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Unit information: The Contemporary British Parliament in 2015/16

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Unit name The Contemporary British Parliament
Unit code POLI31336
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Professor. Childs
Open unit status Not open




School/department School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies
Faculty Faculty of Social Sciences and Law

Description including Unit Aims

This unit critically examines the role and functions of Parliament within the contemporary British political system. Both the Commons and the Lords are addressed. Parliament's formal rules, traditions, conventions and norms of behaviour are considered within a context of wider analysis of political institutions, and institutional change. More specifically, it examines parliamentary representation; parliamentary scrutiny, influence and accountability; Executive-Legislative relations; and questions of parliamentary reform.


  • To develop an advanced understanding of UK Parliamentary practice and behaviour; and of the relationships between Parliament and other parts of the political system, not least the Government.
  • To be able to identify and critically examine the formal rules, traditions, conventions and norms of the UK Parliament.
  • To be able examine the role and functions of, and behaviour within, the Houses of Parliament and appreciate the wider institutional setting within which they occur.
  • To develop an understanding of the concepts of representation, accountability, scrutiny and power within the context of the UK Parliament.
  • To develop an understanding of institutional change; to be able to recognise the relationship between structural and behavioural factors in considering institutional change.
  • To gain awareness of major concepts and significant typologies developed in the comparative study of legislatures.
  • To develop skills in analysing primary source material, not least Parliamentary material.
  • To develop skills in written and oral communication.

Intended Learning Outcomes

  1. Advanced knowledge and understanding of the key practices, roles, and functions of, and behaviours within the UK Parliament.
  2. Advanced knowledge and understanding of, and ability to apply to their own area of study, the key academic and practitioner debates associated with the UK Parliament, not least debates about parliamentary reform.
  3. Facility in handling key concepts crucial to understanding parliaments, including, representation, accountability, scrutiny and power and being able to demonstrate their applicability to the student’s own area of study.
  4. Awareness of, and ability to engage with and situate their own work within, the conceptual frameworks associated with analysis of the UK Parliament and legislatures in different political systems can take place.

Teaching Information

1 x 3 hour seminar and 1 x 1 hour workshop.

The teaching is based around seminars in which different texts and empirical cases will be discussed and critically analysed. The seminars will, in turn, be mostly based around group discussions, with small group work based on empirical case study material in many sessions.

Blackboard will be used to make a variety of additional information available for the students.

In addition to weekly sessions there will be a 2 hour workshop session for all students.

Assessment Information

1. One, 3,000 word essay. This will be worth 100% of the overall unit mark. Titles will be agreed with the Tutor on an individual basis or students may chose from a list provided by the Tutor.


This unit focuses in depth on key aspects of the British Parliament rather than constituting a broad ‘survey’ unit. Accordingly, it requires of students to gain a detailed, sophisticated and comprehensive understanding of a particular aspect of the British Parliament (objectives 2-4). This involves, in turn, extensive analysis of practices roles, and functions of, and behaviours in the contemporary Parliament acquired through reading and observation of, for example, the passage of legislation, public bill committee and select committee activity (objective 1) together with reports from parliamentary reform organizations such as the Hansard Society (objective 2). This unit is, then, best examined by an extended essay. Students will be able to decide upon their own topic for the essay – reflecting their own particular interests, albeit constrained by the coverage of the unit or may chose from a list provided by the tutor – and will be guided to construct an appropriate essay question by the Unit Owner, who must approve all original titles. The essay will require the analysis of both secondary and primary literature (objectives 2 and 4). Students will be advised to discuss their essays in advance of submission with the Unit Owner in their office hours.

Reading and References

  • Griffith and Ryle on Parliament 2nd ed 2002, R. Blackburn & A Kennon Sweet and Maxwell KM84 GRI
  • Robert Rogers & Rhoderi Walters How Parliament Works, 6th ed (2006) Pearson Longman, JN 509 ROG