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Parliamentary Studies


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 6
  • Assessment: a 500-word seminar log (10%) and 3500-word essay (90%)

Module description

This course offers a unique opportunity to understand how parliaments work by learning from parliamentary officials themselves. Birkbeck is one of only a handful of universities able to offer this course in conjunction with officials in Parliament. Five of the weeks of the course will be taught by Parliamentary officials with the other weeks taught by academics, including guest speakers.

Learning objectives

By the end of this module, you will be able to:

  • critically appraise empirical studies of legislative behaviour
  • critically appraise academic and journalistic accounts of legislative behaviour and the capacity of the legislature to hold the executive to account
  • apply conceptual tools to analyse concepts such as the executive mentality, party loyalty and institutional culture
  • demonstrate appropriate cognitive, communicative and transferable skills, including making effective oral and written presentations, utilising specialist primary and secondary resources, and being willing to challenge certain ‘self evident truths’
  • plan, execute and write up elite level interviews.

Recommended reading

  • To understand the theory behind how parliaments work see P. Norton, (2013) Parliament in British Politics (second edition). This text offers a wide ranging analysis of the UK Parliament's role in the modern world as a link between the electorate and the government and the paradox of its apparent decline as against its strong, but often 'hidden', influence.
  • To understand more on Parliamentary reform in the wake of the expenses crisis see Kelso, A. (2011) 'Changing Parliamentary Landscapes', Chapter 4 in Heffernan et al. (2011) Developments in British Politics 9 and the House of Commons Research Briefing (2013) 'Coalitions at Westminster' on how the Coalition has influenced Parliament.
  • For a detailed explanation of the functioning of Parliament see R. Rogers and R. Walters (2006) How Parliament Works (sixth edition). The book explains Parliaments history, its shifting role and organisation. It also examines how laws are made and how government is held to account, ending with a discussion of possible reform.
  • In addition, parliamentary papers and articles covering course themes can be accessed online. Particularly good are briefing notes and research papers from the House of Commons and Lords. See for example background papers on how the House of Commons works e.g. the 2012 paper on traditions and customs of the House and how the House of Lords works.
  • The Parliamentary Outreach team also offers regular public lectures on different aspects of Parliaments. Two lectures by the most senior official in the House of Lords and Commons can be viewed online 'An Insider's Guide to The House of Commons' by Robert Rogers (Clerk of the House of Commons) and 'An Insider's Guide To The House of Lords' by Clerk of the Parliaments, David Beamish, (the most senior official in the House of Lords).