Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

And if there's no majority?

In the US Congress and the UK Parliament, committee memberships are designed to reflect party balance in the legislature. But, what if the government (administration in the US) does not have a majority in the legislature?

'Power grab' row over committee changes
Jeremy Corbyn… said Theresa May was trying to "grab power" with "no majority and no mandate" by stacking key committees with Tory MPs.

The political composition of committees which scrutinise legislation usually reflects that of the Commons.

But the government's plans would give it a majority on them - despite losing its majority in the general election…

Downing Street has defended the move... saying: "These proposals create the fairest balance between the opposition and government, and will ensure technical, procedural rules do not cause unwarranted delays to the business of Parliament.

"The adjustments provide for maximum scrutiny with minimum disruption and delay, both to parliamentary proceedings and to the governance of the country." …

But Labour MPs joined their leader in condemning the proposals…

And Liberal Democrat chief whip Alistair Carmichael accused the government of trying to "ram through a destructive hard Brexit" by ignoring the election result. He said: "We will fight tooth and nail to ensure parliamentary committees reflect the will of the electorate and do not simply rubber stamp government decisions."…

Without a majority on the committees, it would lose control of an important part of the legislative process.

With a packed programme of Brexit legislation ahead, the government has already been criticised for attempting to give ministers, rather than parliament as a whole, the power to amend a raft of EU laws.

Analysis: By BBC Parliamentary Correspondent Mark D'Arcy

[I]n this Parliament, the government does not have a majority. It is sustained by a deal with 10 MPs from Northern Ireland - and that would normally mean it would not have a guaranteed majority on… committees - and there are so many, the DUP would not be able to put an MP on all of them to top up Tory numbers.

The problem with that is that its minority status leaves the government exposed to the danger of having its legislation re-written in committee, or vital secondary legislation thrown out.

To be sure, it is possible for the government plus the DUP to undo unwelcome changes to bills, when the legislation returns to the Commons for "report stage" consideration. But having to do that regularly could produce gridlock, at a time when ministers will need the process of lawmaking to be smooth and rapid…

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