A government ‘power grab’?


The government passed a controversial change to committees in Parliament which would have the effect of increasing government power over legislation. This will be an excellent and obvious example for Parliament (2.2) and Relationships (2.4) but also for Democracy (1.1), Parties (1.2) and the Constitution (2.1). The new A Level requires far greater synopticity which means you have to use knowledge from your whole A Level in answering a question. Below, you can start to see how this one example covers lots of topics by looking at the brackets.

When a piece of legislation passes the Second Reading, such as the EU Withdrawal Bill did this week, it moves on to the ‘committee stage’. A ‘public bill committee’ is formed which scrutinises the legislation line by line. Traditionally, these committees have reflected the make-up of the House of Commons, so if a government wins a majority in an election, they have a majority on these committees. In the case of Theresa May however, having not won an outright majority in the 2017 election, these committees should have reflected this (2.2). Instead, this change will give the Conservatives an outright majority on public bill committees (2.1, 2.2).

The vote on the change reflected party lines in the House of Commons. The vote was 320-301, of which all Conservatives and DUP voted for the change, whilst most of the remaining parties voted against (1.2).

This move has provoked controversy due to the power that it could effectively hand to the government. In this case, if the government can maintain party discipline, they will effectively be able to push legislation through the committees without having to heed opposition (1.1). It is crucial for students to understand the difference between Parliament and government (2.4), and to understand that sovereignty is supposed to reside with Parliament (2.1, 2.2, 2.4). However, this change could allow the government even greater dominance over Parliament than they have already – what Lord Hailsham referred to as an ‘elective dictatorship’ (1.1, 2.4). This change could have the effect of making it more difficult for Parliament to hold the government to account…but of course all of that depends on the Conservatives being able to act as a unified party (1.2)!