A function of Parliament is to promote legitimacy. When governments govern through Parliament, their actions are more likely to be seen as ‘rightful’ and therefore to be obeyed. This occurs for two reasons:

• Parliament, in a sense, ‘stands for’ the public, being a representative assembly. When it approves a measure, this makes it feel as though the public has approved it

. • Parliamentary approval is based on the assumption that the government’s actions have been properly debated and scrutinised, with any weaknesses or problems being properly exposed. However, Parliament’s ability to ensure legitimacy has also been criticised:

• Being non-elected, the House of Lords has no democratic legitimacy.

• Respect for Parliament has been undermined by scandals involving, for example, ‘cash for questions’ (MPs being paid for asking parliamentary questions) and ‘cash for peerages’.

Legitimacy is the belief that the government does things in terms of policy and law-making that are acceptable to the citizens of that state.

Government by consent

This is the UK Parliament’s most important constitutional function. It involves the process of passing legislation and approving public finances.

Parliament does not develop laws; that is the role of the government. The government is elected with a mandate to carry out its manifesto plans. MPs, by contrast, are elected to represent their constituencies. Nevertheless the government does need a device to make its legislative proposals legitimate. This means that it needs some way of securing the consent of the people. The people cannot be continually assembled to approve legislation, or hold a referendum every time a new law is proposed, so Parliament does it for them. That is what it has been elected to do. If Parliament did not exist, the proposals produced by government would be arbitrary and would lack democratic legitimacy. In this sense, therefore, Parliament is supporting government by granting it legitimacy for what it does. It strengthens government, rather than weakens it.