be adopted.

The act is then adopted by all of the Member States.
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Practice Assessment
The following is similar to the type of questions that you will be expected to answer when
you sit your assessment:
Time allowed: 1 hour
Question 1:
Describe how EU laws are made.
In your answer you should explain the part played by:



The European Commission
The European Council
The European Parliament.
(10 marks)
Question 2:
Compare the ways that members of the UK and Scottish parliaments can scrutinise their
executives.
In your answer you should:


Describe two ways that MPs can scrutinise the actions of government.
Describe two ways that MSPs can scrutinise the actions of the executive.
(10 marks)
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Outcome 2 – PC (a) and (b): Analyse and evaluate the political executives of
Scotland, the UK and the European Union.
The European Commission
The Commission is regarded as being the Executive part of the European Union; it also
initiates proposals for EU legislation and makes sure that, when enacted, member states
apply these laws properly. The Commission consists of the President of the
Commission and 24 Commissioners, some of whom are Vice-Presidents. One person
is appointed from each of the member states. Each Commission lasts for five years, the
next being appointed in 2009. The European Parliament must approve the appointment of
Commissioners, and has the power to censure the Commission. The Commission is
based in Brussels, Belgium, but also has some offices in Luxembourg. It acts as a
politically independent body, trying to represent and defend the interests of the whole of
the EU, rather than those of the member states. Some see it as being the power behind
the EU, because it is responsible for so many of the legislative and policy programmes
initiated and implemented.
Commissioners
The word Commission can mean two things. It can refer to the responsibility given to
someone who has been appointed by their own country, and the EU Parliament, to run
the institution: the Commissioners. It can also refer to the institution and all of the staff,
similar to civil servants, who work for it. All of the Commissioners have previously held
senior political positions in their own country, often within their own national government.
Peter Mandelson, for example, held a number of cabinet positions in Tony Blair’s
government. Mandelson is now the EU Commissioner for Trade. Having become a
Commissioner, however, they are expected to act solely in the interests of the EU, and
not show any favouritism towards their own country and its government. This was
demonstrated in 2005, when Peter Mandelson, a close friend of Tony Blair, publicly
criticised the UK Government, saying that it was going to have to negotiate over the
annual EU rebate that a previous UK Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, had negotiated
for Britain.
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The European Commission 2004-9
Name
Jose Manuel
Barroso
Margot Wallstrom
Position
President
Responsibility
Head of Commission
Nationality
Portuguese
Vice-President
Swedish
Gunter Verheugen
Jacques Barrot
Siim Kallas
Vice-president
Vice-President
Vice-President
Franco Frattini
Vice-President
Viviane Reding
Commissioner
Stavros Dimas
Joaquin Almunia
Commissioner
Commissioner
Danuta Hubner
Joe Borg
Commissioner
Commissioner
Dalia Grybauskaite
Commissioner
Janez Potocnik
Jan Figel
Commissioner
Commissioner
Markos Kyprianou
Commissioner
Olli Rehn
Louis Michel
Commissioner
Commissioner
Laszlo Kovacs
Commissioner
Neelie Kroes
Mariann Fischer
Boel
Benita FerreroWaldner
Commissioner
Commissioner
Charlie McCreevy
Commissioner
Vladimir Spidla
Commissioner
Peter Mandelson
Andris Piebalgs
Commissioner
Commissioner
Institutional relations and
communication strategy
Enterprise and industry
Transport
Administrative affairs,
audit and anti-fraud
Justice, freedom and
security
Information, society and
the media
Environment
Economic and monetary
affairs
Regional policy
Fisheries and maritime
affairs
Financial programming
and budget
Science and research
Education, training,
culture and
multilingualism
Health and consumer
protection
Enlargement
Development and
humanitarian aid
Taxation and customs
union
Competition
Agriculture and rural
development
External relations and
European neighbourhood
policy
Internal market and
services
Employment, social
affairs and equal
opportunities
Trade
Energy
Commissioner
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German
French
Estonian
Italian
Luxembourgish
Greek
Spanish
Polish
Maltese
Lithuanian
Slovenian
Slovakian
Cypriot
Finnish
Belgian
Hungarian
Dutch
Danish
Austrian
Irish
Czech
British
Latvian
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Appointing the Commission
This is done every five years, and within six months of the EU Parliamentary elections.
There are three stages to the process:
1. The governments of the member states designate a new Commission President.
2. The new Commission President-designate selects the other 24 Members of the
Commission, in consultation with the governments of the member states
3. The recently elected EU Parliament then interviews all 24 candidates, in order to give
an opinion on what is called the college. Only if this college is approved by
Parliament, can it begin work the following January.
You have seen above that the current President is Jose Manuel Barroso, and that the
Commission’s term of office will continue until 2009.
The work of the Commission
There are more than 20,000 people employed by the Commission. These EU civil
servants range from senior administrative officials and experts, to interpreters and
translators, to secretarial and other support personnel. They are recruited from all of the
member states. Staff are organised into a number of departments; these are known as
the Directorates-General. All are responsible for a different policy area and are headed
by a Director-General. These senior civil servants are responsible to a Commissioner, a
relationship similar to that between the head of a UK Government department and his
Minister. In addition to those who are based in the seat of the Commission, in Brussels,
there are people representing the Commission in all of the member states, and in many of
the world’s capital cities. The Commission is answerable to the EU Parliament.
Parliament has the power to adopt a motion of censure and dismiss the whole
Commission. In order that it can explain its policies clearly, the Commission attends all
parliamentary sessions. It also provides written replies to questions that were asked by
MEPs, either in Parliament, or in written form. This is similar to the scrutiny placed on the
UK Government by its Parliament. The main roles of the Commission are as follows:

Legislative. To propose new EU legislation to both the Parliament and Council. The
Commission must constantly assess the changing situation in Europe, in order to be
able to judge whether legislation is required, and the most appropriate way to put right
any problems that may be developing. To do this, the Commission keeps in close
contact with national and regional governments, a large number of interest groups,
and two EU advisory bodies, the Committee of the Regions and the European
Economic and Social Committee. Any proposals must be for the benefit of the whole
community, not of a specific country or special interest. The Commission has the right
of initiative. This means that it has the sole responsibility for drawing-up proposed
legislation, to be presented to Parliament and the Council. It is the Director-Generals
who are responsible for drafting the Commission’s legislative proposals.
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The Subsidiarity Principle
EU legislation, or other action at EU level will only ever be proposed, if the
Commission is sure that the problem cannot be more efficiently resolved at
nation state, regional, or even local level. This principle of dealing with
political matters at the lowest possible level has come to be known as the
subsidiarity principle.

Legislative continued. If the Commission feels that use of the subsidiarity principle
would not be appropriate, it will draft a legislative proposal. In order that the draft is
technically correct, the Commission draws on the advice of experts from its working
groups and committees.

Executive. To implement and administer EU policies and to manage the EU budget.
It is often the national governments, and their regional and local authorities, which
actually do the work of implementing EU policies. It is they who also spend much of
the EU budget. It is, however, up to the Commission to supervise what is done, and
spent, in the name of the EU. For example: parts of Scotland have experienced longterm industrial decline. Programmes to encourage urban regeneration have
accordingly been introduced, and financed, by the EU. The Commission is
responsible for ensuring that this is administered properly. The EU Court of Auditors
monitors the Commission’s administration of the budget. The Parliament will only
‘grant the Commission discharge’ of the budget, in other words sign it off, if it is
satisfied with the annual report of the Court of Auditors.

Legal enforcement. To ensure that EU law is applied in all member states. This is
done in conjunction with another EU body, the Court of Justice. If the Commission
finds that a member state is not meeting its legal obligations by properly applying EU
law, it can take the following steps:
1. Initially it will begin a legal process known as the infringement procedure. A
letter is sent to the government of the offending country, stating why the
Commission believes that the member state is infringing a EU law, or treaty.
The country is also given a deadline, by which time it must comply.
2. Failure to comply will mean that the matter is then referred to the Court of
Justice. This body has the power to impose penalties, such as fines, on the
offending country. Judgements made by the court are binding on member
states, and all other EU institutions. It can be seen from this why some eurosceptics worry about, what they see as being, the threat to the sovereignty of
nation states posed by the EU.

International representation. To represent the European Union on the world stage
by, for example, negotiating trade, aid and other agreements. It is now seen as being
more convenient for the member states, and for international organisations, and also
foreign countries, if the Commission speaks on behalf of Europe. This is sometimes
called the ‘with one voice’ approach. The World Trade Organisation, for example,
finds it much more efficient to deal with one organisation that represents 25 countries,
with agreed common interests.
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Meetings of the Commission
These are also sometimes known as meetings of the College. They usually take place on
a weekly basis, in Brussels, on a Wednesday. The Commissioner responsible for the
policy area, under which an issue falls, presents that item for discussion on the agenda.
You will remember that a senior civil servant, known as a Director-General, will have
organised the drafting of the proposal. It is now up to the Commission to decide whether
to adopt it. A proposal is adopted, if more than half of the Commissioners vote for it. Once
agreed, all Commissioners are required to give it unconditional support. This is similar to
the collective responsibility of the UK and Scottish executives.
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Student/Pupil Activity
Introduction to the European Union Commission
Individual activity
Answer the following questions in relation to the EU Commission:
1. What does subsidiarity mean?
2. What are the Commission’s main roles?
3. What would the Parliament adopt, if it wanted to dismiss the whole Commission?
Group activity
In what ways could the Commission be compared to the Scottish Executive, and the
Commissioners to Scottish Ministers?
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Legislative and Executive
It would be simple to say that the Parliament and Commission represent the
legislative and executive branches of the EU, The Parliament being compared to the
UK Parliament, and the Commission being equivalent to the UK Government – or at
least the Civil Service. It is not however that simple. The EU is not a sovereign state;
it is a union of states. It is for this reason that another important body exists: the
Council of the European Union. This body comprises of representatives from the
member state’s governments. It plays an important role in the EU’s legislative and
executive processes. The Council takes two forms, and both are described below.
The European Council
This consists of the Heads of State, or Government of the member states, and the
President of the Commission. The Prime Minister represents the UK. This body meets at
least twice a year. The meetings are known as summits and after each one the President
of the European Council reports to the EU Parliament. The European Council sets the
general political agenda for the Union, and decides broad policy lines on issues such as
foreign and security matters.
The Council of Ministers
This consists of one minister from each of the member state’s governments. There are
nine different configurations, each responsible for a different set of issues, such as
Economic and Financial Affairs. The full list is given below.
The Council of the European Union
It is the role of the Council is to represent the interests of member states concerning EU
legislation. It is one of the EU’s most important decision-making bodies. One government
minister from each of the 25 member states sits on the Council. The Presidency of the
Council is rotated between states, every six months. Meetings are normally held in
Brussels; in April, June and October, however, they take place in Luxembourg. The
minister from each country that attends will depend on the issues to be discussed.
Terrorism falls into the remit of Justice and Home Affairs, and so a meeting of the Council
to discuss this issue, would comprise of ministers such as the UK’s Home Office minister.
The Council always remains one single institution, but there are nine different
configurations:









Education, Youth and Culture
Environment
Agriculture and Fisheries
Transport, Telecommunications and Energy
Competitiveness: Internal Market, Industry and Research
Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs
Justice and Home Affairs
Economic and Financial Affairs, known as: Ecofin
General Affairs and External Relations.
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Ministers have the power to commit their own national government to whatever has been
decided by the Council. This means that a minister will be required to answer to his or her
own national parliament, and the citizens of that country. This, it is argued, bestows
democratic legitimacy onto the Council. The main roles of the Council are:

passing EU laws, sometimes jointly with the EU Parliament

co-ordination of broad economic policies of the member states

concluding international agreements between the EU and other countries and
international organisations

approving the EU’s budget. This is done jointly with the EU Parliament

developing the EU’s common foreign and security policy, in accordance with the
guidelines set by the European Council

co-ordination and co-operation between member states’ national courts and police
forces regarding criminal matters.
The Presidency of the Council
Every member state takes its turn of holding the Presidency of the Council for a six-month
period. This gives each national government an opportunity to influence the Council’s
agenda. Tony Blair made it clear that, during the UK’s presidency, he wanted to bring
discussion on the plight of Africa, and reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), to
the fore. During a country’s six-month period of presidency, it chairs all Council meetings,
and is responsible for ensuring that compromise and agreement is reached between
member states, in order that the right legislative and political decisions can be made. The
UK took over the presidency in July 2005, and handed it over to Austria in January 2006.
Decision-making
The Council makes its decisions by taking a vote. The number of votes that a country has
is dependent on the size of its population; some of the smaller states are however given
more votes than their population size actually justifies. The 321 votes are allocated as
follows:
Germany, France, Italy, United Kingdom
Spain, Poland
Netherlands
Belgium, Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Portugal
Austria, Sweden
Denmark, Ireland, Lithuania, Slovakia, Finland
Cyprus, Estonia, Latvia, Luxembourg, Slovenia
Malta
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13
12
10
7
4
3
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Qualified majority voting
Most decisions are taken using a system known as qualified majority voting. For a
proposal to be adopted, a specific minimum number of votes need to be achieved. This
works in the following way:
1. A majority, sometimes a two-thirds majority, of member states must approve the
proposal. Also:
2. A minimum of 72.3% of the votes cast, ie. 232 must be in favour of the proposal. Also:
3. A member state can ask for a check to be made to ensure that the votes cast account
for at least 62% of the total community population.
The General Secretariat
The Council is supported by a General Secretariat, which acts as a kind of civil service. It
serves the Council by ensuring that everything runs efficiently. Its main task is to help the
Council to draft and then implement its legislative and political decisions. In addition to
this, the Secretariat maintains political contact, for the Council, with those countries
outside of the European Union. A Secretary-General is appointed to manage the
Secretariat, and a Deputy Secretary-General assists.
The Permanent Representatives Committee: Coreper
A team of people, permanently based in Brussels, represents every member state. They
act in an almost ambassadorial role, looking after the nation’s interests within the EU. The
permanent representatives of all member states meet each other weekly at a committee
called Coreper. This committee prepares the work of the Council, and is aided by officials
from the national governments. Only agricultural issues are dealt with separately; the
Special Committee on Agriculture handles them.
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Student/Pupil Activity
Pairs activity
Using all of the above information on the EU Parliament, Commission and Council, work
with another student to answer the following questions:
1. Compare the legislative powers of the three EU institutions. Which do you think has
the least and most power? Justify your answer.
2. Compare the political policy-making powers of the three EU institutions. Which do you
think is the most and least influential, in determining the direction of the EU? Give
reasons for your answers.
3. Now that you have studied the UK and EU political systems, which do you think is the
more powerful: Britain, or the European Union?
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Other important institutions and bodies of the European Union
The European Union is a complex organisation. In addition to the Parliament,
Commission and Council, a large number of other institutions and bodies also serve the
EU; five of the most important are detailed below:
The Court of
Justice
The Court of
Auditors
The Economic and
Social Committee
The Committee of
the Regions
The European
Central Bank
This is the supreme court of the European Union. It ensures
that EU treaties and laws are respected and applied in the
same way, in all EU countries. The Court helps member
states apply Community law by answering questions referred
to it by, for example, British judges. It also gives judgements
on cases brought before it. The Court comprises of one judge
from each of the 25 member states, and eight advocatesgeneral. It is based in Luxembourg.
This court monitors the management of the Community
budget; it checks to ensure that EU funds are received and
are being properly and legally used. The most important role
of the Court is to present the Parliament and Council with an
annual report. This report describes the Commission’s
handling of EU finances over the previous year, and helps
Parliament to decide whether to approve the Commission’s
performance. If satisfied, the Court sends Parliament and the
Council a statement of assurance. The Court comprises of
one member from each EU country. The Council appoints
members for a renewable six-year term. The Court is based
in Luxembourg.
This committee represents the economic and social interests
of organised civil society, such as: consumers, businesses,
trade unions and the agricultural and fishing sector. It advises
and tries to influence the policy decisions made by
Parliament, Commission and Council. The Committee has
344 members, the number from each country being
proportionate to its population. It has a four-year term of
office, and meets in Brussels every month.
This too is an advisory committee, designed to bring a
regional and local dimension to the Union. It is composed of
regional and local authority representatives nominated by, but
independent of, their national governments. It also has 344
members, proportionately chosen. This Committee must be
consulted on issues such as transport, education,
environmental and regional policy. It is then able to issue
opinions on proposals put forward by the Commission. This
committee also has a four-year term of office and meets in
plenary session, in Brussels, five times a year.
The Bank is responsible for the management of the EU’s
single currency, the euro, and also for EU monetary policy. Its
primary responsibility is to maintain price stability within the
currently 12 nations that have adopted the euro and make up
what is known as the euro-area. To do this the Bank tries to
keep price inflation under control. It is intended that eventually
all member states will adopt the single currency and that the
whole of the Community will be one euro-zone. The Bank is
based in Frankfurt, Germany.
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Summary of the political structures of Scotland, the UK and the European
Union.
Where is the real political power?
Having examined the three legislative and executive branches, we can see that Britain’s
membership of the European Union, and the introduction of devolution to Scotland, has
created considerable debate. Argument often centres on where the real political power
now is, and where it will ultimately be.
Devolved power
The creation of a new Scottish Parliament and Executive has meant that more laws and
policy decisions that will affect the Scottish people are now made here in Scotland.
Power, it could be argued, has therefore shifted to Scotland. This power however only
exists because the UK Parliament passed legislation, the Scotland Act 1998, to allow for
the creation of a devolved system of government in Scotland. It would only take new UK
legislation to take back that power. Sovereignty, as far as Scotland is concerned, clearly
still lies at Westminster.
Scotland and the EU
The Scottish Parliament has little power to influence the EU; it does however watch
events in Europe and makes its views known to the EU Parliament, Commission and
Council. We learned previously that the Scottish Parliament and Executive must make
sure that European laws and directives, which fall into the devolved category, are applied
in Scotland. The Parliament in Scotland has a European Committee; it and some of the
other committees, such as the Transport and Environment Committee take a very close
look at developments in Europe.
Europe as a common market
Britain joined the EU at a time when it was little more than a loose coalition of Western
European nations, hoping to make trade and commerce easier by agreeing to eliminate
taxes, tariffs and excessive bureaucratic paperwork at the borders. Edward Heath, the
Conservative Prime Minister at the time, saw membership of this common market as
simply being better for British business. The member states were merely taking part in
what is known as intergovernmentalism. This meant that all of the participating countries
maintained their national sovereignty. Some people in Britain still support membership of
the EU, as long as national sovereignty is not threatened.
Europe as a federal state
On mainland Europe, especially in France and Germany, some had a different vision of
what the EU should be like. They hoped that, in time, there would be a federal Europe in
which a supranational political authority held sovereign power over all of the member
states. This supranationalism is being achieved; some would argue, by the step-by-step
integration of important aspects of European political, economic and social life. Examples
of such integration would include the single European currency and the proposed
Constitutional Treaty.
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Eurosceptic or Europhile?
We saw previously that this debate identified people as having two very different political
views. Eurosceptics wish to call a halt to any further integration and have the EU revert to
its original aim of simply being a common market. Some would go further and take Britain
out of the EU. The UK Independence Party was set-up specifically to achieve this goal.
Europhiles believe that for all the reasons discussed before such as the pursuit of peace,
a powerful Europe and an unrestricted market, Britain should remain an active and
enthusiastic member.
The reluctant Europeans
The Conservative governments of Margaret Thatcher and John Major (1979-97) were
thought to be less than keen on the EU. Labour leader Tony Blair, on coming to power,
spoke much more positively about Europe and, as we discovered earlier, quickly signed
the Social Chapter of the Maastricht Treaty; something that John Major refused to do. In
power however, the Labour administration have come to be described as ‘reluctant
Europeans’ adopting, for example, a wait and see policy regarding the UK’s involvement
in Economic Monetary Union (EMU). The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown,
has said that Britain will adopt the euro, but only when the time is right; only when his five
economic tests have been met. The tests are outlined below:
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The five economic tests
Having become Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown commissioned an
independent assessment of the economic consequences of EMU. A paper, published
by the Treasury in October 1997 set out its assessment of the five economic tests.
The Labour Government believes that it will be to Britain’s advantage to join EMU,
when all of the tests can be met. A referendum will take place when the Government
believe that the five economic tests have been met. It has been adopting what has
come to be known as the ‘wait and see’ policy. The tests are as follows:
1. Are business cycles and economic structures compatible so that we and others
could live comfortably with euro interest rates on a permanent basis?
2. If problems emerge is there sufficient flexibility to deal with them?
3. Would joining EMU create better conditions for firms making long-term decisions
to invest in Britain?
4. What impact would entry into EMU have on the competitive position of the UK’s
financial services industry, particularly the City’s wholesale markets?
5. In summary, will joining EMU promote higher growth, stability and a lasting
increase in jobs?
In 2002, when the euro was introduced, 12 of the then 15 member states adopted it as
their national currency. Only Denmark, Sweden and the UK didn’t. The above tests look,
to some, to be so difficult to achieve that they doubt whether the Government ever really
wants Britain to abandon the Pound.
Eurosceptics also worry about the threat posed to UK sovereignty, and its power within
the EU, by the pace of enlargement. When Britain joined, it was one of only nine
members; this gave it a reasonably powerful voice. There are now 25, soon to be more,
members. Every time new members join, the proportion of votes that the UK has in the
Parliament and Council reduces. Supporters of an enlarged EU argue however that this
applies to all of the existing members and the greater the number of countries, the less
able any one member of them is to dominate the EU; it becomes a truly supranational
organisation.
In addition to learning about the relative powers of the three political structures, and the
legislative and executive bodies within them, we have also studied the different ways in
which they are organised. The unicameral, bicameral and tricameral legislative
systems all have their advantages and disadvantages. The Scottish unicameral system,
although relatively new, seems to work effectively; the committees playing an important
part in ensuring that proposed legislation is properly scrutinised. The traditional bicameral
system of the UK Parliament is in the process of reform, the Lords being slowly changed
into something that will be more representative of the British people, if not as
democratically elected as the Commons. The EU’s tricameral system of legislation is
described by some as being ‘cumbersome’. This is however perhaps the only system that
will properly ensure that the three stakeholders in EU politics retain some power and
influence over its legislative process; the stakeholders being: the citizens of Europe, the
governments of the nation states, and the European Union itself.
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Finally
We should remind ourselves of the relative powers that each of the three executives has.
Prime Ministerial power
The UK Prime Minister holds a very powerful position, being as he is in control of both the
government and a majority of MPs in the more powerful of the two legislative chambers,
the House of Commons. Only the unusual event of a backbench revolt can threaten his
power to get government sponsored legislation through. Having become Prime Minister in
1997, it was not until 2005, and a government sponsored vote on holding suspected
terrorists for 90 days, without charge, that Tony Blair suffered his first defeat in the House
of Commons.
The limited power of the First Minister
The First Minister of the Scottish Executive does not have the luxury of a majority in the
Scottish Parliament. This has meant that he has had to work in coalition, and therefore
make compromises, with another political party. This, and the fact that he, and the
Parliament, can only act on devolved issues, puts him in a relatively weak position.
The EU Council and Commission – a kind of executive
The Scottish and UK executives are easier to identify and discuss than that of the
European Union. In one sense the EU should not really have an executive, a government,
because it is not a sovereign state. It is countries that have governments, not
intergovernmental organisations. The EU does however have a parliament and a
legislative process and, as we learned at the beginning, if laws are made, they must be
executed. The EU’s executive is therefore made up of the Council of the European Union,
which makes policy decisions that ultimately become EU laws and determine the future
direction of the EU, and the Commission which writes the proposed laws and ensures
that, once enacted, they are enforced.
The President of the Council and the President of the Commission – an executive
with two heads
No single figure can be identified as being the head of the EU executive. The Council is
presided over by a six-monthly rotation of heads of member states. This does not
therefore allow for the type of long-term planning and organisation that a Prime Minister
or First Minister would be able to do. The President of the Commission is, of course, in
position for five years and more able therefore to develop and carry out an executive
programme. Unlike the heads of the Scottish and UK executives however, he is not a
democratically elected politician; he is an appointee. This, to some, means that his
position lacks the legitimacy of someone who has had to compete with others and
convince the electorate of the merits of his policies.
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Resource Information
Scottish political system
Books:
Lynch, P. (2001) Scottish Government and Politics: An Introduction. Edinburgh University
Press.
Spicer, M. (2004) The Scotsman Guide to Scottish Politics. Barbour Books.
Internet:
The Scottish Parliament’s home site: www.scottish.parliament.uk
The Scottish Executive’s home site: www.scottishexecutive.gov.uk
UK political system
Books:
Davis D., MP. (1997) A Guide to Parliament. Penguin Books/BBC Books.
Cooney, F. & Fotheringham, P. (2002) UK Politics Today. 2nd ed. Pulse Publications.
Budge et al. (2001) The New British Politics. Pearson Education.
Roberts, D. (editor) (1999) British Politics in Focus. 2nd ed. Causeway Press.
Internet:
The UK Parliament’s home site: www.parliament.uk
The UK Government’s home site: www.open.uk/index.htm
The Yahoo Politics Directory: http://uk.dir.yahoo.com
The Politics Association: www.politicsassociation.com
European Union political system
Books:
Hill, B. (1998) The European Union. 3rd ed. Heinemann.
Davies, A. (1998) British Politics and Europe. Hodder & Stoughton.
Henig, S. (2002) The Uniting of Europe. 2nd ed. Routledge.
Internet:
The European Union home site: www.europa.eu.int
The Commission home site for Scotland: www.cec.org.uk
The Parliament home site for Scotland: www.europarl.org.uk
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