in Held in contempt
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Chapter 1 opens with a vignette of a House of Commons committee scrutinising a set of Covid-19 regulations that had already been superseded, illustrating inadequate scrutiny of new laws introduced to deal with the pandemic. This example introduces the argument that Covid-19 reinforced ministers’ existing tendency to treat parliament as an inconvenient hurdle.

The chapter goes on to examine the ways in which the House of Commons can influence government both ‘on stage’ in public and ‘off stage’ through private and pre-emptive influence. But governments often try to minimise opportunities for scrutiny, and in recent decades there have been worrying trends, including increased use of emergency legislation, skeleton bills lacking policy detail and growing use of secondary legislation which is barely scrutinised.

The chapter examines how Theresa May tried to side-line parliament during the Brexit process, and Boris Johnson deliberately pitted ‘parliament versus the people’ as a strategy to ‘get Brexit done’ and win a general election. It then looks in more detail at the inadequacies of the role that government allowed parliament to play in the Covid-19 pandemic. It argues that these expedient political strategies have done long-lasting harm to public perceptions of parliament.

The chapter concludes by arguing that government should change its approach to parliament, first, in the public interest, because when parliament is allowed to do its job properly it enhances the processes and practices of government, and second, out of self-interest, because strengthening parliament’s reputation will ultimately strengthen the credibility and trustworthiness of government.

Held in contempt

What’s wrong with the House of Commons?


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