Parliamentary Decline Thesis


The legislative arm of every government works by making laws which are then executed and implemented by the other two branches. This paper majorly aims at examining the different arguments on whether there has been a parliamentary decline in the UK or not. Despite the popular perception, parliament does more than the public has acknowledged, and there is a general thought that its role is deteriorating. The paper, thus, explores this argument in detail and document the main reasons as to why parliament is not declining. It will argue that despite this thesis, there have been little to no changes regarding the central parliamentary functions. It is even interesting that parliament is continuously improving the way it does its operations as it gets closer to the requirements of the inter-parliamentary union. It will critically look at how parliament has dramatically changed and the effect that it has on the general perception. Also, the impact that these changes have on the expectations of the public will be examined and whether the differences in these expectations have influenced the parliamentary decline thesis. It will also have a critical look at the role that technology plays in this perception. It is also essential to determine the context that parliament currently operates in to understand the change in its functions. It will then conclude that there has been no decline in legislative power and representation and the arguments on its decline is brought about by the fact that more people now have concise information on what parliament does.


Parliaments have gone through a difficult time over the years. While they are considered as the primary systems that form the core of a government’s representative democracy, questions have been raised over their ability to represent the citizens adequately. In the European nations, the parliament’s ability to make collectively binding decisions is what has come under criticism. This has been brought about by the shift in politics to new arenas in the decision-making process (Bovens et al.). These arenas are made up of the supranational, transnational and other global actors. Further, these actors have no electoral accountability or authorization, and therefore, their involvement in the decision-making process has posed a severe problem associated with power without representation as far as democratic legitimacy is concerned. However, there have been arguments regarding the notion that parliament and these traditional political institutions have lost their decision-making power to other actors and arenas in the government while remaining as the only institution that is electorally accountable and authorized representation poses a situation of representation without power. This paper, therefore, seeks at studying the issue of parliamentary decline thesis in the United Kingdom to evaluate the arguments around it.

The parliamentary decline thesis has majorly been looked at in the basis of the increasing roles of the executive while those of the parliament continue to decline in the UK. During the second half of the 19th century, there were arguments that the UK’s House of Commons was the most efficient system of the British political arena. This was referred to as the political golden age by a set of scholars who used this era as a reference point. The parliamentary decline has been challenged on several occasions. Philip Norton is one of the scholars who oppose this thesis and asserts that there has never been anything that other researchers referred to as the parliament’s golden age(Russell and Cowley 124). He states that the executive domination of the government has always remained unchanged. His view has weakened the general argument of parliamentary decline as he points out that there has never been a point in history that the parliament was stronger than it is currently. Norton asserts that during that time, the circumstances that the parliament was working on were different and so were the perceptions and the expectations of parliament and their functions.

Another objection to this parliamentary decline is based on the fact that it has not been supported by empirical research. For instance, scholars have argued that despite the theme of congressional decline being rarely supported by empirical study and mainly based on false arguments, the idea continued to persist as part of legislative studies’ conventional wisdom.  Other scholars have also argued that although there might be some little decline of the legislative power, parliaments have been found to do more than they did in the past. It is, therefore, clear that scholars who elaborated the drop of the legislators influenced the public opinion without empirical evidence to support their thesis(Flinders and Kelso 251). It is argued that the UK’s parliament was not designed to take up the role that the current public perception expect the representatives to do and its control of the executive does not belong to a visible part of its activity. The proponents of parliamentary decline thesis assert that despite parliament doing its best in regards to how they used to do in the past, its power has been deprived off by other institutions and departments of the government(Héritier 820). This, therefore, supports the argument that there was never a golden era of parliament and the proponents of this decline also agree that the current parliament is even doing better than the previous one.

Technology has also played a significant role in influencing the public perception towards parliament and the way that it does its operation. In the 20th century, there has been an upsurge of technology and the world is becoming more sophisticated than ever. There is also a rise in the information technology sector, and thus it is easier now to access information than it was some years back. This has also increased the perception of the public towards the decline of parliaments as their expectations are not met by what they thought that parliament was expected to do. The public now has access to information concerning the roles and responsibilities of the parliament. Compared to the golden age, the citizens are far more informed than ever, and this means that the information about the UK’s parliament that they have now may not have been available during the golden age era and, thus, might have been disappointed by learning that parliament is not as powerful as they thought would be.

Scholars have also argued that the integration of the European nation has also contributed to the decline of the UK’sparliamentary system. However, the contrary is that since 1992, the treaties that were made aimed at enhancing the role and responsibilities of the national parliaments. For instance, the first pact that was signed in 1992 was the Maastricht treaty which provided for the strengthening of the national parliaments while endorsing the cooperation between the European and the national parliament. The Amsterdam treaty in 1997 is also another agreement that played a role in enhancing the strengths of the parliament. This is through its resolution to define the position of national parliaments under the scrutiny of the EU (Begley et al. 18). It also guaranteed the parliamentary access to the documents of the commission during the time of the investigation. The Lisbon treaty of 2009 enhanced and cemented the powers of parliament. This treaty acknowledged the influence that the parliament had in the scrutiny of the EU and ensured that all the EU legislative proposals and communications were sent directly to parliaments of the national governments. The period for parliamentary scrutiny was extended from six to eight weeks. The British parliament was also given the control of the early warning mechanism that allowed the members to decline legislation that they considered to go against the principle of subsidiary and human rights. This treaty strengthened the early warning mechanism and gave the parliament the right to scrutinize the legislation and the discretion to decide which one was of public interest or not. Thus, it is clear that despite arguments on parliamentary decline brought about by European integration, there are also scholars that hold a different view. The debate is, therefore, the same as when it is looked at on the parliamentary decline thesis. However, the documented values in parliament have shown that there is a growing weakening of trust on the national parliaments and the European Union that is brought about by a shift in public perception brought about by scholars.

Within the EU context, there have been arguments over the de-parliamentarisation thesis. According to its diagnosis, there have been assertions that the national parliaments have also been on the losing end and most of its powers have been given to the EU level. This has resulted in a loss of the national parliamentary competences, and thus,have no direct control on the policy-making process in the country. Consequently, this led to the problem of representation without power where the national parliament represents the nation while all the power has been shifted to the EU as they are mandated to making the policies that are used in the countries. The UK’s Parliament is also not considered to be able to compensate for the loss of the democratic legitimacy that used to be provided by the national parliaments. Therefore, with the increase in the legislative power of the European Parliament, there arises a problem regarding the lack of proper electoral connection between the European citizens and the MEP. This brings about the issue of representation without participation. This is because the European Parliament will be responsible for representing the European citizen while, at the same time, the citizen is not directly responsible for the election of representatives in the parliament. Thus, this brings about this issue as the public does not elect the leaders in the union. As a result of this, the European Union’s political system suffers from the growing gap of political legitimacy. However, other legislators have argued that the division of legislative power in the European parliamentary system is not exclusively owed to European influence. They say that the struggle to establish the national parliaments to have more powers has been considered to be based on a flawed and an idealized understanding of the democracy of the parliamentary system as a whole. The grievance that the national parliament has lost its powers to the European parliament can, thus, be compared and regarded as the pre- EU parliamentarism golden age. This can be done in comparison with the parliamentary golden age era in which the national parliaments were seen to be most powerful than other arms. However, without empirical research to prove this, the thesis will then be considered to have no factual basis and that the national parliaments will continue to be considered as powerful as before.

In a nutshell, this paper has critically examined the parliamentary decline thesis and found out that there is no substantial evidence to support the argument brought about by scholars in backing of this idea. The paper has looked at the discussions surrounding the golden age that formed the basis of the cases that there has been a decline of powers of parliament and that the executive is growing powerful. It has been arguedthat this era never existed as proponents of this decline have also agreed that the current parliament is more industrious than the previous one. It has also looked at the role that technology plays in this thesis and has found out that the current population is more informed on the functions of parliament and this may have played a part in their perception of parliamentary decline. The paper, therefore, found out that this parliamentary decline thesis is the creation of some scholars but have no empirical evidence to support it.



Work Cited

Begley, Philip, et al. “Evidence-informed or value-based?exploring the scrutiny of legislation in the UK Parliament.” The Journal of Legislative Studies (2019): 1-20.

Bovens, Mark. De Verplaatsing Van De Politiek. 1995.

Flinders, Matthew, and Alexandra Kelso. “Mind The Gap: Political Analysis, Public Expectations And The Parliamentary Decline Thesis”. The British Journal Of Politics And International Relations, vol 13, no. 2, 2011, pp. 249-268. SAGE Publications, doi:10.1111/j.1467-856x.2010.00434.x.

Héritier, Adrienne. “Composite Democracy In Europe: The Role Of Transparency And Access To Information”. Journal Of European Public Policy, vol 10, no. 5, 2003, pp. 814-833. Informa UK Limited, doi:10.1080/1350176032000124104.

Russell, Meg, and Philip Cowley. “The Policy Power Of The Westminster Parliament: The “Parliamentary State” And The Empirical Evidence”. Governance, vol 29, no. 1, 2015, pp. 121-137. Wiley, doi:10.1111/gove.12149.Accessed 27 Feb 2019.

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